Thursday, March 18, 2010

Salazar touts beefed-up border security; Bishop calls it a 'photo op'

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spent two days last week touring federal lands along the U.S.-Mexico border that are becoming a crossing point for undocumented immigrants seeking jobs and drug smugglers carting cocaine. Salazar praised efforts by Interior and Homeland Security departments to crack down on those crossing the border and then making their way through the preserved desert lands, but he also noted that further work is needed to control an increasing number of people tromping through and trashing off-limit areas. "Deterring unlawful activity along the border," Salazar said, "is the best option for preventing damage to cultural and natural resources and minimizing risks to visitors and employees." The secretary spent time in Texas and Arizona riding along with border-patrol agents. At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a border-area park so dangerous more than half of it is closed to the public, Salazar noted that the monument will have five miles of pedestrian fence, 26 miles of vehicle barriers and 10 surveillance towers as part of a virtual fence. But Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and ranking member of a House subcommittee over public lands, said Salazar's visit amounted to nothing more than a "photo op" and that the secretary needs to do more to ensure land managers aren't hampering border patrols. "It's unacceptable for Secretary Salazar to make a trip to the border," Bishop said Tuesday "...and fail to offer any real changes or solutions." Bishop demanded "immediate action" by Salazar to stop blocking border patrol's access to Interior lands, to allow tower construction where Homeland Security wants it and end the practice of requiring DHS to pay "mitigation" funds to more

COMMENT: Salazar may like the virtual fence, but Homeland Security doesn't as Napolitano has just pulled the funding for the project and allocated it elsewhere (see next series of posts).

While I appreciate Bishop's many efforts and leadership on this issue, I'm not sure it's a problem that Salazar can handle administratively. The problem is the language in the Wilderness Act which prevents the use of motorized vehicles or mechanical equipment by the Border Patrol or any other law enforcement agency. No MOU or inter-agency agreements can amend the statute, and the plain language of the law is creating the biggest part of the problems.

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