Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Arizona's Closed Federal Parkland is a No-Man's Land

The number of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers crossing through this magnificent national parkland in southern Arizona has "decreased significantly" in the last four years, park officials say. But there's a dark cloud to this silver lining: To make it happen, the refuge had to close a sliver of this slice of heaven to the quarter-billion American taxpayers who own it -- essentially creating a no-man's-land on which only drug smugglers, gun-runners, human traffickers and the Border Patrol agents who track them down dare to tread. And with rival Mexican drug gangs gunning each other down less than 50 miles away, the chance that the closed portion of the wildlife refuge will reopen in the foreseeable future appears to be between slim and none. For the time being, officials say, this public land will be closed to the public. In 2006, the refuge manager at the time, Mitch Ellis, saw that the smugglers and drug-runners were winning, and his solution was to close 3,500 acres of this 118,000-acre natural habitat. He cited increased violence in the area due to “border-related” activities, including assaults on law enforcement officers and migrants, as the reason for the closure. Back then, says Sally Gall, the park's acting refuge manager, it was estimated that as many as 4,000 people a day were crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico, tramping across public land that's home to nearly 330 species of animals and hosts up to 40,000 visitors annually. Tom Kay, 68, whose Jarillas Ranch features more than four miles of border fence and shares its western boundary line with the Buenos Aires refuge, estimated that up to 400 illegal immigrants walk onto his 15,000-acre land every day. But after years of never locking his door or removing keys from vehicles, Kay has found it necessary to change his ways. “I gotta lock the barn up now,” he said. “If I don’t, I wake up and find people in the hay."...more

And Bingaman's S.1689 would designate a quarter of a million acres as wilderness on or near our border with Mexico. If the bill becomes law, "no-mans land" is heading our way.

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