Thursday, October 27, 2011

Federal agents say environmental laws hamper work

Federal agents trying to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border say they're hampered by laws that keep them from driving vehicles on huge swaths of land because it falls under U.S. environmental protection, leaving it to wildlife — and illegal immigrants and smugglers who can walk through the territory undisturbed. A growing number of lawmakers are saying such restrictions have turned wilderness areas into highways for criminals. In recent weeks, three congressional panels, including two in the Republican-controlled House and one in the Democratic-controlled Senate, have moved to give the Border Patrol unfettered access to all federally managed lands within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the border with Mexico. Zach Taylor, a retired Border Patrol agent who lives about nine miles from the Arizona-Mexico border, said smugglers soon learn the areas that agents are least likely to frequent. "The (smuggling) route stays on public lands from the border to Maricopa County," Taylor said, referring to the state's most populous county. "The smugglers have free rein. It has become a lawless area." George McCubbin, president of the union that represents about 17,000 Border Patrol agents and support staff, likened current policy to telling city police officers they can't patrol a particular neighborhood. "If they want to get serious about this problem on the border, they can't be restricting areas we go in," said McCubbin, who works in Casa Grande, Arizona. "Don't let us there and you have nothing but the bad element going through that area." (Rep. Rob) Bishop said federal agents would be better stewards of sensitive lands than illegal immigrants and smugglers. "What is so ironic is that the environmental degradation is not being done by the Border Patrol," Bishop said. "It's being done by the illegals who are coming across."...AP

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