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No, National Parks Don’t Cause Problems For Border Control

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on July 31st, 2014 11:08 pm by HL

No, National Parks Don’t Cause Problems For Border Control

Despite a recent claims by lawmakers, as well as a house bill addressing the issue, border protection likely isn’t compromised by public lands along the border.

The post No, National Parks Don’t Cause Problems For Border Control appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Heavy rain clouds slowly roll over the Organ Mountains on Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. Organ Mountains Desert Peaks is the newest national monument created by the Obama administration.

Heavy rain clouds slowly roll over the Organ Mountains on Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. Organ Mountains Desert Peaks is the newest national monument created by the Obama administration.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Shari Viapando

The House decided not to vote on its controversial border bill due to lack of support Thursday, a move that means that the public lands along the border are, at least for now, safe from the interference the bill would have allowed. House Republican leaders, however, said on Thursday evening that they would try again to vote Friday.

The bill would have given Customs and Border Protection the authority to build roads, barriers, and surveillance equipment in national parks within 100 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico. Importantly, it contained a passage prohibiting the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture from doing anything to “impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Federal land located within 100 miles of the United States border with Mexico.” It also waived multiple laws in effect on some of these lands — including the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Act.

The bill may not have been voted on today, but its introduction comes after a week of increasingly fearful language from Republican lawmakers on the problems national parks, monuments, and other protected areas pose for border security.

“There is no doubt that the restrictions on accessing land along the border have made it more difficult for the Border Patrol to do their job,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said earlier this week.

“As we deal with border enforcement issues, part of our reality in being hamstrung in our ability to enforce is that we have public lands along that border that are held by the Department of the Interior in refuge and wilderness status,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said last week. “We can’t get access to a road, to a trail for an ATV so our Customs and Border Patrol agents can patrol that.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), who helped write the provision of the bill that deals with federal lands, said that though border agents are able to access public lands if they’re pursuing a suspect, “if they are just patrolling, they don’t have the right to go in. The border will never be secure as long as you prohibit the border patrol from doing their job,” he said.

Matt Lee-Ashley, director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress, said he doesn’t buy these claims.

“It’s a red herring,” he told ThinkProgress. “Border Patrol has been very clear that it has every authority it needs to go anywhere at any time to fulfill its mission. In fact, national security experts and retired generals say that, from an operational perspective, lands that are protected from encroachment and development are easier to patrol and monitor.”

Customs and Border Protection, in fact, has a working relationship with the Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture, and has hammered out ways to deal with public lands near the border. In 2006, the three agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding that stated that CBP’s border patrol was authorized to access public lands, “including areas designated by Congress as wilderness, recommended as wilderness, and/or wilderness study areas.” Border Patrol agents on foot or horseback are able to patrol, pursue, and capture suspects in public lands, and they can drive cars or ATVs through existing roads and trails at any time. They can also pursue suspects off-road if they feel that human safety is endangered or national security is threatened.

“We are committed to collaboration with Interior and the [U.S. Forest Service] to find workable solutions on special status lands,” CBP spokeswoman Jackie Wasiluk told U.S. News. “CBP’s close working relationship with Interior and USFS allows CBP to fulfill its enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.”

The issue of public lands interfering with border security was raised in May this year after Obama created the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, which runs up against the U.S-Mexico border in New Mexico. Boehner called the decision to create the monument “yet another challenge in our ongoing efforts to secure our southern border,” despite the fact that CBP said that the monument wouldn’t interfere with the agency’s mission to protect the border.

Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain West Coordinator Vet Voice Foundation and Army veteran, said Organ Mountains doesn’t hinder border security, in part because the terrain in the region it’s located is already so severe that few attempt to cross there.

“This area of New Mexico is the least penetrated area of the entire U.S.-Mexico border, because of the wild spaces it entails,” he said. “Someone who is crossing does not want to cross miles of desert to get into the United States.”

Instead of creating a problem for border security, Reppenhagen thinks the new monument could enhance the amount of security around the area. There will be more people coming to visit the area and there will also be more law enforcement in the area, so if people do try to cross the border, they’re more likely to be reported.

“Park rangers and forest rangers are both law enforcement officers, and all the protected lands that we create are going to have increased federal personnel on the ground in these areas,” he said. “We have a lot of fugitives that go through public lands areas. Oftentimes it’s looked to these rangers to actually do the pursuing because they’re going to know the areas better, and they’re going to understand the terrain.”

This isn’t the first time border security has run up against environmental issues. In 2011, a study found that the fence built along part of the U.S.-Mexico border was chopping up important habitat and isolating populations of animals. So far, the federal government has spent almost $18 million on projects that try to offset the environmental damage caused by the fence, including purchasing more than 800 acres for California’s San Diego National Wildlife Refuge and investing money to help re-grow agave plants at the Coronado National Memorial in Arizona.


This post has been updated to reflect reports that the House is expected to try voting again on Friday.

The post No, National Parks Don’t Cause Problems For Border Control appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Why Is ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ Hosting The Russia-Ukraine Peace Talks?

Pro-democracy activists in Belarus aren’t too happy about the choice.

The post Why Is ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ Hosting The Russia-Ukraine Peace Talks? appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.

Putin and Lukashenko attend a flower laying ceremony in Minsk on the anniversary of Minsk's liberation from Nazi troops during WWII.

Putin and Lukashenko attend a flower laying ceremony in Minsk on the anniversary of Minsk’s liberation from Nazi troops during WWII.


Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, announced Wednesday that he would host upcoming peace talks between Russia and Ukraine after being chosen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While picking Belarus makes diplomatic sense, as the nation is both a close ally of Moscow and sympathetic to Kiev, pro-democracy activists living under harsh repression are concerned the move grants Lukashenko more legitimacy.

Like Ukraine, Belarus is a country torn between factions that want closer ties with the European Union and others that gravitate towards Russia. While Belarus is economically and linguistically linked with Russia, over the past few years most Belarusians have been drifting towards the E.U. camp — that is, until the crisis in Ukraine erupted earlier this year. Since then, the numbers have reversed and sympathy with Moscow is on the rise. Still, volunteers from the small Eastern European nation have appeared on both sides of the civil war between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists.

Lukashenko and the ruling elite have most often been stuck in the middle when it comes to Ukraine. Belarus joined Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union of former soviet states in May, but more recently disobeyed Russian orders to restrict trade with Ukraine. Critics allege that Lukashenko has used the crisis next door to tighten his grip over Belarusian society, regularly commenting on the importance of maintaining sovereignty and strong rule at home in his public statements. But as the public has thrown its support behind Moscow and the rebels, elites have subtly realigned themselves closer to Europe.

The problem is that Lukashenko is far from the model leader of a Western liberal democracy. Since he took power in 1994, the president has ruled with an iron fist, jailing members of the political opposition, shamelessly rigging elections, and eliminating the independent press. His authoritarian style earned Lukashenko travel bans in the U.S. and E.U. But with his eye on 2015 elections, the president told the Serbian media he is glad western powers are starting to warm up to his seemingly endless rule. Having just received the OSCE’s nomination to host the peace talks, it seems like Lukashenko’s read on the situation is pretty spot on.

Belarusian opposition leaders claim the West’s view of the dictator as an independent, neutral mediator that can walk the line between Kiev and Moscow is gravely misguided. They say Lukashenko, whose program of political repression makes the crackdown on Maidan protestors in Kiev last winter look lenient, only tends towards supporting Ukraine because he’s afraid Russia might invade Belarus next.

In the wake of punishing sanctions on Russia, Belarus’ economy is also forming new ties with the West, buying Lukashenko a degree of independence from Putin. “For Lukashenka, and perhaps some of his inner circle…it is a question of survival,” Devin Ackles, an analyst with at the Center for Economic and Social Research (CASE) in Ukraine, told ThinkProgress. Lukashenko has “a clear vested interest in keeping the things the way they are,” he told ThinkProgress. Right now, that means a careful balancing act. But meanwhile, the country is becoming all the more divided.

While both Lukashenko and his political opponents have been stepping up their support for Kiev, Russian state-owned media continues to dominate the airwaves in Belarus. As a result, a majority of Belarusians believe Ukraine downed the Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed in eastern Ukraine earlier this month, and 65 percent support Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “Belarusians are opposed to anything they might see as bringing instability to their country,” Ackles commented. “If Putin were to push for a takeover over Belarus by formally incorporating it into the Russian Federation…I doubt that there would be much resistance amongst the population and even less amongst state officials or military/police personnel.”

While Lukashenko isn’t likely to take any big risks before the 2015 elections, Ackles explained why maintaining the delicate balance between Ukraine and Russia might prove harder than it sounds. “Belarus will continue to find a way to limit Russian influence over its economic life,” Ackles said, but “as Russia’s economy begins to decline, Belarus will suffer as well.”

The post Why Is ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ Hosting The Russia-Ukraine Peace Talks? appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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