You are here

Push for security would apply to Canadian border

By Sonya Angelica Diehn

Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing for expansion of security powers that would waive more than 30 environmental and public protection laws, along all United States borders. Environmentalists are pushing back, and some think their side will prevail.

Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, working with a public lands subcommittee, introduced the legislation last April. It dispenses with requiring the Department of Homeland Security to comply with laws including the landmark Clean Air and Clean Water acts.

‘Unprecedented authority’

Deer at the Arizona border with MexicoThe law would apply to the dozens of millions of acres that lie within 100 miles of southern and northern U.S. borders – along all of Mexico and Canada, including Alaska.

The proposal is essentially an expansion of the 2005 REAL ID Act, which in the wake of 9/11 waived environmental laws for Border Patrol activities on U.S. borders. That included for construction of a physical barrier along the border with Mexico.

“The proposed legislation would give unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands,” said Jane Danowitz of think tank Pew Environment Group, in a statement.

Those backing the bill say the expanded policing power is needed to stop criminals, smugglers and potential terrorists. A broad coalition of environmentalists contends that border security can be achieved without it.

Inter-agency cooperation

“Agencies have come up with ways to work together,” maintains Dan Millis, a border organizer for the Sierra Club. “Bishop wants to crush inter-agency agreement and give the Border Patrol cart blanche,” Millis said out of his office in Tucson, Ariz.

Millis cited a white paper from 2010, which concluded that cooperation among the agencies involved in managing the borderlands has been improving.

On the Natural Resources House Committee’s website, the Tucson Border Patrol union claims it’s been repeatedly unable to access federal lands along the border. “This lack of access has resulted in an increase in criminal activities such as drug smuggling and human trafficking,” the union states.

But a General Accounting Office report from 2011 found that a large majority of southwestern Border Patrol stations along public lands – 22 of 26 – reported that land management laws had not negatively affected them.

Defeat in Senate

Dan Millis by Sonya DiehnMillis of the Sierra Club thinks that if the bill comes up for a vote, the House of Representatives is likely to pass it.

The environmentalists’ strategy would be to try and stop it in the Senate – for which Millis thinks they have enough votes.

The Sierra Club has been working with groups along the northern border to oppose the legislation.

“People are motivated by fear,” said Marcia Runnberg, a teacher at a social worker training program in Minnesota. Runnberg viewed a presentation by Millis in Tucson.

“It’s like, we have to be afraid, because there are going to be enemies and strangers that are going to come into our land,” said Runnberg.

“But really the opposite is true – the border wall is holding us in.” 

Comments

Let's see if Obama's denial of the Keystone pipeline will dampen Canada's enthusiasm for this.