Rep. Mike Coffman The March 27 murder of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz in Cochise County, 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, made headlines in …
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Rep. Mike Coffman
The March 27 murder of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz in Cochise
County, 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, made headlines in
Arizona, sparked significant unrest in border communities, and, in
part, led to the enactment of the new controversial illegal
immigration law in that state.
Although catalyzed by the killing of Mr. Krentz, Arizona’s
rebellion has its roots in failed federal policies and a woeful
neglect of federal responsibilities. The new Arizona law aimed at
controlling illegal immigration is an understandable response to
the failures of the federal government to secure our borders and
protect our national security.
What has incensed so many is the baffling reality that our
porous borders are not the result of neglect or lack of resources.
Rather, they’re unsecured because the federal government currently
prioritizes protecting ecosystems and wildlife along the border
over controlling access and preventing illegal entry. In effect,
current policy allows other federal agencies to obstruct the
Department of Homeland Security’s mission.
The Mexican drug smuggler who shot Mr. Krentz on his ranchlands
entered the United States from Mexico using a heavily trafficked
trail in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge which sits 25
miles east of border town of Douglas. Everyone in Cochise County
knows that route is used regularly by smugglers, many of whom are
armed. What angers and instills fear in local residents as much as
the murder itself is the harsh reality that residents are powerless
to do anything about the situation.
At the highest levels our federal government is jeopardizing out
national security by not adequately resolving the well documented
disputes between federal agencies over the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security’s ability to patrol the border on federally owned
lands. Essentially, the U.S. Department of the Interior is
encouraging and assisting illegal entry by restricting and
obstructing DHS Customs and Border Patrol access to federal lands -
as a matter of official policy.
By law, Customs and Border Patrol has unrestricted access to
private lands within 25 miles of the border with the exception of
private dwellings. However, on public lands managed by the National
Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park
Service, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Border Patrol must
negotiate access agreements with those “sister agencies.”
The SBNWR has no pedestrian fence barring smugglers from
entering the U.S. across its international border. The reason there
is no barrier is that DOI continues to assert the priority of its
mission of protecting wildlife as a priority over the need to
prevent unlawful entry.
Not only is there no barrier on the international border, Border
Patrol is expressly prohibited from doing routine patrols within
designated wildlife areas including the SBNWR and may only enter
for certain limited purposes, such as “life threatening
circumstances.” Pursuing or apprehending unauthorized border
trespassers is not one of the approved purposes.
Appallingly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently spent
over $200,000 of “stimulus funding” to upgrade eleven miles of
perimeter fencing to keep Border Patrol out of the SBNWR. Just this
past month, a high-ranking Border Patrol officer told a local
rancher that their access to the area has never been worse.
Similar policies and interagency agreements restrict Border
Patrol access to other federal lands across the southern border.
Drug smugglers, human traffickers, and even potentially terrorists
have free entry into a hundred square miles of national forest land
— and the towns and cities beyond.
This problem is not new. In 2002, an internal DOI report,
“Public Lands Threat Assessment,” documented the dangers and
degradation to the public lands caused by unlawful traffic by drug
smugglers and tens of thousands of unlawful entrants. The report
was buried, never distributed to agency managers, and never acted
To address this stunning problem of misaligned federal
priorities, I have co-sponsored legislation recently introduced by
Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah. The bill, H.R. 5016, would prohibit
the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture
from taking actions on public lands which would impede the
activities of the Department of Homeland Security to secure the
border on such lands.
It is up to the federal government to prioritize securing our
homeland and protecting our borders. The federal government is
failing to secure our borders, failing to protect our national
security, and failing to pick the right priorities. Congress needs
to act and pass H.R.5016 to ensure securing our borders is a top
priority. The killing of Mr. Krentz and the subsequent enactment of
Arizona’s new law are but two consequences of those federal
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