By Scott Nicol
Last month the Pew Hispanic Center reported that net migration from Mexico into the United States has dropped to zero, with roughly the same number of Mexican citizens heading south across the border as north.
Just a few days earlier, HR 1505, the misnamed National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, was introduced onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Rob Bishop. Aimed at stopping the nonexistent flood of immigrants, this bill waives 36 laws on all federal lands within 100 miles of both the northern and southern U.S. borders for any Border Patrol activity. If it passes forward, operating bases, roads, and even more border walls could tear through national parks from Glacier to Olympic on the northern border to Big Bend in Texas, as well as national forests, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas.
HR 1505 is a dramatic expansion of the Real ID Act, which gave the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive laws to build border walls and roads. In 2008 former DHS Secretary Chertoff waived these same laws, which include the Endangered Species Act, Farmland Policy Protection Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, to build walls that would otherwise have been illegal.
The resulting damage has been tremendous. Walls now carve up the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, fragmenting habitat set aside for endangered ocelot and jaguarundi. Up and down the Rio Grande, farmers and ranchers, some of whose families have held title to their land since the 1760’s, have had their property condemned. And during border wall construction ancestral remains were unearthed and left exposed by bulldozers in the Tohono O’Odham reservation.
Now Representative Bishop, whose Utah district is hundreds of miles away from either border, wants to see this brutalizing of our borderlands expanded to cover lands that are nowhere near the border. He has yet to explain why he believes that the Border Patrol is incapable of enforcing immigration laws without violating every other law.
For their part, the Border Patrol has not asked for the power to ignore our nation’s laws, and they have told Congressional researchers that “land management laws have had no effect on Border Patrol’s overall measure of border security.” The current Secretary of Homeland Security, former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, recently called HR 1505 “unnecessary” and “bad policy.”
Waiving laws will not make our nation any safer, but then Bishop’s bill isn’t really about protecting our borders. Bishop’s targeting of environmental laws simply fits the current Republican zeitgeist. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has attacked environmental regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency as “obstacles to economic growth” that must be “removed,” and Mitt Romney says the Clean Air Act should be rewritten to exclude the regulation of greenhouse gasses.
This is simply more of the same.
HR 1505 is an assault on federal lands and environmental laws that uses border security as a convenient Trojan horse. Border residents and border lands are, once again, collateral damage.
(LL Editor’s Note: This column has been edited down from its original length first published in the Rio Grande Guardian)
Scott Nicol co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team and is a founding member of No Border Wall. He lives in McAllen.
You can send an email to your US Representative urging them to reject HR 1505 by going here.