Interior Department law enforcement agents dispatched to protect federal lands along the U.S.-Mexico border made thirteen arrests and found one illegal handgun within their first 48 hours of arriving.
Law enforcement also found “extensive evidence of recent activity along smuggling routes” running through federally controlled borderlands, reads an Interior release. The arrests were made by additional officers sent to border areas in Arizona and Texas as part of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s planned “surge” in border operations.
Twenty-two additional Interior law enforcers arrived at border areas on Monday. By Wednesday, they had arrested suspected illegal aliens and found an abandoned handgun with the the serial number filed off. (RELATED: This Congressman Explains How Environmental Regulations Are Making Border Patrol’s Job A Lot Harder)
“Today’s report that more than a dozen individuals were arrested while illegally crossing the border on to Interior-managed lands and bringing illegal firearms into our communities is proof that President [Donald] Trump’s push to have a greater law enforcement presence to secure the southern border is needed,” Zinke said in a statement.
Federally managed lands have long been stomping grounds for drug cartels, and illegal aliens use them as crossing points into the U.S. Border crossing and smuggling had damaged the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, the Interior Department reported in 2011.
“Impacts to endangered species, plant and animal communities, and cultural resources are more significant than just the mere presence of tire tracks within wilderness,” the report found. “Past research of vehicle use in off-road areas have demonstrated significant impacts to soils, plants and wildlife.”
The Trump administration’s border wall proposal would run through national monuments and federal lands, but environmental groups sued to stop the wall’s construction on grounds it could impede the movement of dozens of endangered species.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the Trump administration’s border wall in 2017, but a federal judge ruled against environmentalists in February. Environmentalists, however, filed another lawsuit to stop the wall in March.
Activists filed their suit after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waived 25 environmental regulations covering for a 20-mile stretch along the New Mexico-Mexico border. Federal law allows DHS to waive environmental reviews for border security.
The Interior Department manages 40 percent of the land along the U.S.-Mexico border. The department maintains a permanent law enforcement presence along the border, and it’s latest injection of border guards has already resulted in arrests.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers arrested 11 suspected illegal aliens crossing through Interior Department-managed lands on Tuesday. Officers also found the illegal handgun.
Also on Tuesday, Interior and U.S. Border Patrol agents identified “layups” on smuggling trails in public lands where illegal aliens and drug traffickers rest. Officers found large amounts of trash and clothes, indicating the paths were still being used.
On Wednesday, Interior officers detained two Sri Lankan nationals hiding in brush near the border. Officers determined the Sri Lankans were in the country illegally.