In 1971, the environmental organization Keep America Beautiful launched a Public Service Announcement featuring a crying Indian lamenting the litter that supposedly coated America’s landscape. If in the 1970s the crying Indian was tearing up over some Coke cans on the bank of a river, today he would be sobbing at the environmental devastation occurring on the U.S.-Mexico border due to illegal immigration.
The Arizona Bureau of Land Management (BML) reports that in 2009 alone environmental groups collected over 234 tons of trash, 800 tires, 404 bicycles, and 62 vehicles left behind by illegals crossing the border. Special assistant for the Arizona BLM, Kathy Pedrick, told The Daily Caller that last year the agency spent over one million dollars of federal money just clearing the mess along the border.
Pedrick’s colleague, deputy state director for communications, Deborah E. Stevens, told TheDC that the clean up crews are outnumbered. “The impact of the environmental pollution far exceeds the amount of clean up,” she said. “We cannot keep up with it. We distribute the work, but there is too much.”
On Capitol Hill, Republican Congressmen are beginning to take notice. “Arizona is getting the brunt of the traffic now because it is so lax on the border security….The trash is a natural byproduct of the number of illegals who are coming in specifically with the purpose of human trafficking and drug smuggling,” Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said in an interview with TheDC. “They [illegal immigrants] come with provisions that they will just drop along the way. So they will purposely leave everything behind and change clothing to go either up into Phoenix or further on north.”
According to Bishop, “wilderness areas,” or land set aside for protection — which limits border patrol access to surveillance on foot or on horseback, and limits vehicle access to emergencies on approved roads — have actually compounded the environmental problem as less supervision allows for more border crossings and polluting residue.
The Congressional Research Service reports that within 100 miles of the border there are 4.3 million acres of wilderness areas.
In a field hearing for the Natural Resources Committee in April of last year, George Taylor, a member of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers and a former field supervisory Border Patrol agent, explained, “When a wilderness or refuge area is established near the border, the criminal element moves in and trashes it because the restrictive wilderness or refuge status accorded to these lands effectively prevents all law enforcement from effectively working the area. In other words, the refuge or wilderness designation actually serves to put the environment at greater risk of being seriously damaged and defaced.”
The Department Homeland Security has recognized the problem, but to little avail. In October 2009, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded to a letter from Bishop in which he pleaded with her to work to loosen the restrictions on agents in wilderness areas. While she conceded that increased surveillance would improve the environment, she has taken little action to date on the matter.
In her response letter, Napolitano enclosed a report from a congressional inquiry which confirmed, “Overall, the removal of cross-border violators from public lands is a value to the environment as well as to the mission of the land managers.”
The New Mexico border has also suffered pollution because of illegal immigration, but not as much as Arizona border. “We undoubtedly have experienced a lot of litter, but not the extent of Arizona,” Eddie Guerrero, international border coordinator for the New Mexico BLM, told TheDC. “Arizona has large cities in proximity to the border, which makes passage logistically easier. In New Mexico it is harder to blend in because the closest city is in El Paso, Texas.”
In 2009, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn introduced an amendment to relax border patrol restrictions in wilderness areas. However, it was rejected in conference. “The government’s policy is 180 degrees in opposition to common sense and the situation on the ground,” Coburn’s communications director, John Hart, told TheDC. “The government’s effort to protect the environment is causing environmental destruction. The policy of not allowing the Border Patrol to patrol wilderness areas has allowed drug cartel members and illegal immigrants to trash the environment we are wanting to protect.”
Bishop said that the litter is just a part of the problem. He said fundamentally, allowing the illegal border crossings to continue is simply inhumane. “If you like illegal drugs, if you like prostitution rings, if you like women being raped, then just sit back and say everything is fine and don’t do anything about it. But we need to stop it, in the name of humanity, we need to stop it,” he said.
Indeed, not only have wilderness areas helped cause an increase in pollution, they have also potentially contributed to increased danger on the border. In Arizona on March 27, an illegal alien murdered Robert Krentz, an incident which, at the time, received a great deal of media attention. What received less coverage was the fact that federal agents later confirmed that the criminal entered and exited the country through the Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, a protected wilderness area.
In 2007 Krentz’s wife, Sue Krentz, wrote Congress about her fear of these hardly monitored areas: “The US Constitution clearly requires the federal government to protect states. Passing the buck, making it a WILDERNESS AREA, a forest, or private land Congress and the President are supposed to be protecting our borders from invasion not encouraging it…We are in fear for our lives and safety and health of ourselves and that of our families and friends. Please defend the law!”
In April of this year, Bishop introduced a bill — “To prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes” (H.R. 5016) — which would allow agents to patrol protected land. The bill remains pending in committee.
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