Supporters said the measure is needed to give border agents unfettered access to rugged lands now controlled by the Interior Department and Forest Service. Laws such as the Wilderness Act and Endangered Species Act often prevent agents from driving vehicles on huge swaths of land, leaving it to wildlife, illegal immigrants and smugglers who can walk through the territory undisturbed, they said.
The bill was approved, 232-188.
The measure’s chief sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said restrictions on federal lands have turned wilderness areas into highways for criminals, who not only bring in drugs but also abuse and rape women and leave behind thousands of tons of trash.
“Drug traffickers couldn’t care less about environmental sensitivities,” he said. “The removal of these criminals from our public lands is a value to the environment as well as the mission of the land managers.”
But opponents, including hunters, conservationists and Hispanic advocacy groups, call the bill a heavy-handed fix that guts important environmental protections. They also question whether the measure is needed along the vast Canadian border, where there is scant evidence that illegal immigrants are hiking through national parks or wilderness areas in an attempt to slip into the U.S.
The Obama administration opposes the border control bill, part of a larger package of 14 land-use bills approved Tuesday by the House. The measure faces dim prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the House bill would sacrifice crucial environmental protections to advance an anti-immigrant and anti-regulatory agenda. Citizens of border communities who have been subjected to what he called an ever-increasing federal law enforcement presence “know what it is like to live in a ‘police state’ where undertrained security forces with unfettered authority and a lack of oversight are ever-present,” Grijalva said.
The bill in its current form would “thwart successful efforts by agencies to collaborate on border security” and presents “a false choice between natural resources protection and the economy or national security,” the White House said in a statement.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: House approves bill giving new powers to Border Patrol to circumvent fed’l environmental laws – The Washington Post.