The House Natural Resources Committee today passed the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act [H.R. 1505]. This legislation was introduced by National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) on April 13, 2011.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act addresses one of the prevailing factors preventing the U.S. from obtaining full operational control of the U.S./Mexico border. Currently, the United States Border Patrol is limited from fully accessing millions of acres of federally managed lands located throughout the border region. As a result, criminal drug and human smuggling organizations utilize these areas which provide them with nearly unfettered access into the United States.
вЂњAs we work to gain full operational control of the border, it is essential that we examine where and why the highest levels of incursions are occurring. ItвЂ™s no surprise that public lands are at the top of the list and it makes absolutely no sense that our Border Patrol agents are limited from maintaining a routine presence in these areas,вЂќ said Congressman Bishop. вЂњI am pleased that today we are one step closer to providing them with the access they need to keep our country safe. We can no longer turn our backs on the violence, environmental degradation and rampant criminal activity occurring on our public lands. I look forward to working with my colleagues as this bill is considered further and ultimately brought to the floor of the House for a final vote.вЂќ
Specifically, the National Security and Federal Protection Act:
- Prohibits the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from impeding, prohibiting or restrictingВ the U.S. Border PatrolвЂ™s efforts to gain full operational control within 100 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico and Canada
- Allows the Border Patrol access to public lands in order to conduct the following limited activities necessary to their border security operations:
- Construct and maintain roads
- Construct fences
- Use of vehicles for patrol
- Install, maintain, and operate surveillance equipment and sensors
- Use aircraft
- Deploy temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases
- Provides the Border Patrol with the same environmental waiver authority included in the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 utilized by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during the 2008 construction of the fence along the U.S./Mexico border.
In an effort to make additional improvements to the legislation, a series of amendments were adopted during the markup. Including:
- A provision that removes the language that included вЂњmaritimeвЂќ borders among the borders identified in the bill, therefore limiting the bill to the land borders with Mexico and Canada.
- A clarification that protects existing legal uses of public lands, such as leases for grazing
- An addition of a five-year sunset from the date of enactment of the bill