Agent Was Killed on Federal Land Where Border Patrol Has Hands Tied

Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie was confirmed to have been killed on federal land (see map) where law enforcement access is stymied in favor of environmental protection, a Utah congressman said.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, is behind legislation to lift Interior and Agriculture Department rules that tie the hands of agents and leave vast border areas overrun by dangerous cartels.

That bill passed the House with Democratic support on June 19. It stipulates that federal land management agencies may not prohibit enforcement efforts to “prevent all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband through the international land borders of the United States.”

But though it's been passed twice in the House, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) secured similar language by voice vote in an appropriations bill, Bishop's legislation still needs its day in the upper chamber -- which he's hoping will happen soon.

"This is the problem right now and I need people to recognize that this is the problem," Bishop told PJM today. "It is our policies that are causing the problem."

Ivie, along with two other agents, responded to a border sensor in the early morning hours Tuesday about five miles into Arizona. Ivie was shot to death and one of the other agents was wounded.

They were stationed out of Naco, where the Border Patrol outpost was recently renamed in honor of another slain agent who worked there: Brian Terry of the "Fast and Furious" case.

Ivie grew up in Provo, Utah, which is Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R-Utah) district. Bishop and Chaffetz issued a joint statement after the Tuesday attack, offering condolences to the family and vowing to continue to pursue border security solutions.

Bishop said it took a day to get confirmation from the Department of Homeland Security and the state of Arizona that the coordinates where Ivie was killed were, indeed, on protected Bureau of Land Management territory.

The agents were on horseback, which can navigate the rugged terrain but also comply with the rules against Border Patrol agents using mechanized transportation on wilderness lands. Another option is sending agents out on foot.

Out of the more than 20 million acres of Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service land along the southern border, 4.3 million acres are classified as wilderness areas.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been one of the organizations charging that greater access for the Border Patrol on federal lands would harm the environment.

"Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta lie adjacent to each other along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and have been significantly hurt by off-road vehicle use in recent years — much of the damage has been the result of Border Patrol vehicles riding roughshod over wilderness areas," the center said in a September 2011 statement.