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.
But restricted enforcement on federal lands has meant that drug cartels have freer rein over the corridors -- and they're not exactly environmentally sensitive.
"That's ludicrous," Bishop said of the environmentalist blame directed at the Border Patrol. "The bad guys are already using mechanized vehicles."
While regulations prevent the Border Patrol from constructing any paved or unpaved roads in wilderness lands, cartels have already cut 8,000 miles of off-road tracks into the Arizona border territory. Law enforcement is also prohibited from constructing watch towers or landing aircraft in the wilderness areas, which are marred by piles of trash and waste left by smugglers.
"Because there are restrictions on what the Border Patrol can do on federal land… this has become the corridor of choice for the criminal element coming into the United States," Bishop said.
Ivie was shot in an active smuggling corridor for the Sinaloa cartel, a powerful syndicate whose mules don't lack technology or weaponry to outwit law enforcement. Mexican police arrested two men who may be connected with the shooting today, but no further details were offered.
The congressman also stressed that the same factors dissuading illegal immigrant workers have zero impact on the drug smugglers bringing their stashes north for sale and human traffickers smuggling women into prostitution rackets.
"They don't care about eVerify and they don't care about our economy," Bishop said.
Thus the environmental restrictions -- as smugglers trample and trash sensitive lands on their own, including cutting down majestic cacti to create traps on roads -- just create blind spots along the leaky border. Eighty percent of drug smuggling takes place outside of official border points of entry.
"We could see a significant increase in the use of the more remote areas along the border by smuggling organizations," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in an October 2009 letter to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), then ranking member and now chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. "The ability of USBP to effectively patrol these areas has never been more critical."
"Our policies encourage the bad guys," Bishop said, noting that when he speaks with Border Patrol agents they don't ask for better equipment or weapons, but access to these critical areas.
Instead, Homeland Security has had to cough up funds -- more than $9 million since 2007 -- to the Interior Department to mitigate "environmental damage" caused by border enforcement.
Regarding Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bishop said, "On this issue he's kind of been AWOL."
"The Border Patrol has great deal of flexibility on private and state property," Bishop noted. "We don't have control of this part of the United States and this is not what a sovereign nation does."
"This hits home to us," he said of the latest border murder. "It should not have happened and we should not allow this to take place."