Capitol Ideas

How Enviros Obstruct the Border Patrol

Here's another thing the mainstream media won't report.

By From the September 2010 issue

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My wife and I sometimes attend a "wild game dinner" on Capitol Hill. It's a lot of fun. People interested in environmental issues, some of them employed by congressional committees, almost all on the Republican side, discuss the latest "green" tactics. The basic position of those who attend is that free markets better protect the environment than government ownership.

At the latest dinner I was told something I had never heard before about the Arizona immigration law that has caused so much liberal fury. Why has the illegal immigrant problem been concentrated on Arizona? The mainstream media respond this way:

"As border controls are tightened elsewhere, including through the construction of a border fence in parts of Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico," Peter Slevin reported in the Washington Post, "Mexican migrants and smugglers have gravitated" to parts of Arizona near Tucson. The police chief from Nogales was quoted: "When you plug a hole in the wall, the water looks for another spot to flow through. Arizona is that spot."

But this story, and another in the New York Times ("On Border Violence, Truth Pales Compared to Ideas"), plus almost everyone else, missed the real story: migrants and drug smugglers (marijuana, mainly) are attracted to parts of Arizona for a specific reason. On these federal lands, environmental regulations prevent the Border Patrol from doing its job. That's what the mainstream media won't report.

A friend at the wild game dinner put me in touch with Spencer Pederson, Republican press secretary with the House Natural Resources Committee. As best I can make out from what he said, and from the Internet, this story has barely made it into the press, with the notable exception of Fox News. An excellent summary of the situation was presented in a "special ordersot; speech on the House floor by Utah congressman Rob Bishop in mid-June. It can be seen on YouTube.

Over and over again, Bishop makes this simple point. The U.S. side of the 1,950-mile border with Mexico is about 60 percent private land and 40 percent federal. "Almost all" of the migrants and drug smugglers come across federal lands, protected by stringent "wilderness" designations or endangered species rules. The federals are submissive before the environmental regs that interfere with border enforcement. The Border Patrol, a division of Homeland Security, has to complete lengthy environmental reports and get permission from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior before it can do anything. This can take several months.

So yes, there is indeed an Arizona funnel through which the illegals enter. One federal agency works against another to create the funnel. The Mexicans are all but invited to come in and trample down the wilderness, which of course they don't care about. They actually cut down endangered cacti and lay them across roads to keep the Border Patrol out.

Why do we hear so little about the Texas border? It is 1,250 miles long, or almost two-thirds of the entire Mexican border. The Rio Grande certainly helps, but the main reason is that it is mostly private land. Private owners are capable of patrolling their own borders. The California border is increasingly fenced (fences do work, contrary to rumor), and that leaves Arizona and New Mexico.

Arizona is almost all "protected" federal land, and that means protected from rude incursions by the Border Patrol. In many areas, the Border Patrol people must exit their SUVs and proceed across dangerous and inhospitable terrain on horseback. Or foot.

That's the story that Congressman Bishop has been trying to tell us. Here's something from a Fox News story in June:

Border Patrol agents must navigate a patchwork of environmental regulations dating back decades in order to police for drug cartels, smugglers and illegal immigrants-often on foot and horseback in some of the most vulnerable areas of the southwest border.

To unlock the legislative handcuffs, a group of House lawmakers are pushing a bill [authored by Rep. Bishop] that would prohibit the Departments of Interior and Agriculture from taking any action that would "impede border security" on public lands.

A good addendum to this story, by Kevin Mooney, who also contributes to Fox News, was published by TAS online on May 12. He reported that Raul Grijalva, a leftist congressman from Arizona, has, "under the guise of environmental protection," introduced "legislation that would restrict the movement of border security agents and create safe havens for criminal elements transporting illegal aliens and narcotics."

Which is already happening, of course. Grijalva wants the enviros to redouble their efforts; Bishop wants to allow the Border Patrol to do its job. Grijalva, who seems to be primarily interested in representing Mexican interests, has also called for a boycott of his home state (Arizona, in case you were wondering). He is "a reliable mouthpiece for the cause of lawlessness on the U.S.-Mexico border," Mooney wrote.

THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE IN Arizona can therefore be viewed through a property lens. In 1998 I wrote a book about property and the unacknowledged role that it has played in many historical situations. For years it has been clear that the enviros have been major enemies of private property. Their war on property has been every bit as vehement (although less candid) than the one conducted in the 20th century by the Communists and their socialist allies. Greens, socialists, and American liberals all share the leftist goal of centralizing power.

Also drawing attention to Arizona was the murder of Robert Krentz Jr., from a popular ranching family in southeast Arizona. "After radioing to his brother that he was aiding someone he believed to be an illegal immigrant," the New York Times reported, "he was found shot to death March 27 on his vast remote ranch."

But the Times, in the person of Randal C. Archibold, still didn't get the story. In a follow-up on June 18, Archibold found a source who said that Robert Krentz was "the face behind the violence" at the border and then pursued this red herring. Krentz's death has misled us, he wrote, because "the rate of violent crime" at the border has been declining. The border "may never be secure enough" in Arizona's "hothouse political climate." Manpower and technology at the border "are at unprecedented levels."

But manpower levels are irrelevant if environmental laws keep the border patrollers non-functional. Krentz's wife, Sue, saw the real issue three years earlier. She warned in a 2007 letter to Congress that adding more wilderness areas along the border would "worsen criminal activity." Observation towers are placed in poor locations to keep the greens happy. The new National Guardsmen that Obama promised for the border will no more be able to preempt federal rules than the Border Patrol can.

That is what the federal lawsuit against the Arizona law is all about. The national government is accustomed to telling the states what they can and cannot do. The left-liberal goal is to centralize power, and the environmental rules help keep it that way. Decentralization is surely the real goal of the Tea Party, and it's a healthy sign that Arizona also sees things that way.

This story, starting out with the wild game dinner on Capitol Hill, is more about the unacknowledged power of the greens than it is about migrants, legal or illegal. In the above dispute, an assertive Department of Homeland Security head would be able to force the issue by telling her subordinates that where border security and green regs are in conflict, to give precedence to the former. That would put it on the front pages, and we know which side would win that battle.

But it won't happen, first because the media side with the enviros and present them only in a favorable light, and second because the Secretary of Homeland Security happens to be a former governor of Arizona and a liberal named Janet Napolitano. Her priorities are those of her boss, Barack Obama.

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).