Arizona's new immigration law has been widely characterized as an unprecedented, racially insensitive assault on civil liberties. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is leading the charge. A reliable mouthpiece for the cause of lawlessness on the U.S.-Mexico border, Grijalva has called for a boycott of his home state where 70 percent of the voting public supports the crackdown, according to a Rasmussen survey.
"The law violates due process, civil rights, and federal sovereignty over immigration policy. While I believe the courts will quickly overturn it, I am concerned that the damage to my home state's credibility has already been done," the congressman wrote in a recent editorial.
The outrage is real, the rationale is feigned. Grijalva feels slighted not because he has suddenly developed a concern for the constitutional order, but because the Arizona legislature has intruded upon his ability to scuttle meaningful enforcement efforts and facilitate illegal immigration.
There's history here. Under the guise of environmental protection, Grijalva has introduced legislation that would restrict the movements of border security agents and create safe havens for criminal elements transporting illegal aliens and narcotics, critics point out.
Grijalva has proposed extending federal wilderness protection to approximately 84,000 acres of the Tumacacori Highlands within the Coronado National Forest, which is located adjacent to the Pajarita Wilderness that runs along the Mexican border.
This wilderness designation would effectively push the Mexican border 30 miles to the north of its present location, Zack Taylor, a retired U.S. Border Patrol officer, has observed.
Just as the linebackers of football team must mirror the shifting movements of an opposing offense, U.S. border security personnel must have the flexibility and dexterity to move laterally along the southern border, he explained.
H.R. 2593, the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act, would preclude border security officials from operating on federal land, while H.R. 3287, the Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness Act, would establish a wilderness zone at the precise point where one of the largest illegal entry points into the U.S. exists.
"Coyotes on the other side of the border know the national forest is a corridor to promote their agenda," Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), said. "Having a new wilderness area placed adjacent to the existing corridor will just open the floodgates. Environmentalism is being used as a pretext to harm national security."
Federal lawmakers who are genuinely serious about enforcing the border can audition for public support and state compliance by offering up new legislation that expands the scope and reach of border security agents. As it now stands, agents can only react to movements and incursions from the other side.
"Right now, it is the smugglers and illegal aliens who decide where the Border Patrol works, not the Border Patrol," Taylor, the retired agent, said. "They simply move laterally along the border line once they are stopped in a certain area. Grijalva's legislation would do great harm to our national security because they would restrict our agents from operating in key corridors and make it easier for smugglers to predict the movements of our agents and make adjustments."
The Sky Island Alliance (SKI), an environmental group formed in 1991, has been the major impetus behind the wilderness protection legislation and is opposed to motorized activity in the Coronado National Forest.
Mike Quigley, the group's wilderness campaign coordinator, does not view border security and environmental protection as "an either or choice." The rugged nature of the terrain is a natural barrier against illegal crossings, he has argued.
Kent Lundgren, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NAFBPO), is less sanguine about public policy measures that would remove agents from the security calculus.
"It is imperative that the authority vested in agents and their ability to defend our borders remain seamless and unencumbered," Lundgren wrote in an open letter to policymakers. "It is obvious that a wilderness designation, the most restrictive of all federal land designations, along our international border would create adverse impediments in efforts to perform these difficult and dangerous responsibilities."
But even where there is a nexus between national security initiatives and environmental concerns, federal lawmakers have found a way to position themselves at points that erode both simultaneously.
Congressional critics of the proposed border security fence who have argued against the project on the basis of environmental concerns somehow manage to avoid any discussion of the ecological fallout from illegal immigration.
Rosemary Jenks, director of governmental relations for Numbers USA, attended a field hearing in Brownsville, Texas, where the security fence was discussed back in April 2008. The congressional figures who took part in the hearing appeared to be more interested in protecting illegal aliens than they did in protecting natural resources, she laments.
"If all they do is restrict border security, while allowing illegal immigration to continue unabated, they will be complicit in destroying those public lands for future generations," she observed at the time. "The environmental devastation caused by the illegal flow is far greater than the environmental impact of a security fence at the border."
While Grijalva tries to undercut immigration enforcement under the guise of environmental protection, immigration politics may have undercut a bigger part of the green agenda. The repackaged global warming bill that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had crafted in concert with Sen. Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was dealt what is perhaps a fatal blow thanks in large part to pending federal action designed to short-circuit the Arizona law.
"As I have previously indicated, a serious debate on energy legislation is significantly compromised with the cynical politics of comprehensive immigration reform hanging over the Senate," the South Carolina Republican declared in a released statement.
Conservatives may be divided on the subject of immigration reform, but perhaps they can agree such turnabout is fair play.
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