WASHINGTON – HR 1505, introduced by Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah), is an important piece of legislation needed to protect the “sovereignty and security of the border region, its federal lands and refuges, as well as the nation’s security,” said Gary Thrasher, Ph.D., rancher and veterinarian from southern Arizona. Thrasher spoke on behalf of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association during testimony at a July 8 legislative hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources on HR 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act.
Thrasher warned the situation is growing more serious in rural and remote stretches of the border between the US and Mexico. Increasing deployment of border patrol personnel to the more easily accessed areas has driven border incursions toward less accessible trails in rural areas – areas that cross through ranches like his as well as national forests, national monuments, wilderness areas, reservations and wildlife refuges, he said.
“Those of us who live and work in remote smuggling corridors are left the most vulnerable,” Thrasher said. “We are confronted with threats; damage and destruction of our property; theft; break-ins; and serious disruption of our necessary ranch work almost daily. Lethal violence is a daily menace we’re forced to live with and the senseless murders of our neighbors go unsolved.”
Federal policies, regulations and border enforcement strategies are making a bad problem worse, Thrasher said. He added the National Environmental Protection Act; the Federal Land Policy Management Act; the Endangered Species Act; and “perhaps a dozen other federal acts and regulations” have effectively blocked the ability of border patrol agents to secure the border by either preventing completion of border enforcement infrastructure and blocking the ability of border patrol agents from using motorized vehicles on federal lands along the border.
At present, the US Border Patrol is being prevented from maintaining a routine presence on portions of the 20.7 million acres of federal land located along the southern US border region as well as 1,000 miles along the US Canada border. The results have been not only life-threatening criminal activities, but also severe environmental degradation on these lands, Thrasher said.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would ensure that the environmental policies and regulations enforced by the Department of Interior or Department of Agriculture do not restrict or impede US Border Patrol from having operational control of the border. The legislation would allow US Border Patrol immediate access to federal lands and the ability to construct and maintain roads and place surveillance equipment in strategic areas to assist in detecting and apprehending criminals.
“I beg you to immediately and aggressively take whatever steps are needed to secure our border. [Passing] HR 1505 is an important step in that direction,” Thrasher concluded.