GOP seeks big-government power grab along borders
You might not have noticed, but in the last few weeks our nation has witnessed an attempted big-government power grab the likes of which we have rarely seen.
Republicans in Congress who were elected on the platform of a smaller federal government are pushing through an unprecedented power grab in the name of border security. Unlike the bill I passed as a state representative that established a venue for cooperation between border law-enforcement agencies, their bill has possible undertones of violating the U.S. Constitution, country-to-country agreements, and other problematic issues.
H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, was passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last month. The bill is championed by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and has serious implications for New Mexico. Fortunately, we have a couple of congressmen who get it: Reps. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján thoughtfully voted against it in the Natural Resources Committee.
The bill actually does nothing to improve our security and does the complete opposite of protecting our lands because it gives the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), units of the Department of Homeland Security, the power to override three dozen basic public health and environmental protections like the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Protecting drinkable, clean water needs to be the center of discussion in the very areas in which H.R. 1505 would dismantle current safeguards.
As citizens who have served our country, many of us are now alarmed that Congress is moving legislation forward that would undermine the protection of public lands that help define our freedom and what it is to be an American.
What would the bill do?
So what would this poorly named National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act actually do?
Well most important, it would give CPB the authority to shut down access to any federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico. It would allow CBP to build roads, fences, and other infrastructure and take vehicles anywhere they’d like on public lands despite current designation or management of these lands as national parks, wildlife refuges, or wilderness areas. Access by law enforcement agencies through cooperative agreements are already in place, so the underlying intent of this legislation may dismantle much of the work that has already been accomplished.
In addition, access to these public lands could be immediately closed with no public notice or avenues for public recourse, such as the courts, based on the whims of one federal agency. It’s scary stuff, especially if you are a student of historical government disasters or support multiple-use access to public lands.
The bill would also give Customs and Border Protection broad and invasive powers to override any law protecting public lands within that 100-mile buffer of our nation’s border with Canada and Mexico.
Keep in mind these are powers that Customs and Border Protection have never asked for and do not want. CBP already has the authority to use vehicles off-road on any public lands when in pursuit of suspected cross-border violators.
In fact, Customs and Border Protection officials have testified that the department already has a close working relationship with land-management agencies. Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of Customs and Border Protection, testified in April 2011 that his agency “enjoys a close working relationship with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allows CBP to fulfill its border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.” This bill would place these agreements in jeopardy, and in their place we would likely see the breakdown of inter-agency collaboration.
The Tea Party should be marching in the street against this
So, if the agencies have never asked for this unprecedented power to usurp the rule of law all in the name of security, why then would certain members of Congress be pushing so hard to pass a bill that provides one agency a level of unilateral power rarely seen before?
It sounds like a “big-government-at-its-worst” move that the Tea Party should be marching in the streets against.
Who can say what the motives of the bill’s supporters are? Their support for this misguided power grab is at its best hypocrisy and, at its worst, an underhanded attempt to subvert and chip away at laws designed to protect public lands and the environment.
How else could you justify the congressional Republicans going against their core principles by giving one agency historic powers to skirt the laws of the land and possibly the U.S. Constitution? Think about the power that is then in the hands of our executive, our president.
Cote, a Democrat, is a former state representative for District 53.
9 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.
Leave a response
You must be logged in to post a comment.