This is in response to Mr. Nick Voges’ assertion that Senator Bingaman’s wilderness bill “would make our borders safer” and that the Border Patrol “will have complete – and enhanced – access to patrol the border within the proposed wilderness areas.”
First, let’s start with the law. The Wilderness Act states “there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” The language of the statute is very clear.
The Wilderness Act does make an exception for “emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area.” This language has resulted in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Border Patrol and the land management agencies that permits the Border Patrol to use motorized vehicles while in hot pursuit of a suspect.
For nonemergency actions, such as routine or regular patrol of an area, the MOU says, “CBP-BP agents on foot or on horseback may patrol, or pursue, or apprehend” suspects “off-road at any time.” In other words, they are prevented from using motorized vehicles and mechanized equipment in wilderness areas for routine operations.
Second, let’s turn to Senator Bingaman. His legislation, S.1689, would release more than 16,000 acres of Wilderness Study Area to create a 3-mile corridor “in order to facilitate Border Patrol monitoring and enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.” It would exclude 8,000 acres in the area to “facilitate enforcement” and to “accommodate border security infrastructure.”
On June 9 of this year Senator Bingaman introduced revisions to S. 1689, adding two miles of “Restricted-Use Area.” In announcing the revisions Senator Bingaman said, “This area would prohibit motorized access by the general public, but it will permit the Border Patrol to conduct routine patrols and construct communication and surveillance infrastructure as it would on regular multiple-use land.”
Voges supplies a quote from Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero that “We’re still allowed to patrol anywhere…” Now, if Senator Bingaman believed Cordero’s comments were accurate, why did he create the 3-mile corridor in the bill he introduced? If Senator Bingaman felt Cordero’s comments reflected current law and policy, why did he propose to revise his bill to create an additional two miles of buffer so the Border Patrol could “conduct routine patrols” and construct “infrastructure?”
Senator Bingaman knows the quotes from Cordero are inaccurate and has legislated accordingly.
How does that make us safer?
Voges states the Bingaman bill “makes the border safer.”
The majority of the areas under consideration are currently designated wilderness study areas (WSA). In WSAs the Border Patrol can use motorized vehicles to patrol and can use mechanized equipment and develop infrastructure such as communication towers. If those areas are designated wilderness those activities will stop.
I’ve already discussed patrolling so let’s look at equipment. The Border Patrol has an MOU with the Las Cruces office of the Bureau of Land Management concerning the Big Hatchet Peak WSA that has allowed them to place a communication facility on the peak. Then the MOU goes on to state, “In the event Congress deems the Big Hatchet Wilderness Study Area (WSA) as Wilderness, the CBP-BP must remove all communication site equipment as soon as possible.”
So if the WSAs in the Bingaman bill are designated as wilderness, the Border Patrol will no longer be able to conduct routine patrols and will be prohibited from utilizing mechanical equipment or other modern detection devices. So tell me, how does that make us safer?
Trying to compromise
On another issue, Voges says opponents of the bill “will never compromise.” Perhaps he wasn’t aware that People For Preserving Our Western Heritage and other groups have endorsed the compromise put forward by the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has endorsed those provisions of the Bingaman bill that designate wilderness in the Organs, the Robledos and the Las Uvas. They request a different designation in the Potrillos because of border security issues, and a different designation for Broad Canyon because of flood control and other issues.
The opponents have compromised, and I haven’t seen similar movement by the proponents.
Voges says the bill has been “hijacked” and links to a Las Cruces Sun-News editorial that urges Bingaman “to go as far as necessary to ensure that Border Patrol will have complete and unfettered access to all areas along the border before putting the bill up for final action.” Given the facts as presented, and some as-yet unanswered questions on border security and flood control, the Sun-News’ recommendation is a prudent and reasonable caution against haste and potential mistakes.
And since when does raising legitimate questions and proposing reasonable alternatives constitute “hijacking” of legislation? Sounds like good old American democracy to me.
DuBois is a former deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Interior, legislative assistant to Senator Pete V. Domenici and served as the New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture from 1988-2003. He is active in People For Preserving Our Western Heritage.