The Department of the Interior (DOI) has issued a press release announcing the arrests of several illegal aliens and the seizure of an illegal weapon with the serial number filed off in park areas immediately proximate to our southern border.
DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke has sent law enforcement officers on temporary duty (TDY) details to help bolster other Trump administration efforts to control the border in remote wilderness areas under the control of DOI.
It's a welcome effort, and a change of attitude from DOI policies of past administrations, which went so far as to circumscribe Border Patrol efforts to confront illegal aliens and contraband being trafficked through these wilderness park areas — ostensibly because they are fragile environments that would be damaged by such patrols.
The reality, though, is that such wrong-headed policies simply made these areas free zones for criminal cartels smuggling immigrants and narcotics north, and weapons and money south, often trashing these environments on the way with mounds of discarded drug paraphernalia, condoms, clothing, food wrappers, defecation, and the like. They also helped ensure that the aliens being smuggled were even more susceptible to the predations of their smugglers, who could count on not being detected or interdicted while in such protected zones.
According to the House Committee on Natural Resources, 20.7 million acres of DOI and federal forest lands are proximate to our southern border area, of which 4.3 million consist of wilderness areas in which motorized traffic is prohibited. It's also notable that this committee, which has responsibility over the agencies that control those lands, has itself expressed dismay over the policies that have inhibited law enforcement patrols in the past.
DOI has taken a good first step, but it needs to be followed up. Secretary Zinke should seek to permanently deploy additional full-time rangers and other federal interior agents within parklands managed by DOI. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Nielson should support Zinke in that effort, which may require additional funded positions from Congress. And the Border Patrol should work closely with DOI law enforcement personnel on joint patrols, maneuvers, and possibly even task forces.
Furthermore, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has responsibility for the federal forests through the U.S. Forest Service, now needs to follow DOI's example and reverse its prohibitive policies toward border patrols as well. It would be even more helpful if USDA also sent additional law enforcement officers to conduct patrols and work cooperatively with the Border Patrol.
In this way, each acts as a force multiplier for the other; the number of federal statutes available to be used as tools to combat the smugglers multiplies exponentially; and maybe — just maybe — in the process, something meaningful will really be done to protect the pristine nature of those parks from the offenders really responsible for despoiling them.