“Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border”: Recent Developments

By Janice Kephart on August 7, 2009

Since the July 15, 2009, posting of the Center for Immigration Studies’ video, “Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border: Coyotes, Bears, and Trails," a lot has happened. None of it can be claimed to have been caused by the video, but there has been an interesting uptick in events in Washington and on the southeast Arizona border since its posting. While each of the events involving the federal government has acquired a hue of spin or premeditated silence, it does seem that a change is a coming – if the pressure keeps mounting. The Border Patrol is ramping up, the Forest Service has closed off some of the worst illegal layup areas due to potential bear encounters, and Congress is asking a lot of questions.

Border Patrol

On July 30, 2009, borderinvasionpics.com captured on film the largest group of illegal aliens in its 10 months online: 41. They looked tired, having just come up a steep climb through the Coronado National Forest, many of them resting and then moving on. In juxtaposition, just this past week, for the first time, the Border Patrol moved into the border area in high numbers, cutting off some of the trails leading to the hidden cameras. According to our sources, agents in the field say increased numbers of agents patrolling south of the mountains 24/7 is permanent, as are scope trucks and agents with all-terrain vehicles (they are often on foot). More men, more vehicles, and more technology are on the ground to help stem the flow. In addition, up near the rendezvous points where the trails end, the Border Patrol have set up ‘tent cities’ and the initial action has stopped groups of aliens from successful entry.

Congressional Action

On July 31, 2009, the ranking Republicans on the House Homeland Security, Oversight and Government Reform, and Natural Resources Committees1 wrote Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano asking for documentation and answers regarding the Border Patrol’s responsibilities and agreements with the Department of Interior that support obtaining operational control of the border in light of the sensitive environmental impact of such activity on over 800 miles of federal land. Specifically, the letter stated:

Comprised of wildlife refuges, national parks and national forests, these lands represent some of the most culturally and environmentally sensitive areas in the country. Due to their sparse population, lack of development, and location on the border, these lands often serve as gateways for illegal aliens, smugglers, and possibly terrorists to enter the United States.

Given the magnitude of our underlying concerns, we are writing to request information relating to agreements between DHS and Department of the Interior agencies and the U.S. Forest Service. In particular, we respectfully request information concerning USBP access to lands under the jurisdiction of these agencies, including USBP's ability to patrol these areas and install important surveillance and communication equipment.

To address the existing matters, it is vital for us to better understand the critical situation along our nation's borders and the coordination between agencies.

The administration is bucking requests for answers from one Secretary’s office to another. There is talk that a whistleblower in one department has been silenced who offered up information in the form of detailed government reporting showing how well aware – for years -- the feds have been of the environmental consequences of illegal smuggling and drug cartel activity (I have the 2004 PowerPoint in question, along with a detailed threat assessment from that department).

In addition, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, has been asking questions of his own within his jurisdiction, including document requests to the Acting Director of the National Park Service Daniel Wenk. The requests included any environmental impact assessments done to determine the impact of illegal smuggling on these lands, and correspondence and agreements that enable the Border Patrol to gain access to southwest border lands owned by the National Park Service.

More recently, Rep. Bishop offered an amendment to help law enforcement, including the Park Service, Forest Service, and Border Patrol, to better do their job on federally protected land such as the Saguaro National Park (located west of the source of the hidden camera footage we used). The amendment was voted down on party lines, but Rep. Bishop asserted it would have done the following:

My amendment is designed to guarantee that law enforcement agencies can do their jobs effectively within the park and its surroundings. While Saguaro is a beautiful park, the Fraternal Order of Police named it one of the Top 10 most dangerous parks in the country. They stated that Saguaro is “home to body dumping, smuggling and poaching after rangers go home at night.” On the National Park Service website, it alerts visitors to be on the lookout for arson, vandalism, theft of cactus, poaching, dumping of debris, marijuana cultivation or drug labs.

Organ Pipe National Monument

In extreme detail, the 2004 PowerPoint presentation and threat assessment – whose existence was denied for months – show that the borderland manager’s group at Organ Pipe National Monument were well aware that the effects of illegal smuggling across the Monument are primarily responsible for its destruction. The extensive damage to Organ Pipe, according to the department’s own assessment, is mostly due to illegal activity – coyotes and their illegal-alien clients, drug smugglers, human traffickers. The requirement that Border Patrol do its part to mitigate damage remains, but the blame that continues to be placed wholly on the shoulders of the agency responsible for obtaining operational control of the border is misguided, at best. The assessment makes clear that the lack of fencing has exacerbated the destruction, and aided in the loss of endangered species and plant life. Questions raised in “Hidden Cameras” as to whether Coronado National Forest is going to suffer the same immense environmental damage as Organ Pipe due to illegal smuggling are well-founded.

Huachuca Mountains and Coronado National Forest

As to the Huachuca Mountains and Coronado National Forest, as mentioned previously, sources tell us that the Border Patrol has moved to set up reconnaissance and greater vehicle presence at points on the border which are entrée to the trails depicted in “Hidden Cameras." Within 48 hours of our video being posted, the U.S. Forest Service closed down campgrounds used by the same trails highlighted in the film:

Reef Campground in the Huachuca Mountains will be closed for two weeks due to black bear activity in the area. The campground, at 7,150 feet elevation on Carr Canyon Road in the Sierra Vista Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, will be temporarily closed to remove the human influence such as food and garbage that may tempt bears to linger.

Another local news story depicted a photo of a mama bear and two small cubs, noting they are a growing threat to campers:

The same bear family was picked up a week prior, the first week of July, by other cameras on an illegal trail. In addition, five other bears and six groups of illegal aliens passed by hidden cameras in this same two-week time frame within a half mile of the closed area. On these campgrounds, about a quarter-mile from the legitimate camp area, are growing illegal-alien trash dumps similar to those highlighted in “Hidden Cameras.” The bears seem to be losing fear of humans, and growing interest in human food, ripping up backpacks and leaving droppings, with little activity near the established campgrounds that are closed.

And now a short news release on August 1, 2009 states the following:

TUCSON — The closure for Reef Campground in the Huachuca Mountains will continue for two more weeks, due to ongoing black bear activity in the area.

The campground, in the Sierra Vista Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, will remain temporarily closed to remove the human food and garbage that may be tempting the bears to linger in the area.

The source of the problem isn’t mentioned in this news release – yet those on the ground relate that the problem is not the campers attracting the bears; the problem is the illegals’ lay-up areas and the trails that lead to them. At least in the Coronado, they are cleaning it up. For now.

Of note: It would be interesting to hold those responsible for the trash dumping accountable under the relevant Cochise County ordinance: “The law: Cochise County Ordinance No. 36-08 prohibits the feeding of wildlife, including bears, javelina, coyotes or mountain lions, either intentionally or unintentionally. As a Class 1 misdemeanor, violation of the ordinance could result in any combination of the following: a fine of more than $2,500, six months in jail, or three years of probation.”