Republicans, Local Sheriff Warn Border Wilderness Zone Will Create Vast Drug Corridor
A pending proposal from President Obama to create a vast new wilderness area on the U.S.-Mexico border is drawing criticism from Republican lawmakers and local law enforcement officials who say it would significantly impede border security.
The Obama administration is set to designate a 600,000 acre national monument in south-central New Mexico to be managed and controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency. The designated land will be called the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and environmentalists have long-sought the designation.
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, the chairman of a key subcommittee, blasted the plan in a letter Monday, saying it would allow the region to become an unfettered drug corridoor.
"National Parks, monuments, and wilderness areas along our southern border have become prime drug-trafficking corridors for violent criminals and drug cartels. Restrictive environmental laws within these federal corridors limit Border Patrol access and, as a result, make it easier for drug smugglers and human traffickers to move their drugs and people in and out of the United States unnoticed," Bishop, who is chairman of the Public Lands and Environmental Regulation subcommittee on the House Natural Resources committee, wrote.
Melissa Subbotin, the Communications Director for Rep. Bishop, told Breitbart News that Obama appears likely to bypass the Senate and Congress by creating the monument under the Antiquities Act.
"The Antiquities Act is a tool for presidents to lock up land," Subbotin told Breitbart News. "Environmentalists have had their eye on this specific land for a long time--they think that Border Patrol is destroying the landscape by driving vehicles on it. But it's often individuals involved in the drug trade who are littering the area and making diversionary fires."
She added that ultimately, it will be up to the Obama Administration to decide if Border Patrol agents are able to access the land with vehicles. "In some national monuments, no vehicle traffic is allowed," Subbotin said. "Making this a new national monument will impede Border Patrol's ability to have routine access to the land."
Interfering with Border Patrol's access to highly trafficked land will likely "create a new criminal corridor," Subbotin said.
Zack Taylor, the Chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, told Breitbart News the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument "is the biggest breach of border security I have seen in the lat 20 years. The people don't want it, and the sheriff doesn't want it. It is an open invitation for the foreign drug cartels and transnational criminals to bring their illegal drugs and aliens into the U.S."
In March, Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both from New Mexico, hosted Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on a tour the lands and to hold a "public discussion" about the proposed monument.
Carol Richardson, a Tea Party activist who lives near the land in question, said that environmental activists organized buses to bring in supporters to speak at that meeting.
"The National Wilderness Alliance advertised that they were offering buses to pick people up and transport them to the meeting. The bussed in people stayed the night in a hotel where the meeting. There were people that came in from El Paso, Santa Fe, all over. The local public had no forewarning about the meeting--the National Wilderness Alliance knew much earlier than we did because they arranged for the buses and hotels," Richardson said.
She said that once she learned about the discussion, she was told she could not bring signs to protest the monument.
Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison also opposes the creation of the monument. He claimed that the federal government never contacted local law enforcement for their opinion on the matter.
Garrison told Breitbart News,"Once the land becomes a national monument, local law enforcement can no longer effectively patrol the areas. When the Obama Administration makes it a monument, the existing roads there will close down. We will not have access to the land. I can't go out and patrol the area like I do now, which lessens crime. If we cant get out there to control it, only law abiding citizens will follow the law and criminals wont."
"Local law enforcement was never brought to the table to discuss this issue," he continued. "We have one of the largest cartels right across the Mexican border, and one of the most unsafe cities in the world. Are we supposed to believe that nothing's going to happen here if we impede law enforcement authorities from doing their jobs? That's just stupid."
Ultimately, Garrison does not understand the president's motives for using unilateral authority to create the monument. "He has the right to do this, but why is he doing it?" Garrison asked. "We have a real issue on the border. People say they want to protect that land for our children, but criminal activity is being conducted on it daily. It's up to us to stop it."
Garrison isn't the only sheriff to oppose the monument.
"The Southwest Border Sheriffs opposed the it, and the New Mexico Sheriffs oppose the it. Their input and testimony has been summarily suppressed in the media. It is past time their voices are heard," Taylor said.
Follow Kristin Tate on Twitter @KristinBTate.