United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is tasked with keeping immigrants from illegally crossing into the country and CBP agents are faced with numerous, daunting challenges in the execution of their jobs. There are almost 2,000 miles of borderlands along the U.S. and Mexico border and much of the expanse is defended by inadequate barriers. Further, the resources employed by the CBP are insufficient to fully stem the influx of people intent on crossing into the country, whether by basic, desperate or creative means. CBP faces another enforcement challenge because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated certain lands along the border as national wildlife refuge zones. As such, the activity of border patrol agents in those areas is restricted by certain regulations designed to protect the lands and wildlife.
Illegal immigration presents a significant national security concern for the U.S. and with an immigration policy that is seen by other countries as lax, the flood of people trying to cross the border is increasing at an alarming rate. Many of these immigrants have been instructed by “human smugglers” to try to access the border in the areas that have been designated as refuge zones by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because it is easier to evade border patrol in those locations.
The combination of land use regulation and the tactics recommended by human smugglers has caused the enforcement of illegal immigration by border patrol to be further hampered. It represents yet another way that smugglers and illegal aliens are working the system to get into the country by any means – which includes taking advantage of both a lax immigration policy and government regulations that restrict effective border patrol for the sake of wildlife preservation.
Along the Texas-Mexico border, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge stretches 275 miles along the Rio Grande River. The refuge is described as “one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America” with “1,200 plants, 300 butterflies and approximately 700 vertebrates” including 520 birds. That same 275 miles along the river is also a hot spot for illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border as well as being a stretch known for the illegal transportation of narcotics by drug runners associated with the Mexican drug cartels.
The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas consists of more than 97,000 acres and there has been great concern over the impact that border barriers present to the wildlife that inhabit the area. In fact, wild life preservation societies have expressed concern about border barriers in all four states that fall along the United States-Mexico border including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The organization, Defenders of Wildlife has stated that national border security measures that involve barriers and border patrol traffic have contributed to “significant environmental degradation in some of the most pristine and valuable wildlife habitats in the nation.”
Border patrol agents in the areas that have been designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as refuge zones for various species are hampered from effectively carrying out the important national security aspects of their jobs. While illegal immigrants are able to cross open lands to get to the borders, the agents are, in many areas, prohibited from driving off-road. Thus, they can only seek to apprehend drug runners, smugglers, and hapless immigrants who believe that the U.S. will simply take them in, by driving along the dirt roads near the border. The only way that the agents can pursue people across the open refuge areas is on foot, or in some areas, on horseback – methods that can be highly ineffective and can put them in a precarious position with the violent criminal element seeking a border crossing.
The delicate balance that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to preserve is in stark contrast to the needs of the CPB and hampers its efforts to aggressively protect the nation’s borders. At issue is whether it is more or less important to protect the borders from illegal crossings by criminals and other elements or to protect the species that inhabit the wildlife refuge zones.
By Alana Marie Burke