NPCA submitted the following position to the House Homeland Security Committee ahead of a legislative markup scheduled for October 4, 2017.
NPCA urges members of the committee to oppose H.R. 3548 – “Border Security for America Act.”
Some of our nation’s most treasured places, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Big Bend National Park in Texas, are located along the U.S.-Mexico border. They provide important habitat for wildlife, offer recreational opportunities for visitors and serve as economic engines for communities. Building a wall or expanding barriers through these areas jeopardizes the protection and preservation of natural and cultural resources in these national parks.
H.R. 3548 not only mandates additional tactical infrastructure and technology along our borders, it completely overrides the authority of the National Park Service (NPS) and other land managers to protect federal lands within 100 miles of both the northern and southern borders. This would expand the bill’s impact to include places like Joshua Tree National Park in California, Acadia National Park in Maine and Saguaro National Park in Arizona – all within 100 miles of the U.S. land border.
The physical border infrastructure currently present in national parks has been subject to flooding, blocking wildlife migration and disrupting the viewshed for park visitors. However, according to a 2017 GAO report, Customs and Border Protection does not have metrics to determine the border fencing’s impact on diverting illegal entries or apprehension rates over time. It is irresponsible to authorize additional funding – and potentially additional negative impacts on our national parks – for a tactic that has proven to be expensive and its effectiveness uncertain.
The Department of Homeland Security already has the authority, as granted under the Real ID Act of 2005, to waive any laws it deems necessary to proceed with border construction. This bill expands that authority to include installation, operation, and maintenance and goes a step further by explicitly waiving a series of laws that are key to the protection of our national parks. Waiving core laws like the National Park Organic Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act undermines the ability of NPS to conduct their duties to ensure national parks are protected and accessible to the public.
Border Patrol and park staff have developed working relationships on the ground that make this heavy-handed authority unnecessary. In fact, acting Organ Pipe superintendent, Rijk Morawe, recently said, “[Border Patrol and NPS have] come to a point where we’ve worked together, gotten the access we need and are being managed well. We all need to respect each other’s missions; they get that, we get that, and it’s working.” Instead of waiving the role of NPS and other federal land managers, Congress should be supporting this type of collaboration which helps both agencies achieve their missions.
NPCA urges member of the committee to oppose H.R. 3548 and find border security alternatives that do not sacrifice the protection of our national parks, the experience of park visitors and the well-being of surrounding communities.
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Associate Director, Government Affairs