For Immediate Release, May 8, 2015

Contact:  Dan Millis, Sierra Club Borderlands, (520) 620-6401
Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 784-1504
Ricardo Favela, Alliance San Diego (member, Southern Border Communities Coalition), (619) 659-3620

Senate Committee Passes Unnecessary, Destructive Border Bill

TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved S.750, a bill that would waive all laws for any Border Patrol activity within 100 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico. Marketed as an improvement for Border Patrol’s access to public lands, the bill is more about overreach and overkill than access, and will result in more harm to our public lands, including those far from the border.

Christian Ramírez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, made this statement in response to the bill’s approval: “There is simply no need for S.750. The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly disclaimed the idea that such legislation is required to further border security. Moreover, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has not held a single hearing to examine impacts on the environment and Native American communities or to build a record justifying such a drastic measure. What any border bill should include are reforms to Customs and Border Protection to ensure greater oversight and accountability, none of which are included in S.750.”

“Border Patrol already has unfettered access to protected federal public lands along the border,” said Dan Millis, borderlands program coordinator for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In fact, Border Patrol currently has more access to the border and surrounding lands than the public.” Under a 2006 interagency agreement, Border Patrol is allowed to drive off-road in designated roadless wilderness without prior permission. No other entity, not even a land manager, is allowed to commit this violation of the Wilderness Act.

In 2013 Sierra Club produced Too Many Tracks, a three-minute video documenting thousands of miles of renegade roads and unauthorized vehicle routes on Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, both in Arizona. “Border Patrol’s off-road driving, tire dragging and ATV use in designated roadless wilderness has left an immense scar on the landscape. McCain’s bill would expand the waiver of law, and thus, the environmental damage, 100 miles from the border. Border Patrol’s environmental impact is much more intense than any damage caused by border-crossers,” said Millis.

“The Border Patrol has not asked for this authority and has said repeatedly that they don’t need it,” said Randy Serraglio, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “They have full access to public lands and are working with land managers to enhance border security efforts while minimizing impacts to those lands. For someone who purports to represent the state of Arizona, Senator McCain seems remarkably ignorant about what’s really going on here.”

“Imagine this: Border Patrol decides to construct a surveillance tower dozens of feet tall, armed with cameras and motion sensors, in Saguaro National Park — Tucson’s backyard gem — with no public consultation,” said Millis. “It demonstrates the overreach and overkill of waiving laws 100 miles inland. That’s what McCain’s bill does.” 

Hundreds of miles of walls, roads and other infrastructure have already been constructed without regard for the rule of law under a waiver provision of the Real ID Act, which passed into law 10 years ago this month (May 11, 2005). As a result Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and other Arizona borderlands nature preserves have experienced flooding, wildlife habitat destruction, and other damage in the ensuing decade. McCain’s S.750 would expand on this damaging waiver, including public lands up to 100 miles from Arizona’s border.

41 environmental and human rights organizations sent a letter Tuesday asking senators to oppose the bill on behalf of their millions of members and supporters nationwide.

Sierra Club video, Too Many Tracks:
Senate letter signed by 41 organizations against S.750:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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