The unknown gunman who murdered an Arizona rancher three weeks ago entered and exited the U.S. illegally in an area where border agents are widely prohibited from using motorized vehicles, constructing roads and installing surveillance structures, federal agents have confirmed.
The development prompted four Republican congressmen to introduce legislation on Wednesday that will ban the Interior Department from using environmental regulations to hinder agents along the border, including at the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, a 2,300-acre parcel near where rancher Robert Krentz was killed on March 27.
U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings of Washington, Peter King of New York, Rob Bishop of Utah and Lamar Smith of Texas say their bill, if passed, will address environmental degradation of federal lands and help close national security gaps along the border, which they say has become an uncontrolled highway.
“Effectively securing our borders against illegal entry is a matter of homeland security,” King said in a statement prior to the scheduled 1 p.m. press conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington. “Border Patrol agents spend every day on the front line, securing our homeland from terrorists. Denying or limiting the Border Patrol access to public lands and allowing the flow of illegals, including potential terrorists, doesn’t protect anything.”
The lawmakers say internal documents show that the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service have consistently and actively prevented Border Patrol agents from securing U.S. borders by requiring Department of Homeland Security officials to complete lengthy and expensive environmental analyses, and even blocking Border Patrol agents from entering some areas.
“As a result, Border Patrol agents are being forced to wade through bureaucratic red tape just so they can do the job Congress has mandated: gain operational control over the U.S. border,” according to a fact sheet released by the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee Republicans.
Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department told FoxNews.com that Secretary Ken Salazar visited the area last month to meet with land managers and federal, state, and local law enforcement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security officials.
She said Salazar places a high priority on working with DHS and other agencies to “meet the twin goals of protecting our national security and our natural resources.”
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