Despite objections from local lawmakers and law enforcement officials, the Obama White House this week designated nearly a half-million acres along the U.S. border with Mexico as a national monument, handing a huge victory to environmentalists who have campaigned on the issue for nearly 10 years.
“All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of the monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other disposition under the public land laws, including withdrawal from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws,” President Barack Obama said in an official proclamation, “and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing, other than by exchange that furthers the protective purposes of the monument.”
But it appears that the White House in its decision to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area in New Mexico as a monument failed to include more specific language that would give local law enforcement agents the power to patrol the area for illegal activity, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Although the monument designation grants U.S. Border Patrol the power to patrol and observe the land, it bars most local law enforcement officials from monitoring the area. It does, however, allow local units to enter the territory in cases where they're pursuing suspects.
Unsurprisingly, some local lawmakers and federal drug enforcement agents are upset with the monument designation, saying that the president’s actions will make it more difficult to monitor the border for Mexican cartel and human smuggling activity as well as illegal border crossings.
“This is about opposing so many thousands of acres that is going to create nothing more than a pathway for criminals to get into this country to do their criminal acts,” Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison told the Washington Times this week.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the Natural Resources Committee’s public lands subcommittee, echoed Garrison’s concerns.
“It’s irresponsible to focus efforts on new land designations rather than finding solutions to existing criminal activities plaguing the border,” the Utah congressman said in a letter to Obama.
However, in a statement this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials claim that the monument proclamation would not prohibit federal and local officers from performing their duties.
“This designation will in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission, and in fact provides important flexibility as we work to meet this ongoing priority,” said spokeswoman Jenny Burke. “CBP is committed to continuing to work closely with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to maintain border security while ensuring the protection of the environment along the border.”
But some locals still see the move as a "land grab" by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which operates 19 monuments across nine Western states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
“My fear is these areas will be used more than they are now because they’ll have access to it that will be private and closed off to every law-abiding citizen,” Garrison said. “I believe this monument will hamper law enforcement’s ability to effectively patrol the area we need to patrol.”
On the other hand, supporters of the monument designation see it as President Obama making good on a 2012 promise to "protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Also, the White House claims that the new monument could produce nearly $7.4 million “in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities, while preserving access for sportsmen, ranchers and recreational users.”
In fact, in a statement to TheBlaze, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Interior said that the designated area "is already a significant economic engine for the local community, driving tourism and offering opportunities for outdoor recreation."
Here’s the official proclamation:
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