Border Patrol’s Battle Against Illicit Activity On Federal Borderlands Suffers From Lack of Resources, Report Says

By Edwin Mora | December 22, 2010 | 9:20 PM EST

Border Patrol agents monitor the U.S. border with Mexico in Nogales, Ariz., on Thursday, April 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Matt York)

( U.S. Border Patrol is losing the battle over human and drug smuggling on lands owned and managed by the federal government in the south-west, where illegal entries have outpaced apprehensions, according to a government audit.

The “logistical and operational challenges” facing Border Patrol agents responding to unauthorized crossings on federal lands include a lack of resources, rather than access to environmentally-sensitive areas on federal lands as some lawmakers had indicated, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit released last week.

“Illegal cross-border activity remains a significant threat to federal lands,” said the report. “On the southwest border, the Tucson sector is the primary entry point for marijuana smugglers and illegal aliens, and over the last 3 years apprehensions on federal lands have not kept pace with Border Patrol estimates of the number of illegal entries, indicating that the threat to federal lands may be increasing.”

“On the northern border, the Spokane sector is a primary entry point for air smugglers of high-potency marijuana, but technical challenges preclude fully assessing threats to these borderlands,” the audit continued.

Charged with guarding the U.S. borders, the Border Patrol is a component of the Customs and Border Protection agency at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The DHS measures illegal crossings by the amount of apprehensions it makes.

The GAO noted in a footnote that “Border Patrol officials stated that illegal entrants who are not apprehended either cross back over the Mexican border or continue traveling to the U.S. interior, and may be apprehended in other locations.”

“According to Border Patrol operational and threat assessments, agents face many logistical and operational challenges in responding to the threat of illegal entries on these federal lands while ensuring that the Border Patrol’s strategy and mission are carried out effectively and efficiently,” stated the audit.

“Challenges cited by Border Patrol assessments included insufficient resources, distance of resources from the border, and operational gaps between stations and sectors.”

“Operational and threat assessments indicated that patrolling environmentally sensitive areas was challenging, but access to these areas was not a primary factor to achieving operational control of the border,” the report added later.

With regard to the resource difficulties, the audit stated that visits to five Border Patrol stations found “an insufficient number of staff or amount of technology or other resources to detect and respond to illegal activity in their area of responsibility.”

Moreover, the distances from stations to some border areas make enforcement difficult, it said. “[S]ome federal lands crossed station and sector boundaries, and these boundaries were sometimes underpatrolled, resulting in higher levels of illegal activity and lower levels of apprehension.” asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for comment about the Border Patrol's lack of resources to properly combat and apprehend illegal entries across federal borderlands.

DHS spokesman Steven Cribby responded in an e-mail. "DHS is fully committeed to a positive working relationship with the Departments of Interior and Agriculture," he said. "We scknowledge that balancing the requirements of border enforcement and land preservation can at times present challenges, but we are committed to collaboration with the appropriate agencies to find workable solutions on special status lands."

"DHS's close working relationship with Interior and Agriculture allows DHS to fulfill its enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment," said Cribby.

<b><b>About half of all illegal entries into the United States in fiscal year 2010 took place in the Tucson Sector.</b></b>

‘Critical gaps’

Last October, another GAO audit stated that environmental protection laws on federal lands limit border patrol agents’ ability to detect and deter illegal border activity.

Border Patrol has “been unable to obtain a permit or permission to access certain areas in a timely manner because of how long it takes for land managers to conduct required environmental and historic property assessments,” the earlier report said.

According to the GAO, federal lands make up about 43 percent of the approximately 2,000-mile southwest border and about 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 mile-U.S.-Canada border.

Last week’s GAO audit revealed that the government’s response to the illegal activity on federal borderlands, which involves the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and DHS, suffers from “critical” coordination and communication “gaps.”

It said that the DHS “increased the deployment of personnel, technology, and infrastructure along the borders, raising new coordination challenges.”

The responsibility of the DOI and USDA in border areas is to manage natural resources and protect public health and safety.

Both agencies lack clear criteria on whether or not to close federal lands in the presence of danger posed by illicit activity on the border, according to the GAO.

Richard Stana, the GAO’s director of homeland security and justice issues, told CNSNews recently that DOI chief rangers at two monuments located on federal lands in Arizona were unable to convince their “higher ups” that the monuments should be closed because of illicit cross-border activity.

The chief rangers’ superiors required a high burden of proof level that public safety was at risk but, the chiefs were unable to provide such evidence because they lacked the resources to do so.

Instead of closing the two monuments in question, signs warning about the dangers were posted.

The GAO recommended “that DOI and USDA determine if more guidance is needed for federal land closures, and that DHS, DOI, and USDA further implement interagency agreements.” All three agencies agreed with the recommendations.