Senate Committee OKs Bill to Give Border Patrol Access to Fed Land

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved by voice vote Sen. John McCain’s Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act.

The legislation would grant Customs and Border Protection personnel immediate access to federal land on the Arizona border, including for motorized patrols and the placement of communications, surveillance and detection equipment.

McCain said federal agents now must get permission before entering some federal land or are required to remain on foot on designated paths while drug smugglers and others illegally crossing the Arizona border go wherever they want, destroying wildlife refuges in the process.

He said 80% of the Arizona-Mexico border is either federal land or tribal lands.

Opposition to McCain’s legislation came from several Democratic Senators.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., proposed amending McCain’s bill to eliminate the definition of border security, to have the measure expire after four years, and to require an oversight report of its impact.

McCain reacted angrily, saying he was “puzzled” and “stunned” by the proposal.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee, attempted to mollify McCain. “There are some people who don’t like your bill,” Carper said, adding that the changes would garner broader support.

“In all due respect, frankly, I don’t give a damn if somebody that lives in Delaware doesn’t like my efforts,” McCain fired back.

Eventually, McCain agreed to the four-year sunset and the government oversight report. He and Heitkamp also agreed to work out the definition of border security to be included in the legislation.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Matt Salmon.  It is awaiting action in  the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.