New Mexico has a new ‘wilderness area’ containing 500,000 acres known as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. It’s located next to the Mexican border and has five mountain ranges with prehistoric rock art and more recent historic sites such as a training area for the Apollo astronauts.
The Bureau of Land Management will oversee control of the land. About half of the land is to be set aside, meaning it will be closed to vehicles and construction.
The agreement remains controversial for both sides of the immigration debate.
“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,” said Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison.
“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,” the sheriff said. “I believe this monument will hamper law enforcement’s ability to effectively patrol the area we need to patrol.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency refuted the claim that the designation would threaten border security.
“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.”
Administration officials said the declaration will merge a 2006 agreement between the Interior Department and the Homeland Security Department that allows U.S. Border Patrol some access to the land. That agreement prevents most routine patrols through wilderness, though it does allow them to continue to follow smugglers in hot pursuit.
Congressman Rob Bishop, of Utah argues the environmental restrictions will continue hurt the Border Patrol’s ability to do its job and sent a letter to Mr. Obama asking him to hold off until the border can be controlled.
“It’s irresponsible to focus efforts on new land designations rather than finding solutions to existing criminal activities plaguing the border,” the congressman wrote.
Bishop pointed to a case in which a National Park Service employee at Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona detailed the vicious attack she suffered at the hands of an illegal immigrant. Authorities said the man smashed her head into a metal bathroom door and hit her head with a rock, striking so hard that the rock broke.
“By creating this monument, President Obama is ensuring a pathway to get drugs into the country” said Zack Taylor, Chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers.
Taylor, a 26-year border security veteran, pointed out that one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Juarez, Mexico, is right across the New Mexico border. Impeding law enforcement near this section of the border could allow Juarez’s cartels and violence to enter the U.S. with ease.
“This is the wrong place to put a monument,” Taylor said. “The New Mexico border has no river–it’s just an imaginary line. If criminal illegal aliens can walk across the border and into the sanctuary area, they will use that land for criminal activity and use it extensively. Everything surrounding the monument is in peril.”
“Who benefits form this more than the cartels?” Taylor asked. “The people who live there don’t benefit, law enforcement doesn’t benefit, the sheriffs don’t benefit. The only people who benefit from this monument are illegal immigrants brining drugs into this country.
Environmentalists say we’re protecting this land by shutting people out, but we’re actually doing the opposite.”
Conservationists and tourism businesses have been pushing for the designation, hoping it will bring more visitors.
“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will help protect our way of life while allowing for responsible development and expanding opportunities for all Americans to enjoy the beauty and multi-cultural history of this unique landscape,” Billy Garrett, Dona Ana County Commission chairman, said in a statement.
The half-million-acre proposal also has the backing of the state’s U.S. senators.
“An Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will preserve important cultural links to our past and strengthen southern New Mexico’s economy by boosting tourism and recreational opportunities, like hunting, hiking, camping, and horseback riding,” Senator Martin Heinrich said in a statement.
The New Mexico wilderness area is Obama’s second designation this year. In March, he added 1,600 acres in the Point Arena-Stornetta region to the California Coastal National Wilderness Area established by President Bill Clinton in 2000.