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Statement for the record of CBP for a House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing titled “The Consequences of Federal Land Management Along the U.S. Border to Rural Communities and National Security”

Release Date: 
April 28, 2016

1334 Longworth House Office Building

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) submits this statement for the record regarding U.S. Border Patrol’s (USBP) access to, and use of, Federal lands as part of our critical border security mission.

As America’s unified border agency, CBP protects the United States against terrorist threats and prevents the illegal entry of inadmissible persons and contraband, while facilitating lawful travel and trade. The USBP is specifically responsible for patrolling the 6,000 miles of land border, between the ports of entry (POE), that we share with Mexico and Canada and 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding the Florida Peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico. Border Patrol agents work around the clock detecting, deterring and disrupting, illicit cross-border activity, in all types of terrain and weather conditions.

CBP, and by extension, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enjoy a close working relationship with the Department of Interior (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows us to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities, while respecting and enhancing the environment. CBP respects the missions of these agencies, and we recognize the importance of preserving the American landscape and natural resources. Our agencies have formed a number of agreements, on the national and local level, that allow us to carry out both of these important missions. CBP believes that law enforcement efforts to reduce illegal cross-border activity has lessened environmental degradation and has assisted with recovery of damaged natural resources. We are fully committed to continuing our cooperative efforts with DOI and USDA to further this valuable relationship.

Overview of Border Security Efforts

CBP protects the Nation through the coordinated use of personnel, technology, infrastructure and partnerships to detect, interdict, and prevent the entry of terrorists and their weapons, and the unlawful movement of people, illegal drugs, and contraband toward or across the borders of the United States. CBP implements intelligence-driven counter network strategies focused on areas of greatest risk, and deploys its capabilities to adapt to emerging threats along the border.

While there is still work to be done, the Nation’s long-term investment in border security between the POEs has produced significant and positive results. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, USBP apprehensions – an indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally – totaled 337,117 nationwide compared to 486,651 in FY 2014. This represents a more than 30 percent decline in the last year and almost 80 percent below its most recent peak in FY 2000. CBP also played a critical counter-narcotics role, resulting in the seizure or disruption of more than 3.3 million pounds of narcotics in FY 2015. In addition, the agency seized more than $129 million in unreported currency through targeted enforcement operations. CBP will continue to strategically deploy resources, technology, and frontline personnel order to keep our borders secure and the communities along it safe.

In addition, CBP relies on strong partnerships with Federal, state, local, international, and tribal law enforcement agencies, as well as with the public and private sectors. Coordination and cooperation among all entities that have a stake in our mission is paramount.

Operational Coordination

Secretary Johnson’s Unity of Effort initiative has put in place new and strengthened management processes at DHS Headquarters to enable more effective DHS component operations. In addition, DHS-wide border security activities are being strategically guided by the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign (SBAC). Aimed at leveraging the range of unique Department roles, responsibilities, and capabilities, the Campaign enhances our operational approach to working together in a more unified way to address comprehensive threat environments.

On November 20, 2014, the Secretary commissioned the creation of three pilot Joint Task Forces (JTF) to support the SBAC: JTF-West, JTF-East, and JTF-Investigations. All three incorporate elements from CBP, the U.S Coast Guard (USCG), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). JTF-West, led by CBP Commander Robert Harris, bears responsibility for the Southwest land border and the West Coast. JTF-East, led by the USCG Vice Admiral Dean Lee, is responsible for the Southern maritime and border approaches. JTF-Investigations, led by ICE-HSI Special Agent in Charge Janice Ayala, focuses on investigations in support of JTF-W and JTF-E.

This effort will direct DHS resources in a much more collaborative fashion to address the range of threats and challenges, including illegal migration, smuggling of illegal drugs, human and arms trafficking, the illicit financing of such operations, and threat of terrorist exploitation of border vulnerabilities. The creation of the JTFs along the Southwest border and in the approaches to the United States increases information sharing with Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies; improves situational awareness; enhances border-wide criminal intelligence-led interdiction operations; and addresses transnational threats and associated violence.

Border Security Operations and Initiatives on Public Lands

In executing our critical operations along the border, CBP works closely with our governmental and private sector partners to ensure the security of border regions and the protection of environmental and cultural resources on Federal lands. The missions of DHS, DOI, and USDA are inextricably linked in protecting and strengthening American communities.

Perhaps the most significant example of our commitment to interagency collaboration on Federal lands is the March 2006 Memorandum of Understanding (hereinafter the 2006 MOU) between the Departments of Homeland Security, Interior, and Agriculture regarding Cooperative National Security and Counterterrorism Efforts on Federal Lands along the United States’ Borders. The 2006 MOU provides a framework for cooperative national security and counterterrorism efforts on Federal lands along U.S. borders.

USBP works closely with USDA and DOI to maintain access to Federal lands along the Southwest and Northern borders. The 2006 MOU sets out a framework for cooperation between the parties concerning access to Federal lands and contains specific guidance on cooperation related to border security as well as compliance with related environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The MOU also calls for environmental and cultural awareness training for Border Patrol agents. CBP has taken a lead role in this effort by creating a tri-agency working group called the Environmental and Cultural Stewardship Taskforce through the Public Lands Liaison Program, in partnership with our DOI counterparts. This spring, an Environmental and Cultural Stewardship training pilot program was implemented at the Border Patrol Academy targeting newly hired Border Patrol Agents. As of October 1, 2016, this course will be a requirement to complete prior to graduation. This training is currently conducted in our field offices annually, in conjunction with other land management agencies. Additionally, Yuma and Tucson Sectors currently conduct Environmental and Cultural Stewardship training to all newly hired Border Patrol agents who enter duty; being sector specific as to environmental and cultural impacts.

The 2006 MOU also facilitates USBP access to Federal wilderness areas to ensure USBP’s ability to fulfill its border enforcement responsibilities, while respecting and enhancing the environment. Maintenance of operational effectiveness on wilderness lands remains essential to the USBP mission. Federal land managers understand the duties of the USBP with regard to operations on lands under their care. The USBP can, and we do, patrol on Federal lands, including wilderness, in performance of our border security mission. Per the 2006 MOU, Border Patrol agents have the authority at any time to conduct motorized off-road pursuit in the event of an exigency / emergency involving human life, health, safety of persons within the area, or posing a threat to national security. The USBP, in accordance with the 2006 MOU, makes every reasonable effort to use the least impacting means of transportation within wilderness, given the ecological significance of these areas, without compromising our border security mission or agent safety. We also work to ensure that we comply with all laws and regulations that relate to being good environmental and cultural resources stewards on these lands.

The USBP continuously collaborates with Federal land managers to find solutions that enable all concerned parties to achieve our missions as public servants, both in wilderness areas and on other types of Federal lands. Our close partnership with DOI and USDA enhances our ability to fulfill our enforcement responsibilities along our Nation's borders and to counter illegal cross-border activity on federal lands.

As part of these efforts, CBP has developed several initiatives to promote the sharing of intelligence and threat information. In June 2009, DOI and USDA law enforcement partners were invited by the USBP in the Tucson Sector to participate in the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT). ACTT uses a collaborative enforcement approach that leverages the capabilities and resources of DHS in partnership with more than 60 law enforcement agencies in Arizona and Mexico to deter, disrupt, and interdict individuals and criminal organizations that pose a threat to the United States and Mexico. Through ACTT, we work with our Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to increase collaboration; enhance intelligence and information sharing; and develop coordinated operational plans that strategically leverage the unique missions, capabilities and jurisdictions of each participating agency.

Within this broader initiative, Federal law enforcement officers from CBP, DOI, and USDA are teaming up to counter illegal cross-border activity on Federal public lands in Arizona. Operation Trident and Operation Reclaim our Arizona Monuments (ROAM) are collaborative enforcement approaches that leverage the capabilities and resources of these three Federal agencies to counter the threats posed by transnational criminal organizations, protect public lands from environmental damage, and deter violations of cultural and environmental laws. Under both operations, members of the USBP, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service carry out joint patrols along the Arizona border.

In 2008, DHS, DOI and USDA signed an MOU to bridge communication gaps and provide radio interoperability between Border Patrol agents and their law enforcement partners in DOI and USDA. Since the signing of the 2008 MOU, a primary repeater channel has been designated, and a common encryption key has been created and distributed to all Border Patrol agents and DOI and USDA law enforcement personnel. In April 2010, the USBP extended this access to all radio frequencies in the Tucson Sector. This interoperability is imperative to the success of our cooperative efforts along the border.

Along the Northern border, the USBP has included DOI and USDA in the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, comprised of both U.S. and Canadian Federal, state/provincial, local, and tribal law enforcement personnel that share information and work together on cross-border issues related to smuggling, organized crime, and other criminal activities.

Environmental and Cultural Stewardship

As CBP continues to carry out our core mission, we remain strongly committed to demonstrating sound environmental and cultural stewardship practices. CBP will continue to work with our Federal land management partners to ensure that we effectively comply with environmental laws and respect Federal land conservation efforts to the extent possible while we carry out our responsibilities to protect the nation.

When Federal lands overlap with our enforcement zones, compliance with associated laws and regulations that apply to those lands may affect the tools available to agents for daily operations within those areas and may have an impact on the deployment of technology and tactical infrastructure. In these situations, CBP works closely with DOI and USDA to find mutually agreeable approaches and solutions.

Close coordination on Federal lands requires innovative solutions and robust interagency communication. In 2005, the USBP established the Public Lands Liaison Agent (PLLA) Program. Each USBP sector designates a Public Lands Liaison Agent to build and maintain solid working relationships with our land management agency counterparts and local organizations to identify opportunities to collaborate and to work through any issues that may arise.

Another significant communication vehicle is an interagency group called Borderland Management Taskforces (BMTF). Although BMTFs originated along the Southwest border, over the past several years BMTFs have also been established along the Northern and coastal borders. These taskforces provide a unique opportunity to leverage resources and quickly identify and solve any potential problems.

In 2015, CBP executed a Programmatic Agreement with DOI, USDA and other Federal, state, and tribal entities under the National Historic Preservation Act that promotes efficient execution of CBP border security actions, including patrol functions and maintenance and repair of border infrastructure along the Southwest border, while ensuring protection of cultural and historic resources. A similar Programmatic Agreement is in final signature stages for the Northern border.

CBP also participates in an annual Arizona Border Forum in Tucson, Arizona. Hosted by the DOI Borderlands Coordinator, the Forum brings together senior executives from the national, regional and local levels to discuss joint agency challenges and shared successes.

Conclusion

A strong partnership between law enforcement and Federal land managers can assist in reaching and maintaining both border security land management objectives. The USBP offers the benefit of attentive law enforcement to expand land management’s ability to protect natural resources through reducing potential negative influences and activities on Federal lands.

CBP takes seriously its commitment to environmental and cultural stewardship and looks forward to continued partnership and collaboration with DOI and USDA in the security of the American people and the protection of the environment and our Nation’s natural resources.

Last Published Date: February 21, 2017
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