It is a new day in the contentious debate over our broken immigration system, well for most of us anyway. The President has granted deferred action on the deportation of low priority immigrants, giving 800,000 of our best and brightest undocumented immigrants a future in this country. House Republicans have already announced plans to sue the President over his move to help undocumented DREAMers. Which is a shame as the President has made great strides in making our immigration system better: he has invested in our southwest border increasing safety, legal immigration and trade, and has lowered the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country.
Let us be clear, the Republican Party has characterized itself as the party of legal immigration and border security, yet it has been Democrats who have made legal immigration better and our border safer. Nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than with the House GOP's misguided effort to bulldoze existing environmental and public safety protections for immigrants along our southwest border.
No one would argue that immigration isn't a third rail issue for the GOP, the only more contentious issue for rank and file House Republicans is the environment. They have unilaterally opposed any movement on environmental legislation. In a perfect storm, House GOP Members are pushing legislation that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the ability to override dozens of existing key environmental and public safety protections on all public lands in communities as far away as 100 miles from the Mexican and Canadian borders.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), introduced by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, would give DHS far-reaching and unchecked authority over America's public lands under the guise of national security. DHS has not asked for this legislation, in fact both the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Border Patrol have publicly stated this type of unrestrained authority over public lands is unnecessary for DHS to achieve its mission. Perhaps even more troublesome, the proposal seeks to fix a problem that doesn't exist. The Pew Environment Group says this about the legislation:
It will do little to enhance our nation's border security and will do great harm to our environment and way of life.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also concluded that current federal laws are not an impediment to border protection, finding that federal land management and law enforcement agencies are cooperating and working well together to protect both U.S. borders and public lands under a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding and other agreements developed in recent years between the land management agencies and DHS.
Furthermore, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar has joined Texas Republican Reps. Blake Farenthold and Michael McCaul to craft the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force Act, legislation which accomplishes much the same goals as H.R. 1505 without bulldozing existing environmental and public safety laws.
Border Safety is important; however, given the reduction of violence along the American side of the border, the increase in legal immigration and the decrease in undocumented immigration into the country giving DHS powers it does not want seems both unnecessary and unwarranted. Again, DHS has not requested this new far-reaching authority, and the Department does not want it. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano recently testified before the U.S. Senate that Title XIV "is unnecessary, and a bad policy."
Given the announcement by the administration on deferred action, this is a real opportunity to find common ground in an attempt to build upon the successes of the President's bold leadership on the issue. Tarnishing our environment on our public lands and doing away with protections for immigrants is quite simply not a long term solution. The President's move is an opportunity to highlight the continued need for comprehensive immigration reform and only reveals just how unhelpful knee-jerk policy like Bishop's bill really is.