Controversial bill raised at Havre border meeting
A topic raised at a meeting to collect comments on a U. S. Customs and Border Protection study in Havre Thursday had to deal with legislation instead: A proposal to increase CBP's authority on federal land within 100 miles of the border.
CBP held the Havre meeting as one of a series across the northern border to collect comments on a study about social and environmental impacts of securing the northern border.
But the first question from the audience had to do with a bill in Congress that would give CBP authority over all federal land within 100 miles of the border.
Havreite Lou Hagener, a retired U. S. Bureau of Land Management employee, asked if there is any difference between the programmatic environmental impact statement being discussed and House Resolution 1505, which would give CBP authority over all federal lands within 100 miles of the border, the same corridor examined in the study.
The legislation, co-sponsored by U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., "appears to be giving Homeland Security carte blanche over public land in the same corridor, " Hagener said.
"That's legislation. That is Congress doing that, " Paul Martin of CBP said. "We've done this, Customs and Border protection took on doing this … more than a year ago. "
He said the 100-mile corridor was selected as a reasonable region in which CBP activities could extend, such as in pursuit of a suspect.
"I can't say why Congress picked the same 100-mile corridor. I assume they have their reasons, " Martin said. "But for us, from an operational perspective, it made sense to evaluate it. "
U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who Rehberg is challenging in the 2012 election, has been a vocal opponent of the bill.
Tester said in a telephone press conference Thursday that he considers the bill to be similar to the U. S. Patriot Act, and the proposed Real ID, "which I don't think is healthy for people, " he said.
Tester said if U. S. agencies can't get along and work together, that is a bigger problem.
The proposal would trample on tribal sovereignty and individual rights, he added.
"We can secure our country without turning it into a police state, " Tester said. "I think it's ridiculous. "
Rehberg said in a release Wednesday that the bill had been amended and improved before it cleared the House National Resources Committee, including amendments he had proposed.
"Border security is national security, and in Montana that means safety for our families and communities, " Rehberg said in the release.
"It's time to put an end to the dangerous turf war where federal land managers hide behind environmental laws in order to prevent border patrol agents from doing their jobs on federal land, " Rehberg said.
But, Martin said Thursday in Havre, the PEIS is not part of that law. The study could be used by any decision maker down the road to understand environmental impacts of Customs and Border Protection activities.
"But there is no correlation, if you will, between our study and what is going on in Congress, " he said.
Hagener said he still is concerned with the apparent similarities.
"I would certainly hope that any aspect that is selected here involves a lot of cooperation with local law enforcement agencies and whatnot, " he said, adding that he worked with other federal agencies including Border Patrol before and after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2011.
"I know that it's been kind of disappointing and it's hard to work between federal agencies so I think that really needs to be worked at, " Hagener said.
He said with the large number of law enforcement agencies in communities like Havre — "Quite a litany of them, really" — with similar responsibilities.
"There's a lot of opportunity to work together on that and I think that would be something to look at.
"Canada is not a hostile neighbor, and I think that that needs to be kind of taken into consideration in any sort of activity, " he added.