Monday, April 27, 2009

Congressman: Bill protects border tribes' lands

Yuma Sun
April 25, 2009
By Darin Fenger

Tribes living along the U.S.-Mexican border deserve a greater role in deciding how federal agencies protect and conserve their land, says Yuma's congressman.

Rep. Raul Grijalva recently introduced the Border Security and Responsibility Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The act would require the Department of Homeland Security to consult with tribal governments - plus other border communities and state land managers - in creating a plan that would secure the border, plus honor local rights and participation.

"We have heard from tribes and local border communities that are being left out of the process," said Natalie Luna, press secretary for Grijalva. "(They hear) 'We are going to build a fence and there is nothing you can do about it.'"

Grijalva stressed in a press statement that the government's "one fence fits all" approach focuses too much on experts making the decisions while ignoring the people who are directly affected by border security policies.

He was not available for comment Friday, when the act was announced to the media.

Grijalva said in his press statement that protection and conservation of federal and public lands are more crucial now than ever due to illegal border activity.

"Many of these lands have suffered extensive environmental degradation as a result of unauthorized activity and border security efforts. This bill is the first step in preserving our unique natural heritage while we protect our borders.

"The Border Security and Responsibility Act will strengthen border security, protect the environment and uphold the health of the border community by allowing all agencies to work together cooperatively."

The act would appear to affect the Cocopah Indian Tribe, whose spokeswoman Liz Pratt declined to comment on Grijalva's bill. Pratt said the tribe would want to study the proposal before making public comment.

Luna said she wasn't aware of how federal agencies serving along the border are reacting to the the congressman's bill, a version of which he introduced in 2007.

"I think there was some concern in the past that this bill would impede the mission of the agencies," Luna said. "I'm not sure if they have actually seen the new version of the bill."

The spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol Yuma Sector, Ben Vik, also declined to comment on the bill. Vik did stress, however, that concerned citizens can also write their congressional representatives or share their thoughts and concerns directly with the Border Patrol by calling 341-6520 or 1-800-BE-ALERT.

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