Here is an excerpt from Dana Gattuso's article in the National Review Online:
"With his time running out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to try to force a massive omnibus lands bill through Congress. If passed, the mega-package would buy up and tie up millions of acres of land in over 13 states — and worse, increase the national- security risk at the Mexican border. The omnibus bill, which includes over 100 federal land-acquisition bills, is on a fast track this lame-duck session and is expected to come up for a vote next week. Individually, these bills failed to make it beyond committee, but the Democratic leadership is hopeful they can pass it by ramming it through the lame duck as an omnibus bundle. Many of the bills failed to pass because they are considered controversial. For example, legislation sponsored by Senator Bingaman (D., N.M.) would designate over 100,000 acres of land at or near the New Mexico–Mexico border as federal wilderness area, increasing the threat of drug smuggling into the U.S. from Mexico... [A report] by the GAO last October that found environmental-protection laws on federal lands are limiting border-patrol officials’ ability to detect and stop illegal aliens... Wilderness designations are a particular problem. They are the most restrictive form of federal land protection, not only keeping the public out but in many cases denying access to federal border-patrol officials as well." Link to Full Article
Analysis: Before we even get to the border situation, I have to say I'm disturbed that this bill is even making it to the floor for a vote. Apparently, the omnibus bill contains over 100 separate land acquisition bills - the New Mexico thing is only one of those - which individually failed to make it past committee. This makes me wonder why someone - I guess in this case, it's Harry Reid - feels they're worthy of being signed into law through the omnibus process if they can't even make it past committee.
But, I digress. If this omnibus bill passes and that land is designated as a federal wilderness area, then that means it'll enjoy the same status as the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. If you don't recall, I posted on this a few months ago; portions of that Refuge were closed to the general public in 2006 because "The situation in this zone has reached a point where continued public use of the area is not prudent." By situation, the US government means violent drug smuggling activity. I have to agree with the article's author in her assessment that such a designation of an area along the southwest border would serve as a huge invitation in neon lights to drug and human smugglers that reads, "Come on in! We're open!" You can even read Secretary Napolitano's comments in the article about how difficult it is for Border Patrol agents to respond to smuggling activity in places like this with transportation methods that don't disturb the environment in any way.
I'm not saying that certain lands in our country don't deserve to be protected, and the southwest border shouldn't automatically be excepted from our efforts to preserve our pristine lands. However, there's a political element to this that I don't like. To be fair, I don't know enough about that part of New Mexico to understand why 100,000 acres should fall under that protection status. However, given the current state of affairs along the border, I can't side with protecting trees or lizards or preventing some kind of rainfall erosion over maintaining some semblance of border security.
It's also not guaranteed that those areas will definitely be used by smugglers. But, really...who are we kidding? I recently watched an episode of "War Stories" with Oliver North where the camera crew tried to drive into the Buenos Aires refuge. To say that Border Patrol was ticked off to see them there is a huge understatement. They take the dangers posed by smuggling activity there very seriously. I would hate to see a similar situation crop up next door in New Mexico because someone on Capitol Hill had some agenda to push through.