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2 Ranchers Illustrate Border-Plan Split (Dec 27, 2012)
When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees - the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.
John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.
Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.
The U.S. House approved the bill authored by Utah Republican Rob Bishop in June. But prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate are extremely slim, and the chances of President Obama signing it are even slimmer. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in Congress this year that the bill was unnecessary and "bad policy."
Still, an idea that House Republicans kicked around for years has advanced farther in the legislative process than ever before and rekindled discussion over how to balance border security with wildlife protection.
The debate raises some of the same questions that will play out on a larger scale when Congress and the president tackle immigration reform: Is the U.S. border with Mexico secure, considered by some lawmakers to be a litmus test for granting legal residency and citizenship to millions? Has the U.S. reached a point of border security overkill?
Heightened enforcement - along with fewer available jobs in the U.S. and an aging population in Mexico - has brought Border Patrol arrests to 40-year lows.
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