Grijalva: 'Dark & misguided' to deploy Park Police on border
The Trump administration and many Republicans in Washington claim that our border with Mexico is swarming with dangerous immigrants. According to this tired narrative, we have no choice but to send every available law enforcement officer to carry out a crackdown that won’t stop until President Trump believes “the homeland” is safe.
It never hurts to remind ourselves that this story is completely and provably false.
As the Washington Post reported in January, “If you are an American concerned about safety, your best statistical bet is to live close to the border. The crime rates in U.S. border counties are lower than the average for similarly sized inland counties, with two exceptions out of 23 total[.]” Those of us who actually live near the border know that our neighborhoods are being used for political reasons by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
Nevertheless, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has turned this dark and misguided premise into a troubling new policy. On May 7, we learned that he’s deploying U.S. Park Police and National Park Service law officers – who are hired and trained primarily to protect public lands, not enforce immigration law – to Oregon Pipe National Monument and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas to assist the U.S. Border Patrol.
If Trump chooses to believe that more law enforcement officers are needed on the southern border, the relevant agencies should hire more law enforcement officers. Pulling one federal agency in to do another’s job until some ill-defined public safety threshold is met is the kind of expensive, short-sighted approach conservatives normally claim to oppose. If this policy move isn’t sustainable, why initiate it?
On the other hand, if it’s meant as the new normal, we need to know why this escalation is happening and where it’s headed.
I wrote him a letter on May 10 asking him to explain how much this deployment will cost, whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) even asked for these additional officers, what training NPS officers have to “stop illegal border crossing” (their temporary mandate), why these two sites were selected for additional enforcement, how these deployments will affect existing NPS security needs, and what other steps the Department of the Interior will take as part of this ramp-up. Last Friday I got a largely unresponsive letter back from NPS declining to offer any details.
This wasn’t entirely surprising. His spokeswoman has rejected media inquiries about the effort, citing “security and operational concerns.” I first had to find out it was happening from a news report; neither Zinke nor anyone else in the administration remembered to inform Congress.
To state the obvious point here, the Interior Department does not exist to enforce border laws. It is not part of DHS or any other federal border enforcement entity. For those who believe the fearful rhetoric around our southern border, that will mean very little. For the rest of us – who believe facts should mean more than President Trump’s imagination – this is a crucial distinction. Why has DOI become a party to this madness?
The unfortunate truth is that Zinke has little interest in DOI’s actual mission. He has sold out national monuments in Utah to fossil fuel companies, failed to expand public lands protections, spoken disparagingly about his own staff on multiple occasions (including claiming that a third of DOI employees are “disloyal to the flag” – which he somehow considers himself qualified to decide), misspent public money, disregarded the law and brought a steady stream of embarrassment and scandal to DOI throughout his tenure. Rather than involving DOI or his employees in Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade, he should be looking to his own house and making major internal changes. But he is only too happy to oblige his boss.
The sort of scare tactic we’re now seeing on the border only works because anti-immigrant politics have become fashionable on the political right. The first thing we have to remember when we read the latest immigration news is that the Republican Party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress and has done absolutely nothing to improve the situation. Costly band-aid approaches are done for show. They are not a policy.
Republicans in Congress and this administration need to stop pretending that “more officers on the border” – no matter where they come from – is a serious long-term immigration strategy. We need to resolve Dreamers’ legal statuses, stop the deportation rhetoric, reform our visa system, demilitarize our border region and stop using it as a political football. This is what the public demands and it’s long overdue.
Instead, Zinke believes the U.S. Park Police should drop what they’re doing and patrol the border. We saw the same disconnect under President Bush, we’ve seen it with Sheriff Arpaio and we’ll see it with the next Republican who treats the border region as a prop instead of a real place where real Americans live.
U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District.