Interior sending officers to assist patrolling the US, Mexico border

Interior sending officers to assist patrolling the US, Mexico border

The Interior Department is sending its law enforcement officers to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the U.S.– Mexico border, according to an internal email obtained by The Hill.

The announcement from the U.S. Park Police (USPP) Planning Unit and National Park Service (NPS), sent last Thursday, says that officers from both agencies will assist the Border Patrol along the southwest border starting May 13 as part of “Secretary [Ryan] Zinke's offer of assistance to the Department of Homeland Security.”

USPP officers are traditionally tasked with policing NPS property around Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco.

According to the guidance, officers will be sent in rotating groups and spend “approximately 21 days” at two national park and monument sites located on the U.S.–Mexico border: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas.  

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans MORE called his decision to deploy Interior law enforcement officers to the southern border "the first of many steps Interior will take to secure the homeland."

"President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE and I are 100 percent committed to keeping our border communities and the American people safe and secure, which is why I'm deploying some of Interior's law enforcement officers to increase security on the southern border," Zinke told the Hill in a statement. "Interior is ready, willing, and able to deploy a significant force to carry out the President's mission." 

The department will be sending 22 officers to DOI law enforcement offices in Texas and Arizona to "stop illegal border crossings," an Interior spokesperson confirmed. The program with U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to be reviewed and adjusted over the summer leading up to "peak season" according to the spokesperson.

Interior manages 40 percent of the land along the southern border.

Interior will “most likely” be first sending in officers that are part of the department's two emergency management units — the NPS Special Event Tactical Team (SETT) and USPP Emergency Support Functions (ESF)-13, the guidance said.

An Interior memo on emergency management capabilities described the NPS SETT team as “teams that are structured, trained, equipped and deployed as a unit in a manner that creates a consistent Regional and Servicewide resource with the skills, abilities and expertise to provide a highly professional level of expertise during an incident.”

Park Police's ESF-13 group focuses on public safety and security under the department’s Office of Law Enforcement Security and Emergency Management. It is described as a "the first line of response for public safety and security, respectively," and is typically sent to areas when State, tribal, local, and private-sector authorities are overwhelmed.

Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a requests for comment. The USPP referred questions to the Interior Department. The Border Patrol referred questions to DHS.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSupreme Court blocks order that relaxed voting restrictions in Alabama Justice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Tuberville campaign bus catches fire in Alabama MORE announced Monday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has enacted its previously described “zero-tolerance” policy for individuals who cross the southern border illegally.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions said during a press conference at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego.

“If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you,” he continued. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you, as required by law.”

DOJ said the new policy is in response to a DHS report that showed a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossings between March 2017 and March 2018 and a 37 percent increase from February 2018 to March 2018 — the largest month-to-month increase since 2011.

Updated at 11:03 p.m.