Energy & Environment

Interior: Officers arrested 13 people in new border surge

Law enforcement officers apprehended 13 people at the U.S.-Mexico border this week during the first two days of the Trump administration's border surge.

Twenty-two officers were sent to the border by the Interior Department where they made arrests on federal land in Texas and Arizona that is managed by the agency, according to a statement on Wednesday from the department.

In the statement, Interior ​Secretary Ryan Zinke said officers also confiscated one illegal handgun and saw "evidence of recent activity along smuggling routes."

"Today's report that more than a dozen individuals were arrested while illegally crossing the border on to Interior-managed lands and bringing illegal firearms into our communities is proof that President Trump's push to have a greater law enforcement presence to secure the southern border is needed," Zinke said in the statement. 

According to internal guidance first obtained and reported by The Hill last week, law enforcement officers within the Interior Department were notified last week that they would be sent in rotating groups and spend "approximately 21 days" patrolling 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.

Zinke said the Interior Department will send additional support to the border soon.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said that due to operational and safety concerns the department does not "share specifics of law enforcement missions."

"President Trump and I are 100-percent committed to keeping our border communities and the American people safe and secure, which is why I'm deploying additional law enforcement officers to increase security of Interior-managed lands on the southern border," Zinke said in the statement.

Interior's decision coincides with an earlier announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said the Department of Justice 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 on May 7. 

U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers are traditionally tasked with policing National Park Service (NPS) property around Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco while NPS officers traditionally work within park land.

The decision to send Interior officers not traditionally tasked with border apprehensions to the U.S.-Mexico border raised concerns among some lawmakers.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to Zinke last week pressing him for more information on the move. In the letter, Grijalva asked how much the deployment would cost, who asked for the additional assistance, and how the two sites in Arizona and Texas were chosen.

Grijalva wrote that it was "disappointing" to first learn about the decision in a newspaper.

Citing the USPP's mission statement, Grijalva noted that patrolling the border and enforcing immigration laws was not within the agency's scope.

"I am concerned this planned deployment will hinder current law enforcement activities across the National Park System," he said.

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