Interior budget request highlights border push

Interior budget request highlights border push
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The Trump administration on Monday called for cutting the Interior Department's funding by 14 percent, but it also highlighted the agency's increasing role in providing U.S. border security.

The White House’s newly released fiscal 2020 budget request seeks a reduction in grants and funds for acquiring land, while at the same time boosting Interior's efforts to become a bigger player in securing the southern border.

“The Department of the Interior manages hundreds of miles along the U.S. southern border, and our law enforcement officers are vested partners in the Administration’s border security efforts,” the Interior Department wrote in its budget overview.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? MORE's budget calls for providing $930.3 million in law enforcement funding for programs like the one started under former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGianforte wins Montana gubernatorial primary Trump official violated ethics rules in seeking EPA job for relative, watchdog finds Killing bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens on National Park Service lands in Alaska is wrong MORE in 2018 that rotates U.S. Park Police and National Park Service (NPS) officers to the border to engage in border and drug enforcement.

The budget blueprint presents the contentious initiative as being integral to Trump’s border security surge. More than 12 million acres managed by the Interior Department are within 50 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Interior. Managed lands also include 75 border miles on tribal lands.

“Interior has been cooperating for more than a year with Department of Homeland Security on the southern border. Our emphasis has been to take care of our land,” said Scott Cameron, Interior’s acting assistant secretary of policy, management and budget, on a call with reporters Monday.

According to a breakdown of Interior’s budget proposal, the pilot border program, first reported by The Hill in May, led to the apprehension of more than 6,000 people said to be in the country illegally and the seizure of thousands of pounds of drugs.

“The 2020 budget helps foster safe and drug-free communities by increasing funding for law enforcement,” Interior wrote in its budget breakdown.

The U.S. Park Police Planning Unit and NPS first announced they would be sending 22 officers from both agencies to assist U.S. Border Patrol as part of “Secretary [Ryan] Zinke's offer of assistance to the Department of Homeland Security.” At the time, officers were relegated to two areas operated by the Interior Department — Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas.

Critics blasted the initiative at the time, saying officers were not meant to apprehend immigrants crossing the border illegally and were badly needed at their designated parks.

Park Police officers typically provide security for NPS property around Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco.

Interior has continued the operation and expanded its reach to encompass many areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, including land owned by Native American tribes. Officer numbers have also increased under the “surge” to as many as 47 rotating law enforcement officers, according to an Interior spokesperson.

There are 41 full-time Interior law enforcement officers stationed at the border. The administration's budget did not call for increasing that number.

Updated at 5:29 p.m.