WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal agents trying to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border say they’re hampered by laws that keep them from driving vehicles on huge swaths of land because it falls under U.S. environmental protection, leaving it to wildlife — and illegal immigrants and smugglers who can walk through the territory undisturbed. A growing number of lawmakers are saying such restrictions have turned wilderness areas into highways for criminals. In recent weeks, three congressional panels, including two in the Republican-controlled House and one in the Democratic-controlled Senate, have moved to give the Border Patrol unfettered access to all federally managed lands within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the border with Mexico.
Two of the panels expanded the legislation’s reach to include the border with Canada.
The votes signal a brewing battle in Congress that will determine whether border agents can disregard environmental protections as they do their job.