By Jennifer Talhelm, Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, July 8, 2005
National parks on the U.S. border have spent millions of dollars since Sept. 11, 2001, to block terrorists and illegal immigrants from entering the country, straining park budgets, House Republicans say.
Congress has given the National Park Service about $120 million to beef up security since the 2001 terrorist attacks. But parks have spent more than $21 million more on security — money that otherwise might have been used for maintenance and other needs, according to the House Resources Committee.
Parks, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, have hired more rangers and built barriers to prevent people from crossing into the U.S. through federal land.
Some in Congress are worried about how the agency is balancing this new responsibility with its mission of preserving land and hosting millions of vacationers. On Saturday, the Park Service and Border Patrol officials will talk about their efforts during a hearing in Carlsbad, N.M.
"Protecting these cathedrals of nature ... remains one of the chief national security challenges our nation confronts," said Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
Pearce is particularly concerned that adding to the Park Service's duties will force parks to cut back in other areas, which might cause some visitors to stop coming....
The issue is particularly acute in border parks, including Organ Pipe, where people crossing from Mexico have created hundreds of miles of illegal roads and trails, left piles of trash and threatened rare wildlife, Interior Department officials say.
The problem started in the late 1990s after the Border Patrol began cracking down on illegal immigration in cities. Border crossings shifted to rural areas, including 365 miles of land on the U.S.-Mexico border managed by the Park Service.
An estimated 250,000 people crossed illegally through Park Service land in 2001 alone.
The problem came to a head in 2002 after an Organ Pipe ranger was shot and killed by a suspected drug trafficker fleeing Mexican police.
Shortly afterward, the park increased the number of rangers from five to 16 and began building a vehicle barrier, said Larry Parkinson, interior department deputy assistant secretary for law enforcement and security.
While the efforts have helped, Parkinson said: "It's still bad."...