Immigration arrests at U.S. national parks and other federal lands spiked dramatically this year under President Donald Trump, with some 4,010 immigration-related arrests alone since May compared to only 126 arrests in 2016, according to the Interior Department.
The figures represent a dramatic escalation in the immigration enforcement role played by the Interior Department, a federal agency better known for protecting the nation’s historic monuments and wildlife refuges.
The push also comes as President Donald Trump has deployed several thousand active-duty troops to the border in a push to deter illegal immigration, and as a Republican-led House committee considers legislation this week that would give border patrol agents greater access to federal lands.
“The fact that we were able to increase arrests by almost 4,000 percent is undeniable proof that there’s a big problem,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a statement touting the new arrest figures. “Under the previous administration, Interior’s borderlands were basically an open door for illegal activity; and, what few law enforcement officers were down there were left unprotected and without the resources and backup needed to keep communities and themselves safe.”
More than 40 percent of the land along the U.S.-Mexico border is federal land controlled by the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service. In order to protect that land, the Interior Department employs more than 4,000 law enforcement agents – the third largest presence in the federal government.
That number includes National Park rangers and U.S. Park Police, but also federal agents from the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Interior Department’s primary mission is to protect natural resources in the parks, which can be damaged when too many people walk, drive, or leave trash. Law enforcement within the parks and monuments have an agreement to cooperate with agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which have complained in the past that restrictions intended to protect the environment made it more difficult to arrest undocumented migrants or stop routes for people entering the country illegally.
By STEPHANIE EBBS for ABC NEWS
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