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Commentary: National security bill would not strengthen borders

*Corrected: An earlier version of the piece misspelled the writer's name.

As a veteran, the security of our country is of great concern to me. I served in the United States Army in Iraq, and I understand the sacrifice that is needed to protect this great nation.

That's why I believe security starts with effective protection of our borders. We must be prepared for threats from all directions in a post-9/11 world.

Illegal immigration is a serious challenge for our country. The men and women who protect our borders know this firsthand. Their jobs are difficult, and they not only deal with the human tragedy of those crossing the borders but also with a broken bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., that has failed to find a solution to this problem.

This issue has become even more paramount in recent years, as we have watched thugs and drug kingpins look to our borders as a way to push their product into our country. The problem is real and systemic.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) introduced H.R. 1505, the "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act." Unfortunately, this bill neither protects our nation's borders nor moves toward finding solutions for our broken immigration laws.

In reality, the bill is nothing more than an assault on our country's public lands — including our National Parks and Forests. H.R. 1505 would destroy some of the most treasured places in America — and fail to strength our borders or make us safer.

H.R. 1505 would provide the Department of Homeland Security with exemptions from various laws on federal lands within 100 miles of the border. Some of the laws that would be waived include the Wilderness Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

Waiving these long standing laws is no way to defend America — a fact with which many members of the Border Patrol agree. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that, "Most agents reported that land management laws have had no effect on the Border Patrol's overall measure of border security."

In California, one of the areas that would be impacted by this bill is our beloved Joshua Tree National Park. Access to areas of the park could be shut down and roads could be constructed in an unregulated free-for-all.

This bill would allow the calculated destruction of one of America's most sacred areas and serves no purpose in securing our borders.

Bishop's motivation for authoring this legislation should also be taken into consideration, as he has proven himself to be no friend of our nation's public lands.

In recent months, he co-sponsored H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act. This bill, written by U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Atascadero), is a wholesale giveaway of our public lands to corporate America and would open up more than 43 million acres for drilling and mining.

By supporting these two bills, Bishop has made clear that his agenda is one of corporate giveaways and continued assault on our public lands.

Finally, I can say from personal experience that veterans care about public lands. These are lands that many of us have used to integrate back into our communities upon our return from war. These are lands that we love for their special value to our home and for their healing nature. These are lands that are worth protecting.

In closing, the founder of our nation's conservation movement, Teddy Roosevelt, was one of our greatest soldiers and statesman. If TR were with us today he would undoubtedly have words for the political leaders who are threatening our public lands. He would call for us to stop the giveaway of the great outdoors before it's too late.

As a veteran who served my country proudly, I believe those are words well worth listening to.

JASON BENSLEY of Costa Mesa is a member of the Vet Voice Foundation.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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