Debate over border security and illegal immigration is a constant in GOP presidential debates. Now, a Utah congressman wants to give greater authority to U.S. Homeland Security to stem immigration and drug trafficking.

While the bill is aimed at curbing problems on the nation's southern border, it's worded in a way that would also grant Homeland Security unfettered access along the northern border, where those issues aren't as severe.

That should be especially worrisome for Minnesotans because of the unintended consequences such authority might have.

For instance, the bill would give the U.S. Border Patrol a pass on more than 30 existing laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act and the Federal Land Management Policy Act.

Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah is the author of the bill, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, which would allow Homeland Security the authority to build roads, erect fences and enact other measures within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders.

But without a more transparent strategy for the northern border, Bishop's bill seems like a solution in search of a problem, and it should be rejected.

That's not to diminish the danger posed by those who would do harm to this country. Instead, Homeland Security should develop a more defined plan for dealing with potential threats along the more-than-5,000-mile stretch separating the United States and Canada -- often called the "world's largest open shared border."

A year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Department of Homeland Security warned that terrorist risks were greater along the nation's border with Canada than with Mexico.

That's largely because the United States has been much more focused on drug and immigration problems along the southern border.

A bulk of U.S.-Canadian trade centers on a relatively few entry points between the two countries, making specific roadways and waterways especially vulnerable, according to Homeland Security. This means that a terrorist attack could extract an enormous human and economic toll on both countries.

In 1999, Ahmed Ressam, dubbed the "Millenium Bomber," crossed the border in Washington state with the intent of setting off explosives at Los Angeles International Airport. He was convicted in 2005, but not before divulging key information about Al-Qaida's terrorism operations and training.

In announcing his bill, Bishop made several statements about the environment that are troubling because two of Minnesota's treasures -- the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park -- could be affected by his legislation. And, tellingly, Homeland Security officials didn't request Bishop's legislation, according to Jane Danowitz, director of the U.S. public lands program at the Pew Environment Group.

"We're talking about legislation that would basically, under the guise of national security, undo environmental laws that have been on the books for decades," Danowitz told a Star Tribune reporter.

So far this year, House Republicans have introduced more than 170 bills that would erode or eliminate federal environmental protections. Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.

There's no doubt that the nation needs to be vigilant about its borders, but not at the expense of important environmental protections.

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