The American people may not yet realize it, but we approved—by way of our former president and Congress—the building of a Berlin Wall in North America. It’s the U.S.-Mexico border wall, rampaging for hundreds of miles through sensitive wildlife habitat. Unlike the German model, this wall does not stop humans; the best estimates (including those of INS) are that it only slows humans by two to five minutes. But the wall stops wildlife cold.
I learned about the wall’s effects last week when I visited Prescott College, where Sergio Avila-Villegas, a wildlife biologist with the Sky Island Alliance of southern Arizona and New Mexico, was the keynote speaker at our weekend colloquium.
A press release from the Sierra Club from April 1, 2009, says:
The border wall has destroyed precious areas and disrupted local communities across the borderlands region. In California, the double and triple layer border walls blind nocturnal animals with floodlighting, disrupting their ability to feed, migrate or mate. In Arizona, a steel wall fifteen feet high now cuts across the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a critical bird habitat. In Texas, where the wall now cuts through wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande, concrete border walls topped with metal prevent animal access to water and threaten endangered species, including the first ocelot kitten seen in Texas in more than a decade.
Ocelots? Yes, and jaguars too.
Jaguars? In this country? Yes, although once common, North American jaguars, the largest native cats, are on extremely rare here. But they are occasionally spotted in the border regions between Mexico and Arizona. Now the jaguar habitat is being bisected by the border wall, and it is likely that the few remaining animals are being stranded on one side or the other.
The building of the border wall is wreaking environmental destruction akin to mountaintop removal. And the worst of it is—it’s all legal.
How can that be, you ask? Because in 2005 Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which included an obscure provision (Sec. 102) that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security (an appointed, not elected, official) to bypass existing laws in order to build roads and walls along the border.
Here is a list of the environmental and cultural protection laws that have been waived, according to the Sierra Club:
- National Environmental Policy Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Clean Water Act
- National Historic Preservation Act
- Migratory Bird Treaty Act
- Clean Air Act
- Archaeological Resources Protection Act
- Safe Drinking Water Act
- Noise Control Act
- Solid Waste Disposal Act
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
- Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act
- Antiquities Act
- Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act
- Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
- Farmland Protection Policy Act
- Coastal Zone Management Act
- Wilderness Act
- Federal Land Policy and Management Act
- National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act
- Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
- Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
- Administrative Procedure Act
- Otay Mountain Wilderness Act of 1999
- California Desert Protection Act
- National Park Service Organic Act
- National Park Service General Authorities Act
- National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978
- Arizona Desert Wilderness Act
- Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899
- Eagle Protection Act
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
The suffering for wildlife is matched, of course, by the human suffering taking place along the U.S-Mexico border. We hear about the deaths of immigrants in the desert. We don’t hear about the flooding caused by stopping up rivers in order to build the border wall. In July 2008 flooding on the Mexican side of the wall reached seven feet high in Nogales, Sonora, wiping out homes and places of business.
The solution? HR 2076, The Border Security and Responsibility Act of 2009.
Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva has introduced this bill to prevent some of the unintended consequences of our inane immigration policy. Call your Congresspeople today and show your support for more humane and environmentally sensible immigration policies.
The following info comes from the Facebook page of the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign, courtesy of Dan Millis, campaign coordinator. (Update: For info on what the Sierra Club is doing today to preserve borderlands, see the Sierra Club Borderlands page.)
Border Wall Mileage Count = 630 (June 12)
The issue-U.S. border policy has encroached on precious wildlands and habitat in many ways, such as reckless use of off-road vehicles, building roads and detention facilities in wild places, blinding nocturnal wildlife with stadium lighting, and building unnecessary improvised cement plants and other infrastructure to support their most destructive, expensive, ineffective and inhumane project – the border wall. The Sierra Club has taken a strong stance against policies that promote environmental degradation including those that provide for destructive border enforcement activities.
MATERIALS DOWNLOADS AND LINKS:
Wild Versus Wall border film
Cornelius, Wayne, 2009. “Evaluating U.S. Immigration Control Policy, What Mexican Migrants Can Tell Us.” UC San Diego, April, 2009. (link no longer active)