Report: Border Wall an Ecological & Humanitarian Disaster

A trio of javelina blocked from entering Mexico by an existing portion of border wall. (Matt Clark)

(CN) – A report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and environmental and human rights groups says the Trump administration’s border policies are based on politics, not facts, and the groups called on Congress to reject funding for an expanded border wall later this month.

The aggregated report shows the impact of the current 654 miles of border infrastructure on migration, the environment and border communities, and how those impacts will be exacerbated should an expanded border wall be built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the groups, “emotional appeals and symbolic gestures” have dominated policy-making on border wall decisions and “as a result, the U.S. has turned away from addressing the complex causes of immigration and smuggling, and a careful consideration of the most effective ways to respond to these issues.”

The report focuses on the impacts of border infrastructure built largely since the passage of the Real ID Act of 2005, which gave the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive laws to facilitate border wall construction.

In San Diego, the Department of Homeland Security has also used its waiver authority under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to dodge 37 environmental laws which could delay building a wall along a 15-mile stretch from the Pacific Ocean eastward.

According to the ACLU’s report, Homeland Security claimed San Diego and nearby El Centro were areas of “high illegal entry” as a way to justify waiving environmental laws. But the 2016 apprehension figures used by the government showed El Centro was seventh out of nine southern border sections in terms of apprehensions. Even though San Diego’s numbers were up that year, apprehensions were down to roughly 1968 levels.

The Homeland Security waivers faced a court challenge, in which a federal judge ruled this year the department has the authority to waive laws to spur border wall construction. A Ninth Circuit panel heard an appeal in August but has not yet issued a ruling.

On the ACLU’s conference call Wednesday, Pedro Rios with the Southern Border Communities Coalition said preparations to build new border walls in San Diego has negatively impacted the adjacent community in Tijuana, Mexico. Rios said at least a dozen trees were removed in a historic Tijuana neighborhood to make way for the border wall, and some homes and other structures on Mexico’s side of the border including a shrine stand to be damaged by the wall construction.

“Border wall fencing can cause public space to be lost to border wall construction,” Rios said.

Randy Serraglio, a Southwest conservation advocate, said the Real ID Act was partially enacted by Congress in response to the California Coastal Commission’s rejection to a request to expand the border wall. The commission rejected the project because of potential negative impacts on the Tijuana Estuary habitat, Serraglio said.

He said during talks to create environmental waivers to spur border construction, politicians painted a picture of the border landscape as just “sand dunes and lizards.”

But Serraglio said in reality 93 threatened and endangered species will be harmed if a contiguous border wall across the Southwest is completed, according to a study by the Center for Biological Diversity.

According to the ACLU’s report, existing walls have damaged the habitats and impacted the migration patterns of endangered species including the jaguar and Sonoran pronghorn in Arizona, Mexican wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, and ocelot in Arizona and South Texas.

A contiguous wall “would result in an unprecedented, continent-wide splitting of transborder habitat and wildlife corridors, with enormous long-term deleterious consequences for the rich biological diversity of North America,” according to the report.

Walls already in place have also acted as dams in places such as Nogales, Arizona, where flooding caused by border wall infrastructure killed two people.

If one of the border wall prototypes erected in San Diego is replicated along the border “their impermeability would pose significant problems both for wildlife and for the conveyance of water,” according to the report.

Beyond environmental impacts, current border walls have pushed immigrants to cross deserts and other dangerous terrain, leading to thousands of deaths from dehydration and exposure. But Customs of Border Patrol’s strategy of “funneling” migrants from areas surrounding ports of entry to more dangerous areas as a deterrent has not prevented people from making the dangerous journey, according to the report.

ACLU Border Rights director Astrid Dominguez said “more border walls means more border deaths” and called for a halt to funding until facts and engagement with those affected by border policies are considered.

 

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