President Obama speaks today [May 10] about immigration in El Paso, Texas, along the U.S. border with Mexico. Although the subject is immigration, the backdrop will be purely environmental: the 640 mile long border wall with Mexico. The wall has done nothing to reduce illegal immigration, but it has had enormous negative effects on the extraordinary wildlife of the border region. It’s cut off America’s dwindled population of Sonoran pronghorn antelope (U.S. population 100) from the slightly larger Mexican population, imperiling this already precarious species. It’s keeping jaguars and ocelots from their native habitats in the United States. It’s ruining habitat in the Rio Grande valley, one of the world’s most celebrated birding destinations and a global ecotourist attraction.
During the campaign, President Obama pledged to “reverse” the border-wall policy and shift to an approach of “having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology.” Unfortunately, since entering office, Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have continued the Bush administration’s border-wall construction, with little regard for whether or not the wall works or for its environmental impact. I could spout statistics to you, but instead, just watch this video of two American girls scaling the border wall in 17.5 seconds:
Like American girls, Mexicans are able to climb. And tunnel. And fly light aircraft over the wall. And cut out holes in the fence. Also, they can just go around. In other words, pretty much the only thing the border wall is good at is keeping out is highly endangered wildlife. It’s the Department of Homeland Security’s dirty little secret: the wall is merely a symbol of our desire to control immigration but has nothing to do with immigration. In other words, it’s our national gang sign.
Don’t take my word for it: Listen to Billy Moore of the Texas Border Coalition, which represents the mayors of the towns and cities along the border:
We believe that if you’re going to secure the border and you have the money to spend right now it shouldn’t be spent on fences or on towers. It should be spent where GAO says. We need to staff the ports of entry and eliminate the 5,000-inspector shortfall and equip them with the technology and infrastructure they need to knock down the cartels.
Or Terry Goddard, who until 2009 served as attorney general of Arizona:
Cartels have the technology to succeed to defeat just about any physical barrier. We need to go after the criminal organizations that allow people to fly over the fence, tunnel under the fence … or use speedboats to go around the fence … There’s a big difference between an approach to border security that’s showboating, which is how we ended up with 650 miles of border wall, and effective policy that deals with the cartel threat. Going after [the cartels'] money isn’t a showboat kind of thing, but it made a difference in way that cartels felt …
There’s a lot at stake. Legislation recently introduced in Congress by Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (R) would force the suspension of 31 environmental laws for border enforcement activities within 100 miles of the border—some of the most sensitive and valuable lands in the nation, including several wilderness areas, and would allow even more border-wall construction. Obama can pretend that building more walls or beating up wildlife will do anything on immigration, or he can stand up to these fake solutions and invest resources where it will actually combat smuggling and human trafficking and make our country secure and keep our wildlands free.
Glenn Hurowitz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and you can follow his Twitter feed about forests, climate, and wildlife @glennhurowitz