President Biden has shut down construction of the U.S./Mexico border wall, but the terrible impact on the environment remains. Deep trenches have been carved into the landscape, sometimes through geological points of interest. Rusty sections of metal fencing impede the travel of wildlife, but provide little resistance to humans. In fact, the roads built to accommodate the heavy equipment of the border wall contractors now provide an improved path for would-be migrants. The border wall is an ecological disaster that will likely take generations to heal, and does nothing to solve the issue of climate change motivated migration.
The Border Wall Does Not Address the Underlying Problem:
The only reason to build the border wall was for political optics. When Trump ran for President in 2016, he promised to erect an impenetrable wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. That campaign promise was rooted in racism and bigotry, and went against America’s larger interests in terms of immigration policy. At the very least, U.S. immigration policy needs to recognize that migration is related to the quality of life that has been experienced by the migrants. When regions face catastrophic drought, civil unrest, and lack of personal security, they are compelled to leave their homes. It is a matter of survival and a wall does not prevent drought or war.
“Show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano
The voters who were enticed by Trump’s promise to stop migration from Mexico and Central America were not provided with the full information they required to understand the issues. Sadly, Trump painted a picture of millions of criminals pouring over the southern border. He characterized the situation as an invasion, implying that Mexico itself was aggressively sending undesirables north. He claimed that America needed to be protected from the people seeking asylum at the border because they were all: “criminals, rapists, and drug traffickers”. This is not and has never been reality.
The reality of migrants seeking entry to the United States is far more complicated than Trump would have his supporters believe, and no wall, no matter how high and impenetrable is able to address the problems. The fact is that the current waves of refugees are migrating to escape the negative impacts of climate change. Not only can climate change increase poverty, destroy livelihoods, and spark war, but it can force populations to relocate. The people that reach the U.S. border and request asylum tend to be impoverished farmers, many of them young families that are desperate to be able to feed their children.
Research indicates that the Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientific forecasts. Some families and communities have already started to suffer from disasters and the consequences of climate change, which has forced them to leave their homes in search of a new beginning.The UN Refugee Agency
Instead of creating immigration policy that would deal with the changing situation at the border, the Trump Administration chose to deeply invest in vilifying migrants and attempting to physically prevent immigration through force. This course of action has only served to de-humanize migrants and build a border wall that is an ecological disaster.
The Border Wall Harms the Land and its Inhabitants:
Prior to Trump’s promise to erect a wall, there were already hundreds of miles of fencing along the southern border. By the end of his term in office, Trump had only managed to construct 15 miles of new ‘wall’ where no barrier had existed before. A little under 400 miles of barrier remain unfinished, and it is doubtful that this project will ever be finished. Considering the U.S./Mexico border is almost 2,000 miles long, the few hundred miles of new or replaced border wall will be a weak deterrent for anyone who attempts to cross. Instead, the border region has merely been left with ugly scars that may never heal. Considering the damage to the environment, the border wall was a colossal waste of resources.
Failed policy decisions aside, the environmental impact of the border wall is an ecological disaster to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the construction of the border wall was not subject to many federal environmental laws. This is because the REAL ID Act of 2005 exempts Homeland Security from having to follow laws such as the Endangered Species Act.
This means that the border wall builders were able to cut through several wildlife refuges and parks, including Big Bend National Park. Additionally, precious water resources have been diverted to create the concrete foundation for the border wall, and without regard to the water needs of local populations or Indigenous land rights. For example, water was drained from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, which prompted U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials to take “life support actions” to save the endangered fish populations. This refuge is home to 500 species of bees, which is the highest diversity of bees in the world, and over 300 species of birds, all of which rely on the artesian-fed wetland for survival.
Additionally, Customs and Border Patrol extracted 45 million gallons of water from the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This has caused the pond at Quitobaquito Springs to drop to its lowest level in years. The Quitobaquito Springs are located on the ancestral homelands of the O’odham tribes.
“These walls are being built with a complete disregard for law and science, cutting off vital pathways that wildlife need to move around to reach food, water, and mates. Further wall construction would stop wildlife in their tracks, putting animals like box turtles, pronghorn, coatis, pygmy owls and black bears at risk — and ending the recovery of iconic species such as jaguar and ocelots in the U.S.”Emily Burns from Sky Island Alliance
Ultimately, environmentalists have called for the border wall to be torn down. This would enable wildlife to resume their migration patterns through the region, which is a start, but it will do little to repair the deep scars that now mar the once pristine landscape.