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Senate Considering Environmentally Harmful
Border Provisions as Part of Immigration Bill

image of gila valley

Border wall construction on Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
(Photo courtesy of Matt Clark/Defenders of Wildlife)

Five years ago, the Bush administration issued the largest waiver of environmental law in U.S. history and used it to build hundreds of miles of barriers and roads along the southwest border, causing massive damage to such treasured Sky Island jewels as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, as well as many other ecologically important borderlands. This damage could have been mitigated or avoided entirely if standards and best practices required under federal law had been followed. Instead, the barriers and roads have caused flooding and damage to wildlife habitat and cultural sites, and have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Congress is now considering plans to make the same mistake again. The Senate will soon consider "The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" (S. 744). This bill contains a multitude of important immigration reforms; unfortunately, it also includes extremely harmful anti-environmental provisions under the guise of “border security” that will:

- Expand the Department of Homeland Security’s already unprecedented authority to exempt wall and road construction from legal requirements;

- Prioritize the construction of more ineffective, expensive, and damaging fencing as a preferred border security strategy; and

- Unnecessarily direct public land managers to provide the US Border Patrol “immediate access” to all federal lands, despite the ongoing coordination these agencies have already established.

Take action today and urge your senators to ensure that these harmful provisions are removed from the immigration bill. Our friends at Defenders of Wildlife have made it easy to contact your senators and ensure your voice is heard.

Visit the Defenders of Wildlife action page and send a letter today!

Click here to download a fact sheet on these harmful border security proposals.

Border Wall - ©Jack Dykinga, Borderlands RAVE

Continue reading below for more information on the harmful border security provisions and why they are bad for the Sky Island region.

"The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act"
(S. 744
), includes the following unnecessary anti-environmental provisions that eliminate the rule of law and continue the reckless damage already inflicted on our fragile borderlands in the name of border security.

- Waiver of Laws. The bill restates and broadens the extreme and sweeping authority given to the Secretary of Homeland Security in 2005 to waive any federal, state, or local laws for construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border. Former Secretary Michael Chertoff used this authority five times, waiving nearly 40 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act for the construction of approximately 650 miles of border walls, barriers, and roads along the southern border. This waiver is still actively being used for additional projects in the Sky Island region.  Rather than repealing or narrowing the authority granted in 2005, this legislation actually broadens it to encompass other border security infrastructure, such as Forward Operating Bases. 

- Southern Border Fencing Strategy.  The bill includes an ill-advised provision requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a "Southern Border Fencing Strategy" to identify where additional fencing, infrastructure, and technology should be deployed along the Southern border. Walls constructed to date have resulted in serious environmental and economic impacts due to massive flooding, debris, and other associated impacts to the landscape. In some places, the wall - built at a cost of millions of dollars per mile - has fallen down because of such problems.  Private property, commercial businesses, roads and public lands have been damaged, and critical wildlife migration pathways have been severed.  Further, there has been no evidence shown in reports by the General Accountability Office or other organizations that the wall has made a significant contribution to border security.

- Access to Public Lands.  The bill includes an unnecessary provision directing the Secretaries of the Departments Agriculture and Interior to provide to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol immediate access to Federal lands within 100 miles of the border in Arizona for routine motorized patrols and the deployment of communications, surveillance and detection equipment.  There is already ongoing coordination between the federal land management agencies and Border Patrol for any needed access to federal lands.

These provisions jeopardize the health and integrity of the Sky Island region. The key to a healthy landscape is connectivity between Sky Island mountain ranges. Extensive border barriers and security infrastructure degrades landscape permeability and compromises this connectivity. For species like the critically endangered jaguar and ocelot, whose recovery in the U.S. depends on the ability to migrate across the international boundary, this infrastructure and the intensive security activities associated with it can be devastating.

- A 2011 study from the University of Texas at Austin shows that current and proposed border fences between the United States and Mexico pose significant threats to wildlife populations.

- A 2011 study published in the journal Biological Conservation discusses how construction of border infrastructure may increase genetic subdivision and vulnerability to isolation in large mammal populations by bisecting movement corridors that have enabled dispersal between adjacent Sky Island mountain ranges.

The American public opposes waiving laws along the border and giving the agency unchecked authority on public lands. Two recent polls confirm that the American public opposes waiving laws to build border infrastructure:

- The 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll found that Western voters across the political spectrum overwhelming agree that it is unnecessary to suspend environmental laws along U.S. borders to address immigration issues. 73% of Arizona voters said as much, a higher percentage than any other western state polled.
Click here to read the SIA news release.

- In 2011, SIA commissioned a nationwide survey which found that 64% of the American public oppose or strongly oppose waiving laws along the border for the purpose of building infrastructure.
Click here to read the SIA news release.

Compliance with state and federal environmental laws is critical in order to ensure that our wildlands and wildlife are considered when infrastructure is being planned and installed. These laws assist agencies in minimizing and mitigating any potential damage. Unfortunately, when these laws are brushed aside, the health of the entire region is put at risk.

Click here to read more about the damage caused by the sweeping and unprecedented legal waivers currently in place along over 650 miles of the US-Mexico border, including virtually the entire southern border of Arizona.