Planet

The Wall: The Environmental Cost And Consequences Of A U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

October 30, 2020 By Justin Lessner

Ever since his days on the election campaign trail the U.S. president, Donald Trump, has assured voters of his intentions to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He reiterated this promise during the 2019 State of the Union, and then declared a state of emergency soon after in order to access funding that Congress had rejected. It is now included on Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign website as part of a broader agenda to curb immigration.

Arguments against the border wall have primarily focused on the cost to U.S. taxpayers, suggesting economics as the most compelling framework through which a border wall project could be shot down.

Sure, there has been talk about the ethical ramifications of building a physical barrier between communities and neighboring countries, or scarring lands that belong to Native American tribes. But these important points are rarely discussed by those in charge of actually building the wall. 

However, no discussion about the border wall is complete without considering the environmental impact a border wall might have on the habitats and migration flows of North American wildlife, the disruption to communities who rely on traveling in both directions across the border to shop, seek medical care, and visit family, or the moral issues raised by the border project and its long-lasting consequences for human civilization.

The administration’s construction of the barrier threatens so much – on both sides of the actual wall. 

Most opponents of the wall are right to point out the astronomical costs of constructing a border wall along the entire 1,954 mile long U.S-Mexico border. Most recent estimates from the Department of Homeland Security put the price tag at more than $22 billion. Financial arguments against the wall have become even greater as the U.S. faces an unprecedented health crisis brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

But there is so much more at stake than just tax dollars: sensitive wildlife and environments, centuries-old Indigenous communities, privately-owned property, and ethical implications. 

Sensitive ecosystems are already suffering irreversible damage. 

The border stretches for 1,954 miles from the Gulf of MexTHe almost 2,000 mile long border stretches from Texas to the Pacific Ocean in California, and crosses one of the nation’s most diverse landscapes. From dry deserts to wetland marshes and forested woodlands, this region has it all. In fact, the barrier would bisect the geographic range of more than 1,500 plants and animals, including 62 species that are listed as critically endangered. 

“Whatever they build, it’s going to be destructive to natural habitat,” says Bob Dreher, an attorney who heads Defenders of Wildlife conservation programs. “It’s about the physical reality of what a permanent barrier will do in one of the most sensitive landscapes in North America.”

Signs of this destruction are already taking place. In Arizona, after the first 700 miles of fencing was constructed, giant floods occurred as the border wall acted as a dam during rainy season flash floods. In 2008, a storm sent torrents into the city of Nogales, Arizona, a border town 66 miles south of Tucson, causing millions of dollars in property damage in Nogales, Sonora on the Mexican side.

The region’s wildlife is under extreme threat.

With a growing border wall, animals lose their ability to migrate, roam for food and water, and mates. Fencing also traps wildlife from escaping fires, floods, or heat waves.

Already endangered species face unique challenges amid a border wall. The inability to cross the border has fragmented populations of Sonoran pronghorn, and diminished the chances of re-establishing colonies of the Mexican gray wolf, jaguars, and ocelots in their range in the United States. Jaguars once roamed the banks of the Rio Grande, but have virtually disappeared from Texas.

Meanwhile, precious lands – including those with state and federal protections – are being bulldozed to make way for the wall. Under current plans, the barrier would travel through seven Texas wildlife conservation areas, including the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Big Bend National Park, prized among national parks as a place so remote it is considered to be one of the best place in the Lower 48 to view the night sky.

In Mission, Texas, the National Butterfly Center, where more than 200 butterfly species live near the banks of the Rio Grande, has been notified that the wall will divide the 100-acre sanctuary, placing almost 70 percent of it on the Mexican side. 

Sacred lands belonging to Native American tribes are being trampled over in a rush to build the wall.

Trump’s border wall would cut through the ancestral lands of 26 federally–recognized Native American Nations in the U.S. and eight Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. Many tribal members will be cut off from their relatives and their sacred sites, while also blocking their access to the natural environment which is crucial not just to their livelihoods but to their cultural and religious identity. 

“If someone came into your house and built a wall in your living room, tell me, how would you feel about that?” asked Verlon Jose, vice chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, in an interview by The New York Times.

Many in his tribe want to resist the construction of the wall. Others fear that if the border barrier is weaker on the tribal land, drug smuggling will be funneled there as happened before with the fence, harming the community.

Entire communities that straddle the border are being ripped in half by the barriers.

Entire communities and governments have expressed concern about the impact of the wall. One of the biggest complaints – especially in Texas – is that the border wall will be built across privately-owned land, which is basically sacrilegious in Texas. 

In fact, there are dozens of landowners across the state who would see their land bisected by the wall while others would find all of their land on the southern or Mexican side of the border wall.

Border communities such as the tiny towns of Los Ébanos (in Texas) and Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (in Mexico) risk being torn apart by a wall. Right now, there still exists a remnant from the past when tensions over border security and immigration didn’t run so hot: the Los Ébanos ferry. This old-style hand-drawn ferry that shuttles cars on a barge that follows a rope line across the Rio Grande. Many families use it to shuttle back and forth between visits with their loved ones.

While the moral costs of the wall that should raise the greatest concern for the world at large.

It seems that many have avoided discussions of the moral issues raised by the border project and its long-lasting consequences for human civilization. 

Walls communicate protection and social cohesion to those living inside their bounds. They also symbolize a community’s “worthiness” of protection. By contrast, people beyond their bounds are deemed unworthy of protection. More importantly, they become a dehumanized part of the landscape that the internal “we” must be protected from.

Rather than a line of separation, the border should be conceived of as a membrane, connecting the tissues of communities on both sides, enabling mutually beneficial trade, manufacturing, ecosystem improvements, and security, while enhancing inter–cultural exchanges. Only then will the region be able to move forward. 

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