Joining the United States and Mexico, our borderlands to the south comprise one of the biggest ecosystem complexes in North America, with some of the least populated areas and the most important wildlife habitats remaining on the continent. This border region is host to a diverse array of threatened, endangered and rare species — including the Sonoran pronghorn, lesser long-nosed bat, Quino checkerspot butterfly, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, and larger predators like jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and ocelots — and it contains millions of acres of public lands, such as Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Big Bend National Park, Coronado National Forest and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.
Currently, there are about 650 miles of border barriers blocking about a third of the 1,950-mile southern border. About 300 miles of this is border wall, with the rest comprised of vehicle barriers, which are much more permeable to wildlife.
But five days after being sworn in as president, Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
This is a looming tragedy for the area's diverse wildlife and people, as well as its rugged and spectacular landscapes. We're fighting in the courts, in Congress, and in our communities to stop Trump's cynical attack on our beautiful borderlands.
With headquarters near the border in Tucson, Arizona, for our whole history the Center has worked to preserve and protect the borderlands' remote beauty and amazing biodiversity. We've been fighting against border militarization — including the border wall — since the late 1990s, using litigation to block unlawful border policy, grassroots lobbying to stop legislation that would exacerbate environmental damage in the border region, and creative-media and public-education campaigns to get out the truth about the real impacts of the hugely expensive, largely ineffective and environmentally devastating border wall.
We currently have three lawsuits in play on the border wall. In April 2017 the Center partnered with U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva in filing a lawsuit seeking a thorough programmatic environmental analysis of overall border security policy, including the border wall, under the National Environmental Policy Act. Another suit challenges Trump's plans for companies to build prototype walls in critical habitat for multiple endangered species in Southern California. And a third suit seeks to force the administration to release documents regarding its border plans it has thus far withheld from the public.
In May 2017 the Center partnered with the Tohono O'odham tribe in Mexico to file an endangerment petition for the Sierra El Pinacate and Gran Desierto Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, just south of the border in the northwestern corner of the state of Sonora. A wall in that area would block cross-border migration of endangered Sonoran pronghorn and restrict access for the Tohono O'odham people, who travel across the border regularly for traditional and ceremonial purposes.
In July 2107 the House of Representatives approved the Trump administration's $1.6 billion budget request to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall, ignoring threats to protected wildlife refuges and border communities. Since then, the administration has been slowly moving forward with its plans — as when it waived environmental laws for the wall in New Mexico in January 2018.
The Center has also launched a campaign to pass resolutions through states, cities and counties across the United States opposing the border wall. Some of these resolutions contain provisions for jurisdictions to divest from companies that do business on the border wall, such as the one that passed the Tucson City Council on June 6, 2017 (that day also saw the passing of a resolution against the wall by Southern Arizona's Pima County). If you're an elected official or representative of a community or organization who'd like to get involved in our campaign to pass No Border Wall resolutions across the country, please contact Laiken Jordahl.
In the mid-1990s the U.S. federal government launched a strategy of militarization in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands that continues to this day. First the areas around ports of entry in El Paso, San Diego, and other urban areas along the border were hardened and walls were erected using solid steel panels from Vietnam War–era landing mats. This had the predictable effect of forcing undocumented migrants out into more remote areas to cross the border, where many died in harsh conditions. More than 6,000 people have died crossing the border in the past 20 years. Documents show that migrant deaths were a foreseen consequence of a conscious strategy to increase the difficulty and dangers of crossing the border as a deterrent to migrants.
The strategy of pushing migrant traffic into wild areas did not work to stem the flow of undocumented immigration — but it did vastly increase the amount of environmental damage it was causing, as both the flow of migrants and the resulting border-law-enforcement activities impacted formerly untrammeled sites. Thousands of Border Patrol agents began driving around in remote areas, creating thousands of miles of new roads in wilderness areas and critical habitats for endangered species. In fact, as revealed in the Center's May 2017 report A Wall in the Wild, 93 threatened, endangered and candidate species would potentially be affected by construction of a wall and related infrastructure spanning the entirety of the border, including jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and Quino checkerspot butterflies.
In 2005 the U.S. Congress passed a clause in the REAL ID Act, which granted the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to waive all laws with regard to constructing walls along the border. More than three dozen environmental, American Indian and historical-protection laws were waived in the next few years under the Secure Fence Act, as hundreds of miles of additional border barriers were constructed with little or no environmental review.
Again, the results were predictable. Without the thorough analysis of environmental impacts normally required by law, the new border infrastructure was often constructed in ill-advised locations with poor engineering — resulting in massive flooding, erosion, and millions of dollars of damage to private property and public lands alike, as well as to facilities along the border. Of course this infrastructure also worsened the blockage of wildlife movement on a vast scale.