With sentiment against migrants in Amerika growing, construction of the barrier wall along the U.S. border with Mexico continues. This is a result of the increased militarization along the border regions. The border was imposed by military force over 150 years ago, and the desperate attempt to keep migrants out is not only causing a grave humanitarian crisis but also devastating ecological impacts.
The humanitarian crisis is already bad and is getting more deadly for people. Especially in Arizona. Not only is the terrain of the southern part of the state a desert, more migrants have been going through there due to increased border militarization in neighboring states. Increased anti-migrant sentiment in the state makes the journey more dangerous. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2007 a record 218 bodies were found in Pima County (Arizona).(1) In August of 2010, the remains of 170 dead migrants so far were recovered, and the end of that year was expected to surpass the previous record. The hottest month, July, was one where 59 migrants were found dead, with seven on July 15th of that year alone. Some of the remains were reduced to skeletal ones, and 66% of the remains remained unidentified. Likely many more dead remains are still in the desert not found. Along with the increased anti-migrant repression with SB1070 and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, now neo-Nazi groups are conducting armed patrols of the border. (2) The Minutemen groups, who were big on media stunts in their vigilantism along the border, officially dissolved that year after a call to violent action sent the directors panicked, with many individuals from this entity entering into the larger Tea Party movement and into Constitutionalist militias.(3)
Along with the humanitarian crisis there is a crisis of the ecosystem.
Walls along the U.S – Mexico border had already been authorized and built in the 1990’s at ports of entry that encompassed mostly urban areas. This only made migrants go through more dangerous and isolated rural areas. More border wall construction was authorized in 2005 with the passage of the REAL ID Act. In Section 102 of the act it gave the Secretary of Homeland Security, which has authority over border policing, the power to waive any local, state, and federal law that would impede the construction of the wall. This authority was used to waive over 30 environmental protection laws that would have blocked border wall construction.(4) So far over 600 miles of walls and access roads have been constructed throughout the four border states. The expenses have been estimated to be around $4.5 million per mile for fencing, and $1.6 million per mile for vehicle barriers. The maintenance and other costs are expected to be still higher.(5)
The documentary put out by the Sierra Club, Wild Verses Wall, documents the environmental effects of the border wall.(6) The region around the militarily imposed border of Mexico and the U.S. is a sensitive ecological area. The ecosystem around the border is diverse, ranging from deserts to wetlands. Over 40 percent of the land along the border are public lands protected under Amerikan law, which include several Wilderness Areas, National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and National Forests.(7) In these areas vastly different species of plants and wildlife inhabit. These areas are being destroyed to make walls and access roads, along with other infrastructure to increasingly police the border area.
The wall is disrupting natural wildlife corridors. Migratory patterns of many animal species, some facing extinction, are threatened by this artificial wall. This is also causing interference with their abilities to obtain food and water, and disrupting natural mating patterns. Animals have been photographed being blocked by the wall, some even trapped permanently in different parts of the barriers. Stadium lights built along the border also hamper nocturnal animals. All this artificial infrastructure will have long term effects on animal population dynamics. In the meantime, human migrants will still cross the border, with the wall only making the journey slower and more dangerous.
Construction around the wall is also causing erosion in many areas, and affecting drainages. Already many floods have been caused by the border wall. The damage to plant life and vegetation, along with animal habitats, is vast, for these are some of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.
At the same time they are destroying the border environment with the wall, anti-migrant sentiment is clouded in environmental concerns. It is claimed that migrants are leaving vast amounts of litter along their journeys. While litter is left by migrants discarding their supplies, that trash is easily removable and has fewer long term effects on the ecosystem. The border wall will leave longer and more damaging impacts, many yet to be felt.
In the classic book North From Mexico, author Carey McWilliams tells of the relationship that Spanish-speaking people have had with the environment around the border. “The Spanish travelled as far, but only as far, as the gypsy of the cactus family, the prickly pear, had traveled. Did they stop where they did because the environment had ceased to be familiar? Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that geographically the Southwest is one with Mexico.” Further he states that the resulting U.S.-Mexico border was “one of the most unrealistic borders of the Western Hemisphere.”(8).
The militarily imposed border has no relation to its surrounding ecosystem. The border was created not through any consideration of the natural environment but solely for political reasons. It was formed after the conquest of the northern part of Mexico ceded by force to the United States in 1848. For thousands of years before this there were nothing of a border in this region. The people who went back and forth on this region, like the majority who do today, are indigenous to this continent. The settler nation of Amerika has ever since built up more walls to keep people out, a sign of their ever-increasing insecurity. Their increased militarization not only violates human rights but even their own environmental protection laws. Imperialist occupation here, like elsewhere, is not only is a threat to human life but to the broader natural environment. The border wall and the occupation that sustains it must be torn down not only for humanitarian reasons but also for the sake of the ecosystem.
7. http://arizona.sierraclub.org/conservation/border/solution.asp. Some of the areas along the border that have been affected by wall construction are: San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Southern Arizona; Hidalgo County Levee, South Texas; Tijuana River National Esturine Research Reserve, San Diego; Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Imperial County, CA; the Sky Island region (including the Sonaran and Chihuahua deserts); Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, Hidalgo County TX; Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Southern Arizona; Otay Mountain Wilderness, San Diego County, CA; Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Imperial County, CA; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Southern Arizona; Nature Conservancy Southmost Preserve, South Texas; Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, El Paso TX. This list is not complete. (Cited in Wild Verses Wall).
8. McWilliams, Carey. North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States. Greenwood Press, 1968 edition. p. 9; p. 59.