Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Texas State Rep. Kino Flores at the La Lomita No Border Wall Festival
To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), Environmental Impact Statements must present an objective, unbiased overview of the impacts that a course of action will have on both the human and natural environments. This information is used by decision makers to evaluate whether the costs of an action outweigh its intended benefits. In the regulations that govern Environmental Impact Statements the Council on Environmental Quality clearly states, “Environmental impact statements shall serve as the means of assessing the environmental impact of proposed agency actions, rather than justifying decisions already made.” (Sec. 1502.2)
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Rio Grande Valley border wall ignores this regulation. Rather than objectively evaluating all of the negative impacts that a wall will have in South Texas, it repeatedly presents Department of Homeland Security justifications for the wall as facts without any corroborating evidence. It assumes that the border wall will be a resounding success, and that Texas and the other 49 states will reap the benefits. One passage in particular promotes this idea:
“The cumulative impacts of USBP activities to reduce the flow of illegal drugs, terrorists, and terrorist weapons into the United States and the concomitant effects upon the Nation’s health and economy, drug-related crimes, community cohesion, property values, and traditional family values would be long-term and beneficial, both nationally and locally. Residents of the border towns would benefit from increased security, a reduction in illegal drug-smuggling activities and the number of violent crimes, less damage to and loss of personal property, and less financial burden for entitlement programs. This would be accompanied by the concomitant benefits of reduced enforcement and insurance costs.” (5.11.17)
This reads like a sales pitch, not an unbiased assessment. No evidence is presented to back up any of these claims. But the words used to frame the first sentence, “The cumulative impacts… would be long-term and beneficial” employ precisely the same language that is used elsewhere to evaluate scientifically quantifiable impacts.
In an effective ad campaign it is important to inflate the positive aspects of the product and minimize or ignore the negative. If you go to a used car lot, you know that the sales person is going to tell you that the car has A/C, but probably won’t mention the rust in the wheel wells. The claims made in the Draft EIS should be viewed with the same level of skepticism. A prime example of this is the repeated use of terrorism as a justification for building the wall. Since no terrorists or terrorist weapons have ever entered the United States by crossing the southern border, the border wall cannot possibly “reduce their flow” into the U.S. How can they go below zero?
The United States - Canada border at Beebe Vermont / Quebec
Illegal drugs, on the other hand, do cross the southern border into the United States. However, no data is presented in the Draft EIS to support the assertion that building 70 miles of wall in 21 separate sections along our 1,933 mile long southern border, while ignoring the 3,987 mile long northern border and 12,479 miles of coastline, will in any way impact “drug-related crimes… both nationally and locally.” There have been walls along the southern border near San Diego for over a decade, but according to the Border Patrol nearly 33% of the drugs that they confiscated in 2006 came through the San Diego sector, up from 24% the previous year. The border wall has apparently failed to bring about a “reduction in illegal drug-smuggling activities” in southern California.
The statement that the border wall’s impact upon “community cohesion, property values, and traditional family values would be long-term and beneficial” falls somewhere between George Orwell and Alice in Wonderland. How does one objectively measure “community cohesion” or “traditional family values?” This statement sounds more like a presidential candidate’s stump speech than an unbiased evaluation of the facts, and it is directly contradicted by an earlier passage in the same Draft EIS:
“Minor to moderate adverse indirect impacts would be expected from the imminent dislocation of some families due to property acquisition. Some housing properties would either be removed or visually impaired by the pedestrian fence and adjacent patrol roads. The social aspects of dislocation could be disruptive. Many families in the proposed project corridor have lived there for decades, some even centuries, and have strong emotional ties to the family land and homes.” (4.12.55)
How will the “dislocation of some families” and the removal of houses have a beneficial impact on “community cohesion, property values, and traditional family values?” Wouldn’t bulldozing a house lower the property’s value? Is homelessness now a “traditional family value?” At least there is the tepid admission that evicting families from their homes and lands “could be disruptive”, particularly for families that have occupied plots of land for many generations. In some instances ownership stretches back to the Spanish land grants of the 1760’s. Removing families with such deep roots will destroy “community cohesion”, no matter what definition of the term the writers of the Draft EIS want to use. But even in this statement the negative impacts are downplayed. When a family is evicted from their home and the building is knocked down, the impacts are certainly not “indirect”, and they are by no means “minor to moderate.”
Construction of the Berlin Wall - "community cohesion" in the making
Not only are the claims that those border residents who don’t have their homes bulldozed will see a reduction in violent crime, less damage to private property, and lower entitlement program costs made without any empirical evidence, they run counter to the evidence that does exist. All of the imagined benefits of the border wall flow from the baseless assumption that if sections of border wall are built in the Rio Grande Valley they will stop illegal traffic from coming across. They will not. In its June 5, 2007 report Border Security: Barriers Along the U.S. International Border the Congressional Research Service concluded that the border wall “did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border in San Diego.” The San Diego wall consists of two parallel walls, the first made of steel slabs and the second made of steel mesh, each 16 feet tall. Between them there is a cleared area 100 feet wide with a graded patrol road and light and camera towers. This is much more than is proposed for the Rio Grande Valley by the Draft EIS, yet it is claimed that the Texas border wall will be much more effective than the walls near San Diego.
In searching for justifications for the border wall the private contractor that wrote the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was very selective about what information was included and what was left out. Even the words of their client were excluded when they failed to provide a ringing endorsement of the wall’s effectiveness. Discussing the border wall in July, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said,
“Fencing is not the cure-all for the problem at the border. I think the fence has come to assume a certain kind of symbolic significance which should not obscure the fact that it is a much more complicated problem than putting up a fence which someone can climb over with a ladder or tunnel under with a shovel.”
Coming from the man who recently threatened to condemn people’s homes if they refused access to surveyors, this is a telling comment. The fact that it is not reflected anywhere in the Draft EIS shows just how biased it is.
The Border Wall between San Diego and Tijuana
Border residents and the rest of America deserve more than a sales pitch. There must be a full accounting of the effects of the border wall before construction begins. Rather than issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement in January, a new Draft EIS that even-handedly evaluates the impacts that the border wall will have should be prepared. Bias and unfounded statements should be replaced with solid facts. Information that was left out of the Draft EIS, such as the exact number of homes that will be bulldozed, what will happen in the event of a hurricane or major flood, and what measures will be taken to ensure that endangered species are not driven to extinction, should be included. Anything less would be a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, and would represent a tremendous disservice to the American people.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
One very disturbing aspect of the proposed Border Wall in south Texas has received very little coverage in the local press, although it may well be the most important with respect to public safety. Federal, state and county officials have long recognized that the flood-control levee system in the Rio Grande Valley is deficient and in dire need of repair at many locations. Last June, the U. S. Congress approved a $15.5 million bill to fix the Valley levee system, although a Hidalgo County Judge indicated that at least $80 million would be required to get the system on par with Federal standards. At a meeting held in Mercedes last July, a spokesman for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) indicated that levee improvement costs in the Rio Grande Valley could run as high as $125 million, and several IBWC officials expressed concern that construction of the proposed Border Fence on or near flood-control levees would not only violate provisions of a treaty with Mexico but would also seriously obstruct water flow within the Valley’s floodways. Nevertheless, the consulting firm which prepared the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Border Fence project concluded that the impact of the proposed fence on the hydrology or water flow within the Rio Grande Basin is expected to be “negligible” in most areas of the Valley.
For their own protection, every person who calls the Rio Grande Valley “home” and wants to keep it that way should stand up, be counted, and confront their governmental officials and elected representatives with some very hard questions. Exactly how deficient are the levee systems of the Rio Grande Valley, and why have they been allowed to digress to their present condition? Have any hydrological studies been conducted to assess the potential impact of proposed Border Fence on the stability of the flood-control levee systems in both southern Texas and northeastern Mexico, and what is the probable impact on the Rio Grande Valley region if the levee systems in either Texas or Mexico should fail? If hydrological studies have indeed been conducted, who were the researchers, what are their credentials, and what was the type and quality of the data used to reach the conclusions reported in the EIS? If any legitimate hydrological studies relating to this topic actually exist, their methodologies, data and results should be discussed in open forum so that the people who live here can judge for themselves whether or not conclusions reported in the EIS are valid.
These are not minor points. The Rio Grande Valley is located in a hurricane zone, and the prospects that we will experience the effects of one or more major hurricanes sometime in the future is a certainty. This may not occur for another five or even ten years, but it will occur. It is therefore vital that we maintain our flood-control levee system in the best possible condition, and avoid doing anything that might destabilize the system. Two years ago, this country lost a major city – New Orleans – because of a defective levee system. Last month, the failure of a levee system following torrential rains in Tabasco, Mexico resulted in a substantial loss of human life (nearly 300 people missing or dead) and approximately two million homes were severely damaged or destroyed by floodwaters. It is not very comforting to realize that the words “hurricane” and “tropical storm” and “torrential rains” do not appear on even one occasion in the 538-page Draft EIS document for the Border Wall.
When it comes to assessing the impact of anything that could destabilize our flood-control levee system, there is no room for opinions, speculation or bureaucratic double-talk. We need honest and unbiased professional advice from the best hydrologists in the country. All Valley property owners would also be well-advised to consider another factor of considerable importance – the continuing availability of flood insurance coverage for our area. If the agencies responsible for administering flood insurance coverage sense that we are setting ourselves up to become the next “New Orleans,” will they cancel coverage for our area or increase premiums to such an extent that few if any of us can afford to insure our homes and businesses? In either case, the effects on property values and our economy would be disastrous.
If there is even a slight possibility that the proposed Border Fence could predispose the Rio Grande Valley to widespread flooding following a major hurricane, the U. S. government has a moral obligation and responsibility to the people who live here to postpone construction of the structure until its safety has been demonstrated conclusively. Federal funds allocated for border security could be spent much more effectively (and much more safely) by doubling or tripling the operating budgets of the IBWC, which is responsible in part for maintaining of our flood-control levee system, and the U. S. Border Patrol, which is responsible for enforcing our immigration laws and securing our international border with Mexico. The missions of both agencies are vital to our regional and national security, and cannot be accomplished effectively unless the agencies are provided with adequate manpower and funding. Regardless, neither of these agencies deserves to become the “fall guys” or “scapegoats” if, at some future date, something goes terribly wrong with a fence plan which is viewed by many as being little more than an election-year gimmick that was concocted by a few members of the U. S. Congress and imposed by law on nearly two million people who live in southern Texas and northeastern Mexico.
Friday, December 7, 2007
The assertion that the border wall will make our nation safer is absurd. While the Draft EIS makes grand claims for the efficacy of the border wall, spokespersons for DHS and the Border Patrol describe it much more modestly. Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Chief Randy Hill said, “We're going to see steel barriers erected on the borders where U.S. and Mexican cities adjoin. These will slow down illegal crossers by minutes.” Not “prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States,” or prevent anyone or anything else from entering the United States, but “slow down illegal crossers by minutes.” Rather than preventing the next 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security is building a $46 billion dollar speed bump.
If a border wall had stretched from sea to shining sea before September 11, 2001, it would have made no difference to the terrorists. None of the hijackers came into the United States across a land border. Instead, according to the 9/11 Commission, the 19 hijackers applied for and received visas which allowed them to enter and reenter the U.S. 33 times. Each time they came in through an airport, not by land. Only one terrorist is known to have tried to come into our nation by crossing a land border. He was the Millenium Bomber, caught trying to bring explosives across the Canadian border. To reach the nearest border wall, just south of San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border, he would have needed to drive another 1,257 miles.
The Draft EIS for “Tactical Infrastructure” in the Rio Grande Valley also includes a “No Action” alternative, but dismisses it with the statement, “The No Action Alternative would not meet USBP mission or operational needs.” (ES-2) There is no further explanation as to why it would not meet these needs. This is striking because if one were to look objectively at the facts, it would appear that the needs of the stated USBP mission are currently being met without border walls. No terrorists or terrorist weapons have come across the border in the Rio Grande Valley. More strikingly, the number of illegal crossers apprehended by the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley dropped by 34% in 2007, bringing apprehensions in the area to a 15 year low.
Rather than analyze the Rio Grande Valley’s success, the Department of Homeland Security is poised to impose upon it a border wall that will cost billions and necessitate “the demolition of buildings and structures within the proposed project corridor” (4.11.38) and “the loss of approximately 150 acres of potential ocelot and jaguarundi habitat” (5.8.15), but will not stop border crossers. Despite the Draft EIS's repeated mantra of “prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons”, Chertoff is building the wall to placate xenophobic politicians like Hunter and Tancredo, not to help the Border Patrol do its job. Railing against immigrants and trumpeting the border wall helps them cling to dreams of reaching the White House because no one listens to anything else that they say. They know that the border wall will not protect Texas or the United States from terrorists; it is a politician's prop that only provides a false sense of security.
Friday, November 30, 2007
The Environmental Impact Statement is not only of interest to environmentalists. By law, environmental impact statements are required to cover issues of the human environment as well. Unfortunately, the Rio Grande Valley Border Fence EIS (copy available at http://www.borderfencenepa.com/rio-grande-valley-sector-eis/) does not adequately address these issues, and the most vulnerable residents of the Rio Grande Valley are being left unprotected from the damage a border wall is certain to cause.
The Border Wall in Southern California - courtesy J.J. Castro
Environmental justice is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency to mean that “no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal environmental programs and policies” (EPA Fact Sheet). This sentiment was codified by President Clinton in executive order 12898 (Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice [EJ] in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations), which provides that “each Federal agency must identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the U.S.”
In 2004, the Operation Rio Grande Environmental Impact Statement found that environmental justice was indeed an issue for projects in the Rio Grande Valley:
"Approximately 85% of the population in the area can be classified as minority (well above the state average of 39.4%). The median annual household incomes for the counties in the project area (Starr, $10,182; Hidalgo, $16,703; and Cameron, $17,336) are well below the state average of $27,016 and, in the case of Starr County, below the $15,000 established by the EPA for defining the economic status risk group. Therefore, many of the households in the project area doubtless have a high potential EJ index." (Operation Rio Grande EIS, Section 3.12.6)
However, in the 2007 Draft Rio Grande Valley Border Fence EIS, it is claimed that the protections of environmental justice do not apply. This questionable judgment is achieved by sleight of hand and is revealed in the following quote:
"Of the 21 fence sections, 11 are within census bureau tracts in which a portion of the tracts have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents. Of the proposed 70 miles of tactical infrastructure, substantially less than half is within census bureau tracts that have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents—therefore the overall impacts of the proposed tactical infrastructure would not fall disproportionately on minority or low-income populations." (Section 5. 5.11)
Rather than stating that the majority of people who will be negatively impacted by the border wall are poor and/or minorities, which is what environmental justice is all about, the EIS counts miles. Miles that fall within US Fish and Wildlife refuge tracts, where no people live, are counted along with the miles that pass through poor communities, allowing them to dilute, at least on paper, the wall’s impact on minority and low-income populations. Mileage is irrelevant to the question of environmental justice. The question is whether a disproportionately high number of the people who will be negatively affected are members of minority and/or low income populations.
The EIS does mention in passing that people will lose their homes, stating that, “Construction of the project would require some acquisition of private property, including the potential dislocation of some property owners and tenants.” “Dislocation” is of course a euphemism for eviction. In communities like Granjeno, where families have passed property down through the generations since the Spanish land grants of the 1760’s, up to a third of the homes will be impacted.
Residents evicted to build the Berlin Wall
Hard-working people who may not have the money to hire lawyers are going to have their homes bulldozed or family farms sliced in two for a wall that won’t stop anyone. DHS is prepared to perpetrate a terrible injustice against the very U.S. citizens that they are supposed to protect.
The grassroots coalition No Border Wall is concerned that the Department of Homeland Security is papering over the real human hardships that a border wall tearing through Rio Grande Valley communities will cause and that minorities and the poor will bear the brunt of the damage of a misguided and politically-motivated project.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In October, speaking to the Border Trade Alliance, Cornyn said, “I have long said that I do not support a fence, or as some said, a wall, between the United States and Mexico. That’s irrational and just doesn’t make sense, because we know that people can come over fences or walls; they can go under them; they can go through them, given sufficient opportunity.”
News from the border bears out Senator Cornyn’s statement. 24 tunnels have been found under just the 14 miles of wall that lie south of San Diego. The number of crossers apprehended there increased by 7% in fiscal 2007, despite the fact that San Diego has the most heavily fortified wall on our southern border. The border wall suffers daily breaches, and crews have been assigned to the never-ending task of fixing holes sliced through the steel walls and filling tunnels. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the annual cost of repairs will reach $8.3 million per mile.
In the Rio Grande Valley, where there currently is no wall, apprehensions of crossers dropped by 34% in fiscal 2007. Rather than analyze their success in Texas and their failure in California, Department of Homeland Security plans to begin construction of 70 miles of wall, which they prefer to call “tactical infrastructure”, in the Rio Grande Valley in the Spring of 2008. It will plow through people’s homes, businesses, farm fields, historic buildings, tracts of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, and Texas Parks and Wildlife World Birding Centers.
Once again, Senator Cornyn is talking out of both sides of his mouth. When he visits the border, where people know that a wall will do tremendous damage but no good, he says that he does not support a wall. He says that there should be public input, ignoring the fact that there has been no real public input to date. When he is back in Washington, he panders to far-right xenophobes and sponsors legislation providing $3 billion to build border walls in Texas that he knows won’t work, and that he claims not to support.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
But the numbers that he was promoting prove the opposite. In San Diego apprehensions increased by 7%. San Diego was the first part of the border to get “triple fencing”. It consists of a primary fence made of steel slabs and a secondary steel mesh fence. Between the two there is a cleared area of 100 feet with a graded patrol road and light and camera towers. The Border Patrol began construction of this stretch of border wall in 1996, and it currently runs inland from the Pacific Ocean for 14 miles.
In contrast to the increase in the number of people crossing near San Diego, the Del Rio, Texas, sector saw a 45% drop. Del Rio, like all of Texas aside from El Paso, has no border wall. The Secure Fence Act calls for “2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors… extending from 5 miles northwest of the Del Rio, Texas, port of entry to 5 miles southeast of the Eagle Pass, Texas, port of entry,” but so far none has been built.
So in the place where the wall has been built and has been up for a decade, border crossings are on the rise. Where there is no wall crossings have dropped dramatically.
The fact that the border wall does not stop anyone from crossing has been pointed out numerous times since Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, just two weeks ahead of the 2006 midterm elections. The Border Patrol has said repeatedly that it will only slow a crosser down by a few minutes or a few seconds. In its June 5, 2007 report Border Security: Barriers Along the U.S. International Border the Congressional Research Service stated, “The primary fence, by itself, did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border in San Diego.”
Instead of willfully violating our nation’s laws to build a wall that will not work, Chertoff should be looking at his department’s own statistics to find out what is working and what is not. The fact that he has not already done this is further evidence that construction of the border wall is driven by ideology and election politics, rather than an interest in constructively addressing a complex issue. Congress never should have granted an unelected Administration appointee the power to brush aside all of our nation’s laws, and they should immediately repeal section 102 of the Real ID Act and restore the rule of law.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
On October 10, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle issued a temporary restraining order stopping border wall and road construction within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, saying that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the San Pedro area, hadn’t properly analyzed the impacts of the construction on wildlife and other natural resources, and that the agencies had failed to include the public in their decision-making process. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff responded by invoking the REAL ID Act to waive 19 laws in order to resume construction of this particular wall segment.
“Instead of fixing these shortcomings and incorporating environmental protection into national security efforts, Secretary Chertoff took it upon himself to waive 19 laws. These laws were put in place to provide all of us with clean air and water and ensure our treasured places and wildlife are protected,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Secretary’s action was a clear and unprecedented abuse of authority and demonstrated a profound disregard for the system of checks and balances assured in our constitution. The Secretary left us no choice but to address the unconstitutional nature of the REAL ID Act.”
“The Bush administration should know that we have the ability to protect our nation while at the same time preserving the unique wildlife and treasured lands along the border,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. “Arbitrarily waiving environmental protections is an extreme path to tread.”
Under the REAL ID Act, Congress gave the DHS Secretary unrestricted power to waive any law—federal, state or local—that would otherwise apply to border wall and road construction. The groups’ amended complaint alleges that this unprecedented authority violates the fundamental separation of powers principles enshrined in the United States Constitution. They argue that by delegating the power to pick and choose which laws will apply to border wall construction, Congress has unconstitutionally given away its lawmaking responsibilities to a politically-appointed Executive branch official who is not accountable to the American public.
Despite the fact that the groups’ lawsuit was based on violations of only three laws, Sec. Chertoff responded by waiving 19 laws intended to protect wildlife and endangered species, clean water and air, safe drinking water, and cultural, historic and archeologically significant resources.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
When the Border Patrol and Army Corps. of Engineers began building the border wall through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, disregarding important federal statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club petitioned the court for a temporary halt to construction. On October 10th U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle found that DHS had largely ignored the relevant laws, and that the hasty Environmental Assessment that had been produced without public comment was “inadequate.”
Rather than attempt to comply with our nation’s laws, Chertoff chose to “waive in their entirety… all federal, state, or other laws, regulations and legal requirements” related to the following 20 federal statutes:
National Environmental Policy Act
Endangered Species Act
Federal Water Pollution Control Act (aka Clean Water Act)
National Historic Preservation Act
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Clean Air Act
Archaeological Resources Protection Act
Safe Drinking Water Act
Noise Control Act
Solid Waste Disposal Act
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
Federal Land Policy and Management Act
Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act
Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act
Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
Farmland Protection Policy Act
Administrative Procedures Act
This is a clear admission that the walls being built through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and other refuges along the border will run counter to these laws. There is no reason for Chertoff to waive laws that the wall will not violate.
In response to the court order, Secretary Chertoff said, "I have to say to myself, 'Yes, I don't want to disturb the habitat of a lizard, but am I prepared to pay human lives to do that?'” This dilemma is completely false. More than just the habitat of a lizard, federally endangered species such as the jaguar have been recorded in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in recent years. And as for human lives, the border walls built to date have not saved lives; instead, they have cost lives. No terrorist has been apprehended attempting to cross our southern border, and a wall would not stop them if they tried. The Border Patrol has repeatedly stated that border walls only slow crossers down by a few minutes. In its June 5, 2007 report Border Security: Barriers Along the U.S. International Border the Congressional Research Service stated, “The primary fence, by itself, did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border in San Diego.” The only measurable impact that the border walls have had is in the number of people who have died in the desert. In August of 2005 the General Accounting Office issued a report titled Illegal Immigration: Border Crossing Deaths have Doubled Since 1995. Walls do not stop crossers, they redirect them into ever more remote parts of the desert where hundreds die of exposure and dehydration every year. When Chertoff asks himself whether he is “prepared to pay human lives,” he has his answer in the GAO report.
No Border Wall calls on Congress to restore the rule of law by repealing section 102 of the Real ID Act. Secretary Chertoff has provided a glaring example of the danger inherent in giving an Administration appointee the power to overrule all of the laws that Congress has enacted. If this precedent is allowed to stand the rule of law may be suspended for any future “crisis” that catches the attention of politicians during an election cycle. Our nation needs to find real solutions to our immigration issues, instead of a wall that destroys vital ecosystems and costs billions of dollars and hundreds of lives, but will only provide a false sense of security.
Monday, October 15, 2007
One of the last undammed, free-flowing rivers in the American southwest, the San Pedro River and its surrounding watershed is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the United States. As it runs from Mexico through Arizona before joining the Gila River it passes through the confluence of four major ecosystems: the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahan Deserts. The river’s course is home to 84 species of mammals, 14 species of fish, 41 species of reptiles and amphibians, more than 100 species of breeding birds and an additional 250 species of migrant and wintering birds. It also contains archaeological sites representing the remains of human occupation from 11,200 years ago. This led Congress to designate the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in 1988. The San Pedro was recognized by the National Audubon Society as its first Globally Important Bird Area, and designated as a world heritage natural area by the United Nations World Heritage Program.
Unfortunately for the San Pedro and the wildlife that depend upon it, it crosses the southern border of the United States. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 requires, “[at] least 2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors” covering over 700 miles of the U.S. – Mexico border, including a span “extending from 10 miles west of the Calexico, California, port of entry to 5 miles east of the Douglas, Arizona, port of entry.” This section alone would be approximately 370 miles long, directly impacting the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Coronado National Forest, and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
The Department of Homeland Security prefers the term “pedestrian fencing” rather than border wall, as it is less apt to evoke images of Berlin in the soviet era. To date they have favored two wall designs, “Sandia” and “Bollard”. Under the Bollard design, offsetting double rows of 14’ to 17’ high steel pipe, approximately 6” in diameter, are set in 8.5” centers, and then filled with concrete. This construction requires trenching 5’ deep and 2’ wide along the entire length of the wall. Under the Sandia design, metal mesh panels are attached vertically to 16’ steel poles, and then 6’ panels are secured to the top of these at an angle of 45 degrees. The poles are anchored by a 12” wide by 4’ deep concrete footing along the length of the fence. In the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, the Army Corps intends to utilize a “modified” Sandia design with steel pipes arranged horizontally to a height of 3’, and the remaining height consisting of mesh. Vehicle barriers constructed of scrap railroad ties will be placed in the riverbed and removed using cranes during seasonal flooding. How cranes will reach the riverbed each year during the monsoon season without causing tremendous damage and erosion has not been explained.
In its rush to add more miles to the border wall (and mollify certain Presidential hopefuls), the Department of Homeland Security has largely ignored federal environmental regulations. DHS Secretary Chertoff used the power granted to him under the Real ID Act to “waive in their entirety” the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, National Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Clean Water Act, and other laws to build walls near San Diego and in Arizona’s Barry M. Goldwater Range. In other parts of Arizona rushed Environmental Assessments have been produced with no public comment period that invariably find that building walls through the habitat of endangered species such as the Sonoran pronghorn will have “no significant impact”.
When this was attempted in the San Pedro Riparian NCA the Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club requested a stay in construction so that an Environmental Impact Statement, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, could be conducted. Instead the Army Corps began bulldozing the next day. In response Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club filed suit, asking a federal court to halt construction until the Army Corps of Engineers fully complied with the law. Specifically, they argued that a regional Environmental Impact Statement is required for the entire length of the Arizona border wall, rather than limited Environmental Assessments for individual sections. In addition, a full Environmental Impact Statement must be carried out for the San Pedro River. Finally, to comply with NEPA there should be public participation in the EIS process. Until Chertoff signs a waiver DHS and the Border Patrol must obey the laws of the land.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Here are a few ways to focus your comments:
· Destruction of wildlife habitat. The lower Rio Grande Valley has already been cleared of 95% of the brush. In an area considered one of the most biologically diverse in North America, any additional destruction of brush, including clearing 508 acres for construction of the wall, will have severe consequences for wildlife. How will wildlife survive with their habitat limited by a wall? How will they get to and from the river, find food, shelter, and potential mates in habitat dissected by a wall? In some cases like Starr County, the Rio Grande is the only source of water for wildlife. Any animal that encounters miles of wall will have to travel long distances for a very basic necessity, water.
· Endangered & rare species. The ocelot, jaguarundi and red-billed pigeon currently face the real possibility of extinction or extirpation. These are just a few of the endangered and rare species whose U.S. populations would certainly collapse with construction of the wall. The ability of rare species like the ocelot and jaguarundi to cross into Mexico helps keep wildlife populations healthy by maintaining a level of genetic integrity. Reduction of gene flow among or within populations will reduce the likelihood of long-term survival of these species. A formal Section 7 Consultation under the Endangered Species Act needs to be done.
· Violation of International Migratory Bird Treaty. If construction of the wall takes place during the spring, as stated in the Federal Register, many migratory and nesting birds will be affected. The clearing of brush will destroy thousands of nests, many with young birds in them. This is in direct violation of the International Migratory Bird Treaty.
· Impact of construction. What will be the impacts of construction? Of roads for vehicles and heavy equipment? Of lighting and transmission lines?
· Economic impact. Access will be cut off for wildlife enthusiasts interested in wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking along the river. Eco-tourism brings more than $125 million to the RGV annually from 200,000 eco-tourists, creating 2,500 jobs in the local economy. What are the economic impacts of limiting access to refuges, state parks, and other public and private parks and natural areas?
· Community impact. A wall could mean uprooting families from their homes and demolishing or cutting off access to historical buildings and community centers. How many people will lose their homes? What buildings will be destroyed? How will property owners gain access to their land? What will the presence of a wall do to property values? How will there be public access to cemeteries and historical and archaeological sites along the river? Will there be access in case of fire or other emergencies on the other side of the fence?
· Impact on agriculture. Farming is still the backbone of the economy in the Rio Grande Valley. How much agricultural land will be taken out of production by the wall? How will farmers gain access to their land? To their pumps and irrigation equipment? How will they bring farm equipment onto farmland behind a wall?
· Impact on flood control. All the walled areas are in a floodplain. Has the Army Corps or DHS coordinated with FEMA? How will the wall affect the flood control levees? Will the IBWC have access to the levees and input in the construction? Will future widening of the levees result in even more habitat loss on the south side (since the wall is on the north side)?
· Relations with Mexico and the rest of the world. Mexico will perceive the border wall as an insult. How will this affect the bi-national relations and cooperation? How will the border wall affect US relations with other countries and its standing in the world? By building a wall around our borders, what kind of example is the US setting of a free and open democratic society?
· Problems with the EIS. The EIS is geographically too limited. The EIS should look at total and cumulative impacts into the future. What about the impacts in other areas where a wall is proposed? How will the impacts of this initial proposed fencing change if the total amount of fencing called for by the Secure Fence Act is installed? What will be the environmental impacts of future needs of the wall such as maintenance and lighting?
· Inadequate public comment period. The public comment period is less than thirty days. For a project of this magnitude, the public comment period should be extended.
Submit your comments to Customs & Border Patrol by one of the following methods:
~ E-mail: RGVcomments@BorderFenceNEPA.com
Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS
2751 Prosperity Avenue, Ste. 200
Fairfax, Virginia 22031
~ Fax: (757)282-7697
~ Electronically: http://www.borderfencenepa.com/ (Please note that they have repeatedly shut down this site.)
** Be sure to include you name, address and identify your comments as for the RGV Sector EIS.**
The deadline for public comments is October 15, 2007!
Monday, October 1, 2007
Border Fence’s Overall Impact to Wildlife, Public Lands in Arizona
“The San Pedro National Conservation Area is an irreplaceable national treasure. Putting a fence right through the middle of it will rob America of one of its most important wildlife areas, but it won’t make America any safer,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. “The decision to build a wall in this unique area points out the absurdity of the government’s ill-conceived approach to securing America’s borders. Meanwhile, the government isn't even considering the cumulative impacts of these wall segments on wildlife and habitat. They haven’t taken a step back to look at the whole picture—and right now that picture looks bleak.”
The appeal by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club challenges the short-sighted decision to build a wall through the San Pedro NCA, which is one of the American Southwest’s most unique and biologically diverse areas. The San Pedro region has been designated as a World Heritage Natural Area by the United Nations World Heritage program. Some 250 species of migratory birds have been recorded in the area, which led to its designation as a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, and the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation. The San Pedro River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the United States, and its natural beauty and diverse wildlife attract visitors from around the globe.
The appeal specifically challenges a BLM decision that permits construction of a wall and a new road within the San Pedro Riparian NCA. According to the BLM, the proposed fencing across the desert arroyos that feed the San Pedro River would cause erosion, sediment build-up and possibly even shift the entire riverbed. These changes could be disastrous for the cottonwood-willow woodlands and the wildlife that depend on this habitat. Construction of the wall could also physically isolate numerous wildlife species in Arizona that have populations in Mexico, including jaguar, ocelot, coati, gray and kit fox, badger, black bear, ringtail cat and unique subspecies of deer and squirrel.
The San Pedro wall is just one of six wall segments proposed since the beginning of the year along Arizona’s border with Mexico, including the San Pedro River, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Buenos Aires National Monument. At least two of these segments are already under construction. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies are required to consider alternatives and review the cumulative environmental impacts of different federal actions that are occurring at the same time in the same area. Such comprehensive assessments are necessary to determine how best to minimize the impacts of border security measures on wildlife, wildlands and border communities.
On September 24, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would complete comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements concerning the cumulative impacts of planned border fence construction along much of the Texas border with Mexico. In Arizona, however, where construction on some segments of the fence has already begun, no such effort has been made.
“It’s an encouraging step in the right direction that the government has agreed to do a comprehensive assessment in Texas, but Arizona is the place where bulldozers are tearing up the borderland as we speak,” said Sean Sullivan, executive committee member for the Sierra Club Rincon (Southern Arizona) group. “Arizona’s border wall is already under construction in certain places, and the government has a responsibility to make sure its actions are thoroughly examined before it starts any new projects, especially in areas as sensitive as the San Pedro.”
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Participants hope to show the nation just what is at risk if a wall is built through the city of Brownsville and along the rest of the border. Bishop Raymundo J. Peña of the Diocese of Brownsville will be the keynote speaker. The Bishop, whose diocese operates 107 parishes and missions for the almost 800,000 Catholics who live in the Rio Grande Valley, has been outspoken against the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Bishop’s opposition echoes the sentiment of the Vatican, where a top official has called the U.S. plan to build a border wall “inhuman.” Community leaders, including state representatives Eddie Lucio III and Juan Escobar, will voice the concerns of their constituents, and local experts will discuss the negative impact a wall could have on our communities, historical landmarks, farms, and natural areas. While the children fly specially-made kites and smash a wall-shaped piñata, adults can listen and dance to live South Texas music into the evening.
Building a border wall along the Rio Grande will cut a wide swath through the city of Brownsville. Maps to date have shown the proposed wall following the flood control levee that runs through the city, rather than the river itself. Parts of the downtown area, with its rich history and charming old buildings, are at risk for demolition because they lie so close to this levee. The University of Texas at Brownsville’s International Technology, Education and Commerce Campus could be cut off entirely by the wall, since it lies to the south of the levee. A border wall could also threaten the close economic and social ties between Brownsville and its sister city Matamoros. Outside the city, landowners and farmers could lose land and critical access to river water for irrigation. A double-layered wall and Border Patrol road could also cut through nearby natural areas such as the Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary and the Nature Conservancy’s Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve. University of Texas at Brownsville Vice President of External Affairs Dr. Tony Zavaleta said, “In my forty odd years of studying the U.S.-Mexico border I have never seen anything suggested by either government that is so wrong headed and destructive to our communities and our people as this border wall.”
To get to Dean Porter Park, exit 6th Street from Expressway 77/83. Turn right on 6th and take another right at the first light, Ringgold Street. Turn right again onto Dean Porter Park Street. The park entrance will be on the left.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Part of the Sasabe border wall will be built on the southern edge of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is currently working to determine whether or not a 15 foot tall steel wall is compatible with its mission, and has opened a brief public comment period. It is important that anyone who is concerned about the environmental impacts that the border wall will have take advantage of this opportunity and write a letter.
According to the draft Compatibility Determination,
The Refuge was established on August 1, 1985 “....to conserve (A) fish or wildlife which are listed as endangered species or threatened species .... or (B) plants ....” 16 U.S.C. 1534 (Endangered Species Act of 1973) and for the “...development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources....” 16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4) (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956). Congressional records and other pertinent files show that conservation of the masked bobwhite quail was the major impetus behind establishment of the Buenos Aires NWR. Habitat restoration and the existence of a self-sustaining population of masked bobwhite quail remains a primary goal of the Refuge.
In total this portion of the border wall will clear 51 acres of habitat, and will be an impassible barrier for large terrestrial animals such as pronghorn and jaguar. In the last few years jaguar have been photographed in southern Arizona, giving hope that they may be able to move back into their former U.S. range. While according to the Border Patrol a border wall will only slow a human crosser by 5 minutes, a jaguar will find it impossible to climb over a 15 foot high steel wall.
Unfortunately, the draft Compatibility Determination finds construction of the wall to be compatible with the refuge’s mission. In many places it simply repeats assertions from the Environmental Assessment. These include the statement that “Jaguars will still be able to move through other areas of the border,” which conveniently ignores the fact that most of the Arizona border will be walled off, not just the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It is important that this flawed argument be pointed out in public comments, along with the basic incompatibility of a wall in a wildlife refuge. The Compatibility Determination and the Environmental Assessment that it is based upon focus narrowly on the footprint of the wall, ignoring the fragmentation of habitat that extends beyond the refuge’s borders. The refuge is not an island, it is a portion of a larger ecosystem, and the ability of animals to travel through that ecosystem is vital to its continued viability.
The public comment period on the Buenos Aires National Refuge’s draft Compatibility Determination closes on September 18. It is crucial that we all take advantage of the opportunity to comment on its inadequacies and flawed determination. Comments must be sent to:
Buenos Aires NWR
P.O. Box 109
Sasabe, Arizona 85633
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Friends of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
The Final Environmental Assessment (EA) of the proposed seven mile "Pedestrian Fence Near Sasabe" (along the southern border of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona) is that it will have no significant impact on the environment. Of course the EA was rushed through and allowed zero days for public comment, so that construction could begin August 27. Since they could have invoked REAL ID, which allows Homeland Security to ignore any law they feel is in their way, it is surprising they gave a nod to environmental issues. This is just one segment of a 700 mile long border fence approved by Congress last December. The wall is being contracted in bits and pieces. Each one will presumably have its own EA. Each one will no doubt be found to have no significant (local) impact on the environment.
Of course, in the aggregate, the wall will have a tremendous negative impact on the environment, and wildlife in particular. Ample data show that the walls built so far have just diverted human traffic to more remote areas and have reduced neither traffic nor deaths. Wildlife experts and environmental activists from both the US and Mexico warn of the negative impacts on jaguars, Sonoran pronghorn, and Mexican black bears by isolating border animals into smaller groups, affecting their genetic diversity. Such influences would have to be dealt with in an environmental assessment of an entire border wall.
However, for decades NEPA has been subverted by this divide and conquer approach. For example, no basin-wide EIS has been done for water development projects in the Colorado River Basin. As long ago as the 1970's, when the Central Arizona Project was being built, a basin-wide study pushed for by environmentalists was successfully fought off by the water interests.
The Environmental Assessment does make the following concession: Direct impacts to wildlife habitats and wildlife populations are expected by the permanent conversion of up to 51 acres of vegetation communities to the fence and maintenance road. .........Such designs would not impede migration of most wildlife species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. Travel corridors of larger mammals, however, would be permanently lost by the construction of the fence. Disturbance to surrounding wildlife populations would occur during construction activities, including increased stress by the presence of humans and construction equipment, noise, and lighting. These impacts would be considered temporary and minimal. Note that they consider only the impact on the land directly involved in construction.
How did we get to this situation? For one thing, Congress's inability to enact a comprehensive immigration bill has resulted in criticism of Senators and Representatives by constituents. To keep the home folk happy numerous bills have been introduced and enacted for the construction of real and virtual border walls. Last December the House passed a measure under which this wall is being built: "the Secure Fence Act, [which], mandates the construction of approximately 700 miles of pedestrian fence along the southwestern border. Within the next 2 years, 225 miles of these 700 miles are scheduled to be completed. The first 75 miles of these 225 miles would occur in areas that have already been developed (e.g., currently contains permanent vehicle barrier [PVB] or TVB) and thus, little or no additional environmental impacts would be expected." [Quote from the EA] Thus, their basic premise is that there is essentially no difference between a barrier that you can step over and a 15 foot high wall with six inch gaps.
It gets better: Arizona Senator Kyl, who had taken a lot of flack from conservative constituents, attached a rider to a defense bill last month to build a longer, triple wall. Because of the high profile of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, (and because it is an election year?) he made a token concession by dropping a 15-mile portion along the San Pedro. No such concession was made for our Buenos Aires NWR (or for the San Bernardino or other border refuges). Homeland Security says it will consider environmental issues, but the READ ID law says they can waive any law that they want, so not much stock can be taken in that.
Until we deal with the causes of migration, such as NAFTA, the farm bill and its subsidized corn, immigration reform and other political issues, walls won't do the job. Walls without large numbers of troops to patrol them will be breached. The cost of such a wall along the entire border would be staggering. Please write or call your Congress-folk and Senators and tell them you oppose border walls.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
MISSION, TEXAS -- From the outside, the small chapel on the banks of the Rio Grande looks like a relic of times past. The plaster has melted away in places exposing the bare adobe and stone walls underneath. The whitewash is peeling off the sturdy old wooden doors and shutters. The wood-shingled roof is weathered and bowed. A plaque beside the front door proclaims that this chapel, La Lomita, is a registered historic landmark, built in 1899 by the Oblate priesthood on land that was donated in 1861 and had originally been part of a 1767 Spanish land grant.
Monday, August 20, 2007
A number of misconceptions surround the Secure Fence Act, the first of which is the use of the term “fence”. Likely chosen to evoke images of the picket fence that separates suburban neighbors, the barriers that have been built to date along the southern border more closely resemble the Berlin Wall. In California and Arizona rusted steel plates that were formerly used as landing strips in the Vietnam war have been driven into the earth to create walls that are 15 feet tall. South of San Diego this was further reinforced, the final result being 3 layers of concrete, steel, and barbed wire, with a graded road and 50 feet on either side cleared of all vegetation. Similar walls are slated for more than 800 miles of the border, with construction costs estimated at over $46 billion. These will rip through border communities and wildlife refuges alike.
Many border communities were established before Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California were added to the United States. Cities split by the border into sister cities have retained close ties. The United States enjoys a close friendship as well as strong economic ties to Mexico. Citizens and organizations in Mexico from the President on down have expressed dismay at the implied message that we prefer separation to cooperation. In 1999 the “Millennium Bomber” was caught at the Canadian border with explosives in the trunk of his car, but no terrorist has been apprehended crossing our border with Mexico.
The border wall is all about politics and punditry, not national security. The Border Patrol has repeatedly said that it will only slow a crosser down by 5 minutes, and Secretary Chertoff has characterized it as symbolic. Politicians who wanted to strut before the cameras ahead of the midterm election, claiming that they would defend the US without having to mention Iraq, pushed the Secure Fence Act. The act claims that it will secure all land and sea borders even though no wall will be built along the Canadian border and no thought is given to the coasts. We are set to destroy our borderlands for a false sense of security. It is time to end this farce.
This blog is affiliated with the No Border Wall group and website, http://www.notexasborderwall.com/ . All who oppose the destruction to communities and the environment that will accompany the wall are urged to get involved. The website has information on events and petitions, but it is equally important that people from all over the United States contact their elected officials and express their opposition to the border wall. Urge your House members to support the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act, which modifies the Secure Fence Act and repeals the worst abuses of the Real ID Act. Urge your Senators to introduce a companion bill. Better yet, they should repeal both the Secure Fence Act and Real ID Act in their entirety. These laws are on the books now, so we do not have the luxury of hoping that sanity will prevail and they will evaporate. We must act now.