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US-Mexico Border Wall Slicing through Fragile Ecosystems

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We take a look at the environmental impact of the 600 miles of barricades along the US-Mexico border. The wall slices across fragile ecosystems in public lands, parks and refuges, threatening rare species and disrupting wildlife migration. We speak with the chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team in Arizona. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


I wanted to ask you to stay with us, Isabel Garcia, as we turn now to another guest, who is looking at the environmental impact of the 600 miles of barricades along the US-Mexico border. The wall slices across fragile ecosystems in public lands and parks and refuges, threatening rare species and disrupting wildlife migration. The wall went up and continues to be built in violation of thirty-six environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act.

It’s because of Section 102 of the REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005 that gives unprecedented power to the Homeland Security secretary to waive all local, state and federal laws in order to build walls and roads along all US borders. These are the allegations of the Sierra Club.

We’re joined now in Washington, DC, by Sean Sullivan. He’s chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team in Arizona, in Washington to lobby against the wall and in favor of legislation introduced by Arizona Democratic Congress member Raul Grijalva, that would repeal Section 102 of the REAL ID Act and better protect the desert environment.

Sean, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain exactly what you see happening to the environment here.


Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Going back to 1995, when — where we can point to bad border policy, walls began to be erected in urban areas such as San Diego and El Paso, and it was these areas where a majority of the migrant traffic would cross through. Now, Border Patrol erected walls to purposefully push migrants into these fragile areas, which resulted in environmental damage and, of course, also the loss of life to many migrants. And this was done on purpose by Border Patrol to better apprehend migrants, so they say.

So, we saw a shift in migration to areas that normally didn’t see the numbers. And then, as numbers in migrants shifted into these areas, we saw the construction of border walls. And these border walls were constructed along wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and in areas that are very unique and very diverse to North America and contain a number of endangered species. One of the main problems that we see with the construction of border walls is the blockage of bi-national corridors. There are a number of wildlife species who rely on habitat on both sides of the borders. Wildlife do not recognize political boundaries.

One instance of that is 200 miles south of the Arizona border in Mexico, there’s a breeding population of jaguars. And recently these jaguars have dispersed back into Arizona and New Mexico, back to their historic habitat, which in the past, before they were hunted in the United States, ranged all the way north to the Grand Canyon. So, that is — we’re seeing across the entire border in many areas in all four border states. And what’s —


And what kind of reception are you getting right now, Sean, in Washington, as you’re there lobbying? And who are you meeting with?


We are initially meeting with representatives in the House that have been supportive of a similar bill that was introduced last session, like you said, which will repeal this power granted in Section 102 of the REAL ID Act. It will enable mitigation monies to be distributed to borderlands for restoration projects. And it will ensure that DHS communicates with people on the ground, with land managers, with local communities, with tribal nations, so the people who live on the border have the chance to have meaningful dialog when decisions are made about border security.

We hope to have a companion bill in the Senate shortly, and we have a real hope of getting the process fixed this session. It’s going to take an act of Congress to fix this. This is not something that’s going to be — come down from the administration or fixed by the judicial branch. We need Congress to take back the power, to restore law along the border, to restore the checks and balances of border policy.


Isabel Garcia, last ten seconds, your comment here?


It’s really interesting that we passed the REAL ID Act, the 102 Section, basically allowing the wholesale violation of thirty-six laws. Yet, immigrants are being prosecuted at a huge cost to the US taxpayer for their alleged crime of illegal entry. I think our nation must hear the truth. Unfortunately, not much of the truth is being told to the Congress, to this administration. And we are in a critical situation, in particular in Arizona, with the devastating impact of all of the so-called border security measures on all aspects of our community.


Well, Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, thank you so much for being with us from Tucson.


Thank you.


And thank you so much to Sean Sullivan, chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team, and Dan Millis of No More Deaths.

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