Border Fence Environmental Concerns Heat Up

December 5, 2007

The International Herald Tribune reports that the US Department of Homeland Security is ahead of schedule in building some 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border. However, environmentalists on both sides of the border are getting more vocal about their concern over possible harmful wildlife effects.

This issue is likely to heat up over the winter as construction speeds up (taking advantage of cooler temperatures). Since the issue of illegal immigration is likely to continue to grab headlines in coming months, thanks to its "football" status in the 2008 presidential race, now is a good time to consider working this environmental angle into immigration coverage.

Here are some recent developments to note:

A coalition of major environmental groups (including Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, and more) is lobbying the US Congress to modify the fence design in order to mitigate potential wildlife impacts. On Nov. 29, SEJer James Bruggers blogged this letter to Congress. The coalition also released a more detailed report.

The US Army Corps of Engineers recently released the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Rio Grande sector of the fence along the southeastern tip of TX - the first fence sector draft EIS published so far. Open house events for public comment will be held Dec. 11 and 12 in McAllen and Brownsville, TX, respectively. USACE Fort Worth, TX district press: 817-886-1310.

It's not just wildlife: The No Border Wall coalition claims that the Rio Grande sector EIS indicates significant environmental justice problems. Release. Scott Nicol, 956-532-5983.

In Mid-November the government of Mexico released a report condemning the fence on environmental grounds. The Washington Post quoted this report as calling "plans to extend the U.S. fence along the Mexican border 'medieval' and would severely damage the environment, threatening hundreds of plant species and animals, such as Mexican gray wolves, black bears and jaguars." Post article.

On Oct. 22, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club announced that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff "will waive a number of laws in order to resume construction of a border wall and road in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (NCA) in southeastern Arizona. Under Section 102 of the REAL ID Act, passed in May 2005, Chertoff has now waived environmental, cultural, and numerous other laws in three separate instances to allow border wall construction through fragile habitat."

  • Defenders Release. Defenders Press Contacts: Joe Vickless (202-772-0237) or Matt Clark (520-623-9653). Sierra Club: Sean Sullivan, 520-250-9040. AP coverage.

Exactly where is that fence going to go, anyway? This isn't as easy as you might think to find out. However, in early November AP obtained a map. According to AP, "the double- or triple-layer fence may be built as much as two miles from the river on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, leaving parts of Granjeno and other nearby communities in a potential no man's land between the barrier and the water's edge. ...The fence could run straight through houses and backyards. Some fear it could also cut farmers off from prime farmland close to the water."

US Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a noted immigration-focused conservative, posts photo and text updates of border fence construction. Hunter press contact: Joe Kasper, 202-225-5672.