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Dozens of lawmakers write to Napolitano with concerns about impact of border barriers
July 29, 2009

Forty three members of Congress have sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano voicing concern over the “mounting” environmental and societal impact of the border wall and other security barriers.

Written by Steve Taylor and Joey Gomez , Rio Grande Guardian

 

McALLEN, July 24 - Forty three members of Congress have sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano voicing concern over the “mounting” environmental and societal impact of the border wall and other security barriers.

The lawmakers have asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to cooperate with other applicable agencies to create and fund a “robust border-wide environmental monitoring program” and to provide “sufficient mitigation funding” for damage caused by border security infrastructure and enforcement activities along the Southwest border region.

“It is the Secretary’s responsibility to protect the homeland, not selectively destroy our environment,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., one of the 43 members of Congress to sign the letter.

Grijalva, who convened a congressional hearing about the border wall at the University of Texas at Brownsville last year, said a review is necessary to “quantify, compensate for and avoid the negative consequences of border security infrastructure and operations.” He said border communities are “open to working on behalf of security - not a selective security, but rather one that includes habitat, national, border, and regional security.”

Grijalva described the hundreds of miles of border fencing constructed by DHS as a “massive federal project.” He said the project has had “serious consequences upon natural and cultural public resources, and has caused hardship for private land owners, whose lands have been condemned and livelihoods have been disrupted.”

Scott Nicol, a co-founder of the No Border Wall group, pointed out that U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates that 60 percent of their National Wildlife Refuge tracts in south Texas will be impacted by the border wall. The South Texas tracts were established, in part, for the protection of endangered species such as the ocelot and jaguarondi.

“We are pleased to hear that 43 members of Congress are stepping up to the plate and attempting to correct some of the environmental damage that the border wall has done. If former Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff had not been given the power to waive all laws, this would have been addressed before wall construction began. Chertoff used the Real ID Act to waive the National Environmental Policy Act, along with 35 other federal laws, stopping the usual Environmental Impact Statement process in its tracks,” Nicol told the Guardian

“Before the first bulldozer dug into the earth to clear a path for the wall, many of its impacts had been predicted. The Environmental Protection Agency warned that blasting in California's Otay Mountain Wilderness Area would dump thousands of tons of rock and sediment into the Tijuana River. Defenders of Wildlife issued a report on the Arizona wall's impacts on the ability of endangered Sonoran pronghorn to migrate. U.S. Fish and Wildlife told DHS that Hidalgo County's levee-border wall would be incompatible with the mission of the wildlife refuges that it would slice through.”

The letter from the members of Congress has this to say about the environmental impact of the border wall in south Texas:

“In south Texas, private land owners and agricultural interests have significant tracts of land that have been or will be isolated to the south of border fencing. Yet, DHS has only offered compensation for the exact footprint of the infrastructure – failure to recognize or compensate for fiscal losses of property value and accessibility caused by the construction of border fencing.”

Nicol said the monitoring and mitigation program that the members of Congress are calling for would be a “good first step towards bringing scientific rigor to an understanding of the wall's impacts.” However, he said the No Border Wall group is concerned that DHS will ignore its findings, “just as they ignored the Environmental Protection Agency, Defenders of Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.”

Nicol said this is the reason that no individual or agency should be given the power to “brush aside” the law.

“While this letter marks an important first step, the real solution would be to take back the power granted to DHS by the Real ID Act,” Nicol said.

“With more wall construction called for in Senator DeMint's amendment, and the likelihood that walls will be included in the upcoming comprehensive immigration reform bill, it is important to recognize the terrible toll that walls have already taken on the environment of the border. It is even more important that members of Congress work to prevent any more from being built.”

The move by the lawmakers won immediate praise from the Sierra Club.

“We applaud the representatives who have taken a stand on behalf of the communities and wildlife of the borderlands,” said Michael Degnan, associate representative for the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C. “We agree with these members of Congress and firmly believe that the Department of Homeland Security should, at the very least, work to repair the damage caused by its border walls and security activities.”

Degnan pointed out that the Homeland Security Appropriations bill that passed out of the U.S. House last month included an additional $40 million for borderlands monitoring and mitigation, but that the Senate version did not.

“As you conduct your evaluation of border security initiatives, we encourage you to consider the importance of monitoring, mitigation, and environmental training for border security personnel in order to quantify, compensate for and avoid the negative consequences of border security infrastructure and operations,” the 43 members of Congress wrote.

Every one of the 43 members of Congress that signed the letter are Democrats.

The 43 members of Congress are:

Max Baca, CA
Earl Blumenauer, OR
Lois Capps, CA
Clarke, NY
Steve Cohen, Tenn.
Susan Davis, CA
Norm Dicks, Wash.
Anna Eshoo, CA
Sam Farr, CA
Bob Filner, CA
Gabrielle Giffords, Ariz.
Charlie Gonzalez, TX
Raul Grijalva, Ariz.
Luis Gutierrez, IL
Maurice Hinchey, NY
Rubén Hinojosa, TX
Rush Holt, NJ
Sheila Jackson Lee, TX
Dennis Kucinich, OH
Barbara Lee, CA
Ben Ray Lujan, NM
Edward Markey, Mass.
Michael Michaud, Maine
Jim Moran, VA,
Grace Napolitano, CA
John Olver, Mass.
Solomon Ortiz, TX
Ed Pastor, Ariz.
Donald Payne, NJ
Jared Polis, CO,
Mike Quigley, IL.
Silvestre Reyes, TX
Ciro Rodriguez, TX
Steve Rothman, NJ
Gregorio Sablan, Northern Mariana Islands
Linda Sanchez, CA
Loretta Sanchez, CA
Jan Schakowsky, IL.
José Serrano, NY
Jackie Speier, CA
Pete Stark, CA
Maxine Waters, CA
Henry Waxman, CA

Here is a copy of the letter:

July 23:

Dear Secretary Napolitano,

We write to you today with concern regarding mounting environmental and societal impacts related to border security infrastructure and operations. As you conduct your evaluation of border security initiatives, we encourage you to consider the importance of monitoring, mitigation, and environmental training for border security personnel in order to quantify, compensate for and avoid the negative consequences of border security infrastructure and operations. We ask that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cooperate with other applicable agencies to create and fund a robust border-wide environmental monitoring program and to provide sufficient mitigation funding for damage caused by border security infrastructure and enforcement activities.

As you are aware, hundreds of miles of new border fences and patrol roads have been constructed by DHS along the U.S.-Mexico border in the past several years. This massive federal project has had deleterious consequences upon natural and cultural public resources, and has caused hardship for private land owners, whose lands have been condemned and livelihoods have been disrupted. Considerable annual maintenance operations will be required for border fencing. The Congressional Budget Office estimates annual maintenance costs will amount to 15 percent of initial construction costs, which are averaging $3 million per mile. In addition, with DHS adding significantly more Border Patrol personnel, it is becoming increasingly important that impacts related to off-road vehicles, low-level flights and other interdiction activities be quantified and mitigated for, and that DHS provide training for its personnel in techniques to minimize damage to sensitive resources during enforcement activities.

We understand that in 2008 DHS allocated up to $50 million to the Department of the Interior (DOI) for border fence mitigation. It is our understanding this money will be utilized primarily for off-site mitigation targeted to benefit security infrastructure projects. We believe this first round of mitigation for threatened and endangered species, along with the memorandum of agreement signed by DHS and DOI, demonstrate a positive commitment to mitigating negative impacts. However, there are numerous impacts across the border caused by both security infrastructure and operations that will require significantly more resources to properly monitor and mitigate.

For example, the National Park Service issued a report in August, 2008 confirming that border fencing astride the Lukeville Port of Entry has exacerbated seasonal flooding and has caused accelerated scouring and erosion on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – threatening to permanently alter the hydrology of the area if modifications are not made to rectify the inadequate design. A similar problem was identified at the DeConcini Port of Entry, where tunnel barrier and fence-exacerbated flooding caused extensive property and infrastructure damage in Nogales, Mexico. There are also serious concerns related to border infrastructure construction-induced siltation and resulting degradation of sensitive habitats of the Tijuana River Estuary and the San Pedro River, located in southern California and Arizona, respectively. In south Texas, private land owners and agricultural interests have significant tracts of land that have been or will be isolated to the south of border fencing. Yet, DHS has only offered compensation for the exact footprint of the infrastructure – failure to recognize or compensate for fiscal losses of property value and accessibility caused by the construction of border fencing.

To date, there has been a lack of scientifically-based monitoring to quantify the environmental impacts of border security infrastructure and operations. Information from monitoring will provide objective data on impacts, so that efforts to avoid impacts and mitigate for unavoidable impacts can be targeted appropriately. It is our understanding that such a pilot program has been proposed and is to be led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). We understand the initiation of this program is pending a memorandum of agreement between DIIS and DOI. We are concerned that this monitoring program, currently in a conceptual stage, is not being implemented fast enough; ongoing acute and cumulative impacts continue to go unmonitored. We urge you to ensure that DHS is an active partner in establishing this program and in utilizing the information derived from it to inform a robust, multi-year border mitigation fund.

We appreciate your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

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