Chart a pathway to citizenship without border walls
As someone who lives near the border with Mexico, I object to a part of the Senate’s immigration bill.
It includes $1.5 billion for new border walls and the waiving of laws for any “physical infrastructure” that Customs and Border Protection can dream up along the border.
My home is 10 miles north of both the Rio Grande and a section of the border wall. Border residents are tired of being told that our communities, our farmlands, our environment, and the laws that protect us, must be sacrificed.
Border communities from Brownsville to San Diego are vibrant, and so are the national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges near the border.
But the Senate’s immigration bill treats these places, and those of us who live here, as bargaining chips.
Back in 2006, the House and Senate could not reconcile competing immigration bills, so they dropped the pathway to citizenship and passed just the provision mandating border walls as the Secure Fence Act.
Since then approximately 651 miles of border wall have gone up, tearing through sensitive habitat from California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Hundreds of landowners had their property condemned, and billions of dollars were spent on walls that the Border Patrol calls “a speed bump in the desert.”
The Border Patrol dynamited mountains and filled canyons filled to erect those speed bumps. And the border walls it put up have dammed washes and worsened flooding at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and in the Mexican city of Nogales, causing two drownings there.
Endangered species from ocelots to Sonoran pronghorn have seen their habitat sliced in half, pushing them closer to extinction.
These walls would violate our nation’s laws, but Congress put the Department of Homeland Security above the law. Laws ranging from the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act to the Farmland Policy Protection Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, along with 33 others, were waived so that border walls could be built.
As walls went up in urban areas like San Diego and El Paso, crossers have been funneled into the Arizona desert. Hundreds die there each year.
With immigration reform back on their agenda, Congress needs to learn from its past mistake, not repeat it.
We need a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants instead of more environmentally destructive border walls and the waiving of laws to build them.
It is time for our nation to bring millions of people out of the shadows and allow them to fully participate in society.
But we should not, as part of the deal, tear apart more farms and communities, bulldoze more wildlife refuges, or brush aside more of our nation’s laws to build more border walls.
We’ve had enough on the border already.
Scott Nicol chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team (www.sierraclub.org/borderlands), and lives in McAllen, Texas. He can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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