Environmentalists are suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for suspending environmental regulations in order to construct a border wall along the U.S. boundary with Mexico, despite evidence of “significant” environmental damage caused by illegal immigration.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who sits on CBD’s advisory board, are calling the DHS waivers “unconstitutional” acts that represent “dangerous disregard for our environment.”
“Trump’s border wall will be a deathblow to already endangered animals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border,” a May CBD report on the border wall states. “A wall will block movement of many wildlife species, precluding genetic exchange, population rescue and movement of species in response to climate change.”
While wall construction will affect animal movements to a certain extent, illegal immigration also poses a threat to endangered animals. The CBD lawsuit runs counter to the stated goals of environmentalists, GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.
“Yet again, litigation activists are tying the hands of federal agencies and preventing common sense border protection,” Bishop said. “The irony here is that those suing under the guise of environmental protection are encouraging scores of illegal crossings that have decimated environmentally sensitive areas.”
The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (CPNWR) in Arizona borders Mexico for 56 miles. In 2011, the Department of the Interior (DOI) studied the impacts of illegal immigrants traveling through CPNWR.
“These illegal crossing include the smuggling of undocumented aliens of various nationalities and drugs,” the DOI report states. “Smuggling and interdiction activities have resulted in significant impacts to wilderness character, and put other trust resources such as the federally endangered Sonoran pronghorn at risk.”
The report found nearly 8,000 miles of vehicle tracks crisscrossing the refuge designated to keep most mechanized travel out.
“Impacts to endangered species, plant and animal communities, and cultural resources are more significant than just the mere presence of tire tracks within wilderness,” the report continues. “Past research of vehicle use in off-road areas have demonstrated significant impacts to soils, plants, and wildlife.”
A border wall constructed near Yuma, Ariz., stopped 94 percent of all illegal traffic through the area, according to Senate testimony by David Aguilar, former Border Patrol chief and former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“It is important to note that there is nothing more destructive to environmentally sensitive land and quiet communities than the uncontrolled illegal flow of people, vehicles, smugglers, and criminal organizations,” Aguilar said, according to the Washington Examiner. “The placement of fences and deterrent infrastructure in previously uncontrolled parts of the border have actually allowed for the rejuvenation of areas that had previously been devastated due to heavy illegal pedestrian and vehicular traffic.”
The CBD report found that a border wall could impact 93 species either listed under the Endangered Species Act or being considered for listing. The report also recognizes that heavily trafficked areas of the border by illegal immigrants causes “extensive environmental damage and social disruption to borderlands communities.”
“Invariably increased border enforcement efforts have then shifted to those more remote areas, further intensifying the impacts on the borderlands environment and communities,” CBD continues.
The CBD report offers vehicle barriers as an alternative to a border fence.
“Although the deployment of vehicle barriers can result in environmental impacts, primarily from associated road construction, they pose far less risk to wildlife populations than border walls,” the report states.