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Archive for December, 2012

By Scott Nicol

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem.”

Unfortunately, when Senator Lindsey Graham uttered those words a few days after the presidential election he was talking about the metaphorical wall between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters, not the physical walls that tear through the U.S. – Mexico borderlands.

Last summer the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1505, waiving environmental laws in National Parks, Monuments, Forests, and Wilderness Areas within 100 miles of both borders for walls or anything else the Border Patrol could dream up.  In the run up to the election Republicans from Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket down to candidates for state offices called for making immigrants’ lives so miserable through measures like Arizona’s SB 1070 that they would “self-deport.”

 

Following the election, in which an overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters rejected Mitt Romney and Republican candidates, these same politicians feel a sudden sense of urgency to pass an immigration reform bill.

That bill will probably look a lot like the proposal that Senators Graham and Schumer were working on a couple of years ago, linking temporary work visas and a pathway to citizenship to increased border militarization.  That may sound familiar because it is the same formula that was used in 2006, when the US House and Senate passed competing immigration bills.  When the two bills could not be reconciled Congress pulled out the border security section and passed it as the Secure Fence Act.

Since then 649 miles of border wall have gone up, slicing through sensitive habitat from California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

As border walls went up in urban areas like San Diego and El Paso, crossers were “funneled” into the remote and fragile ecosystems of the Arizona desert.  Thousands have died there.

In south Texas border walls now roughly parallel the Rio Grande, ranging from a few hundred yards away to as much as two miles north of its banks.  These walls repeatedly bisect Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife refuge tracts and cut off the last vestiges of sabal palm forest protected by Audubon and the Nature Conservancy.  By blocking movement along the wildlife corridor, border walls may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the ocelot in the United States.

Just this year the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission caved in to pressure from Customs and Border Protection and unilaterally approved new walls in the Rio Grande floodplain, despite objections from Mexico.  If they are built these walls could have serious flood impacts on the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos in the United States, as well as their sister cities on the southern bank of the river.  They will also carve up more fragile refuge habitat.

This is why the Lone Star chapter continues to support the Sierra Club’s national Borderlands Team’s efforts to head off new damage, ensure that environmental laws are obeyed, and get mitigation for the harm that has already occurred.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform could either be a blessing or a curse for the borderlands.  Allowing immigrants to enter through the “front door,” paying the federal government  instead of a coyote and passing through a port of entry instead of climbing the wall and trekking through the desert, would reduce both the impacts of traffic on fragile ecosystems and the number of immigrants who die attempting to cross.  But if it repeats the old formula, adding more border walls and boots on the ground, it will exacerbate the damage to our borderlands.

We need a clean immigration bill, without more of the walls or waivers that do tremendous damage to border ecosystems year after year.

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To learn more about the environmental impacts of border walls and the work of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands

 

 

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The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club joined more than 60 local and national groups asking Congress to take action to protect America’s dwindling wilderness this year.  The coalition sent a letter warning that time is running out for over two dozen wilderness bills that span from California to Maine.

The 112thCongress has been the most anti-wilderness Congress in history, blocking any wilderness legislation from getting to the House floor.  And if the U.S. House of Representatives stays on its current course, this will be the first Congress since 1966 to not protect a single acre of wilderness.

“Wilderness is a unique American legacy that has always had broad, bipartisan support on the ground and in Congress,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “Americans across the country are asking the 112th Congress to continue this incredible legacy and protect wilderness before going home for the holidays.”

After a divisive election, it is clear that the American people want a Congress that will reach across the aisle and work together.  That support showed up during the 2012 elections. All across the country voters passed local measures to protect and conserve land. Of the 57 measures on local and statewide ballots, 46 passed – an approval rate of 81 percent.  The measures in 21 states will provide more than $2 billion overall, including $767 million in new money to support protection of water quality, new parks and natural areas, and working farms and ranches.

“If things don’t change soon, this will be the first Congress in generations to fail to protect a single acre of American wilderness,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “All across the country, the support for preserving our natural legacy has been loud and clear. Now, it’s time Congress listened.”

The letter states,

“Nearly 50 years ago, the Wilderness Act passed the House with one dissenting vote and passed the Senate 73-12. Protecting our dwindling patches of truly wild areas always gets bipartisan support at the local level – and it used to get bipartisan support in Washington as well.  It is not too late to redeem this legacy.”

To view the letter and signatories: http://wilderness.org/resource/letter-dont-let-congress-go-home-holidays-without-protecting-wilderness

For a complete list of 27 stalled wilderness bills: http://wilderness.org/article/pending-wilderness-bills

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