Border Environment Sacrificed for National Security

Final (for now) in my series on race, migration and the environment for Center for New Community. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Imagine 2050.

by Martha Pskowski

A bill recently introduced in Congress, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), is the latest signal that the environment is being sacrificed in pursuit of “national security” at the border.  This bill, and several laws that came before, are putting to waste the work of many environmentalists to protect the border environment and disregarding the rights of people living near the border.

The bill authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to have “immediate access to any public lands managed by the federal government… … for purposes of conducting activities that assist in securing the border.”  It also states that, “The Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture shall not impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of the Secretary of Homeland Security … … to achieve operational control… …over the international land and maritime borders of the United States.”

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time Congress enabled environmental destruction along the border.  In 2005, the Real ID Act authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive any environmental regulations in the construction of the border wall.  This waiver authority has been used to allow DHS to cut away two hillsides and fill in the canyon atSmuggler’s Gulch with two million cubic yards of dirt, to build a 15-foot high steel barrier along the San Pedro River and a vehicle barrier in the river channel, and many more devastating segments of border wall construction.

National environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club andDefenders of Wildlife, in addition to many local advocates, have spoken out against Real ID.  But as long as Congress continues to consider bills such as the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, introduced April 13, the borderlands environment will be under threat.

Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced the Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011, which would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to waive environmental protections on public lands within 150 miles of the border with Mexico.

A joint committee hearing in the House on Friday, April 15, was entitled “The Border: Are Environmental Laws and Regulation Impeding Security and Harming the Environment?”

This hearing is asking the wrong question entirely.  The federal government has poured billions of dollars into the border wall and security, and migrant deaths along the border have increased dramatically.  It’s not environmental regulations that are the problem.  The border wall is a failed strategy.  Environmentalists, human rights advocates, immigrants – we all have a stake in this issue and need to start connecting the dots.

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