For thousands of years, humans have relied on walls and fences to protect them from outside threats. Over time however, most of these walls have either crumbled away or became buried under the ruins of a once great empire. Fortunately for us, some of these walls have stood the test of time, both in the physical sense and within the historical narrative of the people they sought to protect. These walls have become a physical symbol of power for many ancient civilizations, most notably the Great Wall of China; it’s no wonder modern politicians look to them as shining examples of effective border control.
In his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made no secret of his admiration towards this formidable testament to Chinese ingenuity. In fact, during an interview on national television, Trump seriously downplayed his own proposed wall, all whilst unabashedly namedropping one of his largest stock holdings, asserting – “Two thousand years ago, China built the Great Wall of China. This is a serious wall. And they didn’t have Caterpillar tractors.”
Unfortunately, for Mr. Trump and those of his supporters who take his word at face value, the historical context surrounding the Great Wall of China does not exactly make for a great comparison; not only is it ludicrous, it is counterintuitive. What Trump failed to realize, or just failed to mention, was the bloody and unavailing legacy of the Great Wall of China, sometimes referred to as “the longest cemetery on earth” because of estimated 500,000 peasants, engineers, slave-prisoners, and soldiers whose bodies became part of the foundation of the structure they died completing.
On January 25, 2017, a mere five days following his inauguration, President Trump unveiled Executive Order 13767 calling to “secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border” (Executive Order 13767). To legitimize and facilitate such a daunting task, President Trump drew upon laws passed by previous administrations, aimed at mitigating any threats posed by outside forces on the United States of America, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.), the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-367) (Secure Fence Act), and the Illegal Immigration Reform and the Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-208 Div. C) (IIRIRA), regardless of how ineffective they proved to be in the past.
Trump’s decision to omit certain facts, especially pertaining to the fruitless endeavors of his predecessors, has allowed him to capitalize on the fervor surrounding the perceived “Latino Threat Narrative”, as well as continue the systemized waste of tax payer dollars. Unfortunately, and rather typically, the voices of those most burdened by Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” have been overwhelmingly ignored. The intentional silencing of these voices, both the human and non-human inhabitants of the southwest, has bound them to the role of perpetual victims in an unrelenting power struggle in our nation’s capital. But is it all worth it? Are the burdens bestowed upon those unlucky enough to become the “collateral damage” in the never-ending political mêlée worth the it?
In this paper, I will argue that the caustic nature of the proposed border wall construction will overshadow any presumed, or rather speculated, benefits associated with having such a wall. The negative effects of the wall extend beyond financial impositions, into the safety and security of our own citizens, our neighbors to the south, and the wildlife and ecosystems caught in the crossfire. These repercussions, which I will explain in detail below, will wreak havoc on the way of life for millions of people, animals, and species of plants all along the southern border of the United States.
The wildlife dwelling within the nearly 2.2 million acres of land found within the 50-mile radius of the southern border, “one of the most biologically rich areas in North America”, are perhaps the most vulnerable of all (Greenwald et al. 2017). In an article published by the Center for Biological Diversity, “A Wall in the Wild: The Disastrous Impacts of Trump’s Border Wall on Wild Life”, biologist Noah Greenwald and his associates, lend their voices to the 93-species characterized under the Endangered Species Act as threatened, endangered, or existing on the cusp of being endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, as well as the 25 species whose critical habitat, will be destroyed by border wall construction. Greenwald et al., citing the findings from numerous studies conducted within the last decade in the border region, use the article to lament the certainty of a real life ecological disaster.
One of these research endeavors, conducted by McCallum et al. (2014), used video recordings to compare movement, of both humans and wildlife, in areas with and without border walls. The study indicated that wildlife, specifically pumas and coatis, were found in much higher numbers in areas without walls than areas with walls. In contrast to these findings, the authors of the study found no distinguishable difference in the number of humans detected in either of these two areas; suggesting “barriers are not effective at deterring migrants, but do affect wildlife populations” (Greenwald et al. 2017).
Unfortunately, the federal government suppressed the voice of the environment and wildlife who inhabit this region, years ago with the passing of the IIRIRA in 1996, and furthermore, the Real ID Act of 2006, which grants the Secretary of Homeland Security sole authority to waive all legal requirements to “ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads” (Public Law 109-13 Sec. 102 (C)). The Secure Fence Act passed in late 2006, later modified by the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2007 (Public Law 110-161), amended portions of these laws by “significantly increasing the Secretary of Homeland Security’s discretion as to where to construct fencing along the southwest border” (Haddal et al., 2009, pp. 9).
In all, five separate “notices of determination” were filed within the Federal Register, waiving the legal requirements of 37 laws – including the Environmental Protection Act of 1973 (EPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); thus allowing the secretary to burke the voice of wildlife once and for all, and allowed the continued construction of the border wall in contentious areas along the border of Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, including – the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in California, and Hidalgo County in Texas (Greenwald et. al., 2017; Haddal et al. 2009). These five notices not only allowed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to contravene the law, it rendered them untouchable in any suits brought against them.
In lieu of the waived Environmental Impact Studies (EIS), as mandated by the NEPA, the DHS, along with the U.S. Customs and Border Protects Patrol (CBP) and the U.S. Border Patrol Agency, developed the “Environmental Stewardship Plan: For Construction, Operation, and Maintenance of Tactical Infrastructure, U.S Border Patrol Tucson Sector, Naco, Arizona” (ESP) in order to detail environmental concerns and risks associated with the construction of the border wall. The findings of the ESP are partially in line with the environmental impacts, as noted above; especially in regard to the major impact the border wall will have on the wildlife and cultural sites within the border region. As for proposed mitigation, the ESP merely suggests more funding or avoidance of certain areas. When reading this report in context to the time it was written, July 2008, the agencies’ attempt to mitigate such issues seem somewhat feasible. However, in the context of today’s proposed ‘impassible’ border wall with zero allocated funds, these mitigating factors are laughable at best. Some of the most shocking findings contained within the report, suggest that “Beneficial effects, such as reduced vandalism, habitat degradation, debris left by IAs (Illegal Aliens), and wildfires will be expected.” As well as a “beneficial impact on wildlife populations is anticipated as a result of protecting habitat from IA traffic.” Not only are these statement a divergence from the in-depth research conducted by several environmental scientists, it is preposterous to suggest that damage incurred by “IA traffic” is even in the same league as the border wall and its associated infrastructure. Articles piggy backing this claim, such as baffling 2010 opinion piece written by Leo Banks, a contributor for the Daily Caller, entitled “Border Fence Benefits the Environment,” concluding that because of the wall, smugglers have had a “much harder time driving their loads in and that has benefited the land.” This statement, which can be understood as parochial at best, does not seem to take into consideration the sheer engineering and logistical feat associated with building the wall, especially in regards for how contractors involved with the construction of the wall will transport their building materials to and from the construction sites.
Borderlands & Tax Dollars
Nonetheless, environmental and humanitarian organizations, with the help of a growing number of elected officials, continue to oppose the continued construction of the border wall. In April of 2017, U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva, Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Tucson against the proposed border construction. This lawsuit takes aim at the federal government’s decision to waive laws meant to help preserve and protect the environment of the south west. The sheer lack of concern towards the degradation of such a diverse and integral ecosystem influenced the decision of Rep. Grijalva, whose district extends along 300 miles of the southern border. In a statement, Grijalva explained his frustration with the border wall construction, saying –
American environmental laws are some of the oldest and strongest in the world, and they should apply to the borderlands just as they do everywhere else. These laws exist to protect the health and well-being of our people, our wildlife and the places they live. Trump’s wall — and his fanatical approach to our southern border — will do little more than perpetuate human suffering while irrevocably damaging our public lands and the wildlife that depend on them. (Grijalva, 2017)
Grijalva’s statement makes it clear – Trump’s proposed border wall is not only ineffective it is caustic to the people, the wildlife, and the land they call their home.
Grijalva is not the only elected official from the border region taking aim at Trump’s proposed wall. In fact, officials from several border towns, cities and counties, have openly and emphatically opposed the myopic endeavor by Trump’s administration, by initiating and enacting resolutions discouraging businesses within their jurisdiction from participating in the wall’s construction. Resolutions passed in San Diego (CA), Los Angeles (CA), San Antonio (TX), Hidalgo County (TX), Pima County (AZ), El Paso (TX), Tucson (AZ), Las Cruces (NM), the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council, along with many other small towns are no surprise, as an Arizona State University (ASU) study conducted in 2016, found that 72% of American living near the border oppose the wall. The same report also found that 70% of this same demographic found the building of the wall to be “not important” (ASU, 2016).
This study, along with numerous published interviews, highlight the frustration those living in the borderlands have with the ongoing debate. Dob Cunningham, an 83-year-old rancher and retired Border Patrol agent who owns hundreds of acres of land located directly on the border, offered his opinion on the wall during one of these interviews: “Trump has done some good things with immigration, but he’s 100 percent wrong about the wall…. I haven’t found anybody — and I know people from Nogales [Arizona] to Brownsville — who wants that wall.” Mr. Cunningham is far from alone regarding his seemingly incongruent opinion of Trump and his policies, thus highlighting a paradoxical thought pattern shared with many of his neighbors, regardless of political affiliation. In fact, findings from the Texas Lyceum Poll on Immigration found that “most Texas adults continue to oppose (61percent) President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border, and most don’t want him to deport millions of undocumented immigrants” (The Texas Lyceum, 2017)
Another interesting study, this time conducted by PEW Research, found that support for the wall amongst Republican respondents varied in relation to their proximity to the border. Respondents, broken down into three different groups: those living less than 350 miles from the border, those living up to 1000 miles from the border, and those living more than 1000 miles from the border, provided their opinions on the proposed border wall. Findings from the study illuminated a significant divergence between those Republicans living within 350-miles of the border, and those living farther away. In fact, the study revealed that on average, 77 percent of the groups living beyond 350 miles from the border support the wall while only 64 percent of those living within 350 miles from the border held these same opinions. The same study showed little divergence regarding the proximity to the southern border and opposition to the wall’s construction between Democrat and Independent respondents, who overwhelmingly opposed the wall. Understanding why Republicans living close to the border are more likely to oppose the wall comes down to its viability, or lack there of. In fact, many of those interviewed lamented over the ineffective and burdensome nature of the walls already in place, claiming that they witness unauthorized migrants cross these structures on a daily basis. Many of those interviewed merely scoffed at Trump’s proposed wall, noting that traffickers would use bigger ladders.
Opposition of the wall in border towns is not based solely on their lack of faith in the structure’s ability to prevent illegal immigration, it reflects the fruitless burdens they continue to endure because of Trump’s proposal. Their struggle goes deeper than unauthorized entry into the United States, it is intertwined into the fabric of their very existence. While most Republicans tout the increased security of having a physical wall on the border, those living closest to the wall find themselves inextricably linked with their southern neighbors. Strains on the economy of these border towns, resulting from decreased legal crossing, has posed a significant problem for the local populations, their businesses, law enforcement agencies, and their infrastructure as whole. With funding being an ongoing and central issue in the construction of the wall, residents of the southwest are forced to allocate their own strained resources with no reprieve in sight.
Drug trafficking and violence are two reasons most frequently touted by Trump and his supporters when justifying the need for a wall. A rather gratuitous article published in 2016 on Brietbart, the “far right news source”, entitled “WARNING GRAPHIC: 9 Reasons to Fear Mexican Cartels more than ISIS” provides its readers with an easy to read list regarding the threat the Mexican cartels pose on American society. Regardless of how ridiculous and pointless it is to compare these two notoriously violent entities, Brietbart perseveres in their endeavor by disguising their ugly biases behind graphic photos and large print. The first reason provided is perhaps the most laughable; when the author blames the Mexican cartels for the drug epidemic in America. The author must have had trouble finding evidence to back up this claim, and instead takes a rather bizarre digression into a meeting between the Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquin ‘el Chapo’ Guzman, and American actor, Sean Penn.
Articles such as these, filled with shock and awe factor, are largely to blame for keeping the real issues America’s drug dependence and the ongoing realties of living within the border region absconded from the public’s attention. In fact, if the author of this article had actually looked at recent data surrounding the border region, he would find that violent crime has been on a steady decline for a number of years. What the author also fails to mention, is that Mexico is not solely responsible for America’s drug epidemic, as American’s predilection for prescription opiates has in some ways taken over the drug market, especially with the emergence of synthetic opiates such as fentanol. In fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that two million Americans are addicted to prescription pain killers. Also, important to note is that deaths among those addicted to pain killers have quadrupled since 1999. In 2015 alone, 15,000 Americans suffered a fatal overdose from opiate pain killers, half of which were prescribed to them by their general doctors.
What is most difficult to understand about the issue of drugs in America, is how Trump is choosing to deal with it. Apart from demanding funds for the construction of his wall, which he sees as a physical barrier protecting America from drug toting Mexicans, Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, as detailed in a memo leaked to the press, Trump intends to decrease the amount of federal funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from $328 million to an astounding $24 million. This decrease would cut funding for programs that seek to help those burdened by drugs, most notably the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant that alleviates pressure among local governments plagued by drug addiction, by supplying funding for various programs combatting drug abuse. Trump must have forgotten the Southwestern border region is among the most crucial of the designated HIDTA.
Banks, Leo. “Border Fence Benefits the Environment” Daily Caller, 2010. Web. http://dailycaller.com/2010/10/04/border-fence-benefits-the-environment/
Cooper, James M. “The Rise of Private Actors Along the United States-Mexico Border”, Wisconsin International Law Journal, Vol. 33, Issue 3 (2015): pp. 470-511. HeinOnline,http://heinonline.org/HOL/Permalink?a=YXJpem9uYS5lZHU&u=http%3A%2F%2Fheinonline.org.ezproxy2.library.arizona.edu%2FHOL%2FPage%3Fhandle%3Dhein.journals%2Fwisint33%26start_page%3D470%26collection%3Djournals%26id%3D484
“Environmental Stewardship Plan”. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2008. Web. https://www.cbp.gov/faqs/light-environmental-waivers-issued-former-secretary-department-homeland-security-dhs-can-you
Ferguson, Joe and Woodhouse, Murphy, Pima County supervisors, “Tucson City Council Formally Oppose Border Wall,” Arizona Daily Star, June 6, 2017 Updated June13, 2017, http://tucson.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/pima-county-supervisors-tucson-city-council-formally-oppose-border-wall/article_dc1e944f-af20-5931-8ad0-85f3e3a31f92.html
Greenwald, Noah, et al. “A Wall in the Wild: The Disastrous Impacts of Trump’s Border Wall on Wildlife.” Center for Biological Diversity, May 2017. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/international/borderlands_and_boundary_waters/pdfs/A_Wall_in_the_Wild.pdf
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THESIS: The proposed construction of an impassible border wall, as mandated in Executive Order 13767, along the U.S.-Mexico Border, will not only be an ineffective means of increasing border security, it will prove caustic to the safety and welfare of both American and Mexican citizens, economic stability, and the environment.
I. The construction of the U.S.-Mexican border wall poses a significant threat the ecosystem surrounding it.
A. To expedite construction of the border wall, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was granted the ability to waive environmental protection laws put in place to preserve the diverse and robust ecosystem along the southern border of the United States.
B. The construction of the border wall will destroy the critical habitats for 25 species, as well as put the survival of 93 identified endangered species at risk for extinction.
C. Studies have already proven the detrimental effects the border fence, already put in place, has on the environment and surrounding ecosystem.
II. Construction of a border wall places a significant burden on border towns, as well as tax paying citizens at large, without proof of its effectiveness.
A. Politicians using the “Latino Threat Narrative” spread fear amongst U.S. citizens, using misguided half-truths, to justify the exorbitant amount of tax payer money funneled into securing the U.S.-Mexico Border.
B. The feat of building an impassible border wall ties up both local and federal government resources, thus hindering the efforts of other viable options to increase border security.
C. Private contractors continue to line their pockets with tax payer money, regardless of whether their service or product is proven to be effective.
D. Towns and cities situated close to the U.S.-Mexico border have been forced to deal with economic instability and rising violence as a direct result of the border fences already put in place, as well as the mere proposition of a new border wall.
III. The pressure placed on the various cartels and criminal organizations, operating along the U.S.-Mexican border, has been ineffective at deterring criminal activity.
A. Regardless of the increased security along the U.S.-Mexican border, criminal organizations have not only been able to thrive, they have built an industry capable of making an estimated $50 billion in annual revenue.
B. Previous construction of the border fence has merely channeled the operations of cross-border criminal organizations into the weakest spots along the border.
C. Instead of deterring criminal activity, the border wall created a power vacuum; leaving only the most violent and innovative criminal organizations to fill it.
Finding facts and data to substantiate my argument regarding the ineffective and caustic nature of the border wall proposed in Executive Order 13767 was much easier than I thought it would be. What was much harder, however, was trying to keep the focus in paper centered on the futility of the proposed wall, without rambling on about issues surrounding President Trump’s contentious presidency. Another issue I ran into when trying to identify sources for my paper, was finding a well-rounded refutation article supporting the construction of the wall. I tried many ways of wording my search criteria for such a source, however all the sources returned to me were outrageously biased and lacking in substantiating facts.
I am still on the metaphorical fence, no pun intended, as to whether I accomplished my goal of finding a way to argue my point as effectively as possible. For the final draft, I want to ensure that I not only substantiate my argument with irrefutable facts, I want to achieve this in the most concise and direct way. One of the biggest problems I had while writing was finding a logical way to segue between topics. I think this was the main cause for the length of my paper. Another issue I ran into, was whether to introduce the history of the border region without going on another digression, thereby taking me farther and farther away from the point I was trying to make.
The biggest problem I had was probably the mental block when I tried to write the introduction paragraph. I knew I wanted to touch on several things before going into meat of the paper, but I kept worrying as to whether my paper was becoming more introduction than argument. In the end I am relatively happy with the shape my intro took, but I think it may have gone on a little too long for such a short paper. I thought it would be a good idea to use the delusional Great Wall comparison made my Donald Trump, but now I think it may have taken me a bit off topic.
 For a comprehensive list of environmental laws waived by Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, see http://www.sierraclub.org/borderlands/laws-waived-border
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