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Trump’s Border Wall Obsession Is a Threat to the Southwest Border Region

CBP Officers at the border
CBP Officers at the border
Astrid Dominguez,
ACLU Border Rights Center
Chris Rickerd,
Senior Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
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September 14, 2018

Given all the false rhetoric and rage that drive President Trump’s fixation on building his border wall, it’s critically important to step back from that noise and think about people and places that would be jeopardized if his wall obsession continues to be funded by Congress.

Take, for instance, Fred Cavazos, a property owner on the Rio Grande in Texas.

Mr. Cavazos traces his family’s 77 acres of ranchland in South Texas back to Spanish land grants in the 1760s. As The Washington Post recently reported, he was notified by the federal government that the border wall’s potential path would cut “through the Cavazos family barn, through their rental house, and through a field where they grazed a small herd of longhorn cattle.” The map sent to Mr. Cavazos showed that the wall would sever his property in half and make it hard to access the riverfront.

Indeed, despite being criticized for abusive and still uncompensated land seizures a decade ago, the possibility of private property seizures by the Department of Homeland Security is again looming over hundreds of more landowners. Moreover, with the passage of the REAL ID Act of 2005, the secretary of homeland security has the authority to waive any and all laws to speed up the construction of patrol roads and border walls. Barrier construction has disturbed or destroyed indigenous graves and cultural sites, which have particularly affected the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona, because laws that protect Native American rights are waived. No one else in the government, not even the president, has this kind of authority.

The border wall, however, wouldn’t just violate landowners’ property rights.

Funding Trump’s wall would also likely increase the number of migrant deaths in the Arizona desert, which have reached into the thousands over two decades since wall construction began. The barrier was intended to cause and has resulted in “funneling effects” by forcing border-crossers into ever-harsher terrain. At the same time, border walls have not been shown to be cost effective in reducing unauthorized immigration.

The Government Accountability Office has found little evidence that the billions already spent on border walls have had a significant impact on people trying to cross the border between ports of entry. Indeed, in a critical report last month, it concluded that:

“DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border. However, by proceeding without key information on cost, acquisition baselines, and the contributions of previous barrier and technology deployments, DHS faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected.”

Without thinking through crucial facts of border security — like the fact that many of the people currently arriving at U.S. borders are asylum seekers who turn themselves in and that drugs enter through ports of entry or in the mail, rather than being smuggled through at other locations — the latest effort at wall funding is doomed to repeat past border security failures.

Finally, the border wall also threatens the ecology of the region.

In the absence of proper analysis, border walls cause tremendous environmental devastation. They have fragmented and degraded critical habitat for wildlife, including endangered species like the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, and ocelot which need to roam on both sides of these artificial lines. Walls can lead to silting up of sensitive wetlands and waterways and dangerously worsen flooding in border communities.

The ACLU Border Rights Center released a report this week by Stefanie Herweck and Scott Nicol documenting the past, present, and possible future harms of border wall construction. The report recommends that border policy be based on the four pillars of “data, analysis, consultation, and rule of law.” Along with our partners on the report, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Rio Grande Valley (Texas) Equal Voice Network, the Sierra Club, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and the Southwest Environmental Center (NM), as well as millions of border residents who resoundingly oppose wall construction, we are committed to preventing further scarring of America’s borderlands.

Congress must deny even more funding for Trump’s destructive folly after already spending $2 billion in 2017-18. To save lives, preserve habitats, and ensure thriving, safe border communities, Trump’s obsession has to be stopped.

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