Don’t build ‘speed bumps’ that damage environment

The Southern border is not a wasteland.

If you listen to the rhetoric surrounding immigration reform without visiting border communities from Brownsville to San Diego — or the national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges in between — my home sounds as if it were in a war zone.

It’s not.

The Senate immigration bill treats these places, and their residents, as bargaining chips. It includes $1.5 billion for new border walls and the waiving of laws for any “physical infrastructure” that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can dream up along the border. Homes, farms and ecosystems will be ripped apart.

A similar formula was used in 2006. The House and Senate could not reconcile competing immigration bills, so they dropped the pathway to citizenship and passed only the provision mandating border walls as the Secure Fence Act.

Since then, 651 miles of border wall have gone up, tearing through sensitive habitat from California to Texas. Hundreds of landowners had their property condemned, and billions of dollars were spent on walls the Border Patrol calls “a speed bump in the desert.”

Mountains were dynamited and canyons filled to erect those speed bumps. Border walls have dammed washes and worsened flooding at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and in the Mexican city of Nogales, causing two drownings there. Endangered species from ocelots to Sonoran pronghorn have seen their habitat sliced in half, pushing them closer to extinction.

Congress put the Department of Homeland Security above the law. Laws ranging from the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act to the Farmland Policy Protection Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, along with 33 others, were waived so that border walls could be built.

As walls went up in urban areas such as San Diego and El Paso, crossers have been “funneled” into the Arizona desert. Hundreds die there each year.

With immigration reform back on its agenda, Congress needs to learn from its past mistake, not repeat it.

In April, the Sierra Club endorsed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The club also reiterated its long-standing opposition to the erection of environmentally destructive border walls and the waiving of laws to build them.

It is time for our nation to bring millions of people out of the shadows and allow them to fully participate in society. That does not mean tearing apart more communities, bulldozing more wildlife refuges or brushing aside more of our nation’s laws to build more border walls.

My home is 10 miles north of the Rio Grande and a section of border wall. Border residents are tired of being told that our communities, our farmlands, our environment and the laws that protect us must be sacrificed to build speed bumps.

We’ve had enough. Congress should create a pathway to citizenship, not more border walls.

Scott Nicol, For the Express-News

Scott Nicol chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team and lives in McAllen. For more information, visit  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s