NO BORDER WALL
Border walls built over the past several decades along the U.S.-Mexico border are a dark stain on American history. Hundreds of miles of wall have been built through protected public lands, communities and sovereign tribal nations. These barriers cut through sensitive ecosystems, disrupt animal migration patterns, cause catastrophic flooding and separate families. Some of the damage from border-wall construction is permanent, but much can be done to heal the landscape. The Biden administration must identify Indigenous sacred sites, harm to border communities, and damage to critically important wildlife habitat and immediately get to work compensating for this travesty. Billions of dollars of unspent wall-construction funds could be repurposed to heal the borderlands and improve real security in the region — environmental, economic and public health.
Segments of wall constructed during the Trump administration occurred in some of the most remote, rugged terrain of the entire 2,000-mile border, which also happen to be some of the most biodiverse and ecologically important places in the United States. Multiple cross-border jaguar movement corridors have been compromised by recent construction, though not yet closed off completely.
Now the Center and its allies are pushing for immediate cancellation of contracts, a permanent end to construction, and a withdrawal of all eminent domain actions being used to seize people’s land for border-wall construction in Texas, as well as looking ahead to restoration and remediation of the vast damage done. Many groups have contributed to an analysis of priority segments for wall removal.
Border-wall construction harms border communities, perpetuates human suffering, destroys thousands of acres of habitat, and threatens to halt the cross-border migration of dozens of animal species. As revealed in the Center’s 2017 report A Wall in the Wild, 93 threatened, endangered and candidate species stand to be affected by wall construction and related infrastructure spanning the entirety of the border. And our 2023 report A Wall of Lights Through the Wild shows that more than 1,800 stadium lights along the border, if turned on, would cause severe light pollution impacting conservation lands, animal migration routes, and wildlife, including more than a dozen endangered species.
This is a tragedy for the region’s diverse wildlife and people, as well as its rugged and spectacular landscapes. We're fighting in the courts, in Congress and in our communities to repair the damage done by this cynical attack on our beautiful borderlands.
We won’t stop fighting until the wall is torn down.
With headquarters near the border in Tucson, Arizona, the Center has worked to preserve and protect the remote beauty and amazing biodiversity of our borderlands for decades. We've been fighting against border militarization — including the border wall — since the late 1990s, using litigation to block unlawful border policy; grassroots lobbying to stop legislation that would worsen environmental damage; and creative-media and public-education campaigns to get out the truth about the real impacts of the hugely expensive, ineffective and environmentally devastating border wall.
In 2017 the Center partnered with U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in filing suit seeking a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of border-security policy, including the border wall, under the National Environmental Policy Act. Another suit challenges the waiver of more than three dozen environmental, public-health and tribal-sovereignty laws in order to rush border-wall construction. A third suit challenges a bogus “emergency declaration” used in an attempt to sidestep Congress and raid funds from military budgets to build the wall. And yet another suit seeks to force the administration to release documents regarding its border plans, thus far withheld from the public.
We were the first organization to sue the Trump administration over the border wall and have since sued to challenge border-wall construction in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the San Pedro River, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Rio Grande Valley and near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico.
In our work to mobilize resistance and stand with communities to fight wall construction across the borderlands, we organized protest actions in four of those five areas: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the San Pedro River, the Rio Grande Valley and Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
In 2017 the Center also partnered with the Tohono O’odham tribe in Mexico to file an endangerment petition for El Pinacate and Gran Desierto Biosphere Reserve, just south of the U.S. border in the state of Sonora. A wall in that area would block the cross-border migration of endangered Sonoran pronghorn and restrict access for the Tohono O'odham people, who travel across the border regularly for traditional and ceremonial purposes.
In 2022 the Center filed two legal challenges against Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s illegal shipping-container wall in Yuma and across the Coronado National Forest along the southern slopes of the Huachuca Mountains, blocking a crucial migration corridor for jaguas and ocelots. We also supported protests that successfully halted the governor’s attempts to finish building six of the planned 10 miles of double-stacked shipping containers through Coronado National Forest and will follow through to see that all the shipping containers are removed the forest.
BACKGROUND ON THE BORDERLANDS
Joining the United States and Mexico, our borderlands to the south comprise one of the biggest ecosystem complexes in North America, with some of the least populated areas and the most important wildlife habitats remaining on the continent. This border region is host to a diverse array of threatened, endangered and rare species — including Sonoran pronghorns, lesser long-nosed bats, Quino checkerspot butterflies, cactus ferruginous pygmy owls, and larger predators like jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and ocelots — and it contains millions of acres of public lands, such as Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Big Bend National Park, Coronado National Forest and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
In the mid-1990s the U.S. federal government launched a strategy of militarization in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands that continues to this day.
First the areas around ports of entry in El Paso, San Diego and other urban areas along the border were hardened and walls were erected using solid steel panels from Vietnam War–era landing mats. This had the predictable effect of forcing undocumented migrants out into more remote areas to cross the border, where many died in the harsh, arid conditions. More than 7,000 people have died crossing the border in the past 20 years. Documents show that migrant deaths were a foreseen consequence of a conscious strategy to increase the difficulty and dangers of crossing the border as a deterrent to migrants.
The strategy of pushing migrant traffic into wild areas did not work to stem the flow of undocumented immigration — but it did vastly increase the amount of environmental damage the process was causing, as both the flow of migrants and the resulting border-law-enforcement activities were pushed into formerly untrammeled sites.
Thousands of Border Patrol agents began driving off-road in remote areas, creating thousands of miles of new roads in designated wilderness and critical habitats for endangered species. As detailed in the Center's A Wall in the Wild report, more than 2 million acres of designated critical habitat exists within 50 miles of the border and is in danger of being degraded and destroyed by the construction of a wall and related enforcement activities along the border.
In 2005 the U.S. Congress passed a clause in the REAL ID Act, which granted the secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive any and all laws with regard to constructing walls and roads along the border. More than three dozen environmental, public-health and tribal-sovereignty laws have since been waived using this authority, resulting in hundreds of miles of additional border barriers and roads being constructed with no environmental review. The administration has used this authority dozens of times to rush border-wall construction.
The results of these waivers have been predictable. Without the thorough analysis of environmental impacts normally required by law, new border infrastructure has been constructed in ill-advised locations with poor engineering — resulting in massive flooding, erosion, and millions of dollars of damage to private property and public lands alike.