What Napolitano Means For The Border Fence

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THE VINE DECEMBER 5, 2008

What Napolitano Means For The Border Fence

Environmentalists should be pretty excited about having Janet Napolitano as
Secretary of Homeland Security—and not because, as Ed Rendell so awkwardly
noted, she's single and will have more time to spend on the job. As the governor
of Arizona, Napolitano has been forced to consider the impacts that immigration—and attempts to stop immigration—are having on wildlife in
the border region. And she's had the sort of firsthand border experience that
makes her question
the utility
of the security fence that's currently under construction along
several sections of the border. This skepticism is good news, because even if a
border fence is unlikely to stop immigrants, it does have potential to do some
serious environmental harm.

What sort of harm? The fence has already
caused flooding in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where the
water drainages flow from north to south, across the border, and the fence acts
as a dam when it rains. More significantly, the fence threatens to impede the
migration of wildlife, especially the endangered jaguar, which is starting to
make a comeback in southern Arizona. And some sections of the fence currently
under construction will channel human migrants into more remote—and more
sensitive—areas, increasing the already-significant environmental impact of
having hundreds of thousands of people walk across the border each year.

None of these environmental impacts have been taken into account in
border-fence construction decisions, because the Real ID Act of 2005 gave the secretary of Homeland Security the power to bypass the standard environmental
review process in order to expedite construction of the fence. The Bush
administration and its congressional allies have argued—pulling the
ever-baffling "terrorists are sneaking over our border" card—that waiving
the environmental review process is a necessary sacrifice for the sake of
national security. Conservation groups like the Sierra Club have filed several
lawsuits in which they (unsurprisingly) beg to differ. But they've lost these
cases, and the Supreme Court recently declined to hear one of their appeals.

Now that
Napolitano is going to be Secretary of Homeland Security, border fence
construction is likely to slow. The construction that does happen will probably
get held to the same environmental standards as any other federal project. This
will probably mean a lot less physical fencing and a lot more high-tech "virtual
fence" gadgetry, like motion-sensor cameras and infrared detectors. The coolest
potential side benefit? Those cameras could be rigged to take pictures of jaguars
as well.

--Rob Inglis, High Country News

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