The following column will appear this weekend–gm
By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
I attended a meeting last weekend near La Joya, where Valley environmentalists were proposing a coalition to oppose the “border wall.” One person I recognized there was Scott Nicol of Weslaco. An artist and a South Texas College art instructor, Nicol is also an environmentalist and active in a chapter of the Sierra Club. He is an informed, concerned citizen, as you will soon learn.
Author: At the weekend meeting, there were people from various groups. I know that no one speaks for everyone, but could you briefly characterize the general worries about Homeland Security’s proposed wall?
Nicol: The Secure Border Fence Act of 2006 mandated, “at least two layers of reinforced fencing,” in “priority areas” along the US/Mexico border. One of these “priority areas” extends continuously from Laredo to Brownsville. This would tear through riparian habitat that is critical for the survival of the ocelot and the jaguarondi, both of which are federally endangered species.
It would also destroy habitat that migrating birds, butterflies, and bats rely on to rest and refuel. This area includes the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the Bentsen Rio Grande and Roma Bluffs World Birding Centers, and a wildlife corridor that US Fish and Wildlife has spent 20 years and 70 million dollars to piece together.
Author: At the meeting, environmentalists mentioned the Real ID Act. Tell us about that.
Nicol: In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wanted to build a 14 mile section of wall south of San Diego, California, through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Because it was 15 feet high and involved scalping two hillsides to fill in a gulch to keep the wall and its road level, it soon ran afoul of environmental laws. So the Real ID Act was created, to waive any legal restrictions, at the sole discretion of the DHS Secretary.
Secretary Chertoff promptly waived the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. The Real ID Act applies to any border wall that DHS builds, and Chertoff has reportedly already written a waiver for the Texas section.
Author: I suspect that there are other ethical concerns that drive you on this issue. Do you see the wall giving the wrong message about our country and its people?
Nicol: Yes, spending billions on a 700-mile-long wall on the border with Mexico, but not one dime on a wall between the US and Canada, strikes me as blatantly racist. The Secure Border Fence Act was signed two weeks before the midterm elections in a last ditch effort to rouse certain conservative voters. It is politics of the worst kind, scapegoating and demonizing immigrants to distract voters and avoid taking constructive action. Despite the “fence” label, it is a wall like the one that divided Berlin, and it sends a similar message to Mexico and the world.
Author: I mentioned in a previous column that the wall is one more reflection of the militarization of the border. (For example, there was almost military secrecy on the fence for a while, Homeland saying one thing about it but there being other, broader, plans in the works.) We have so many police in the Valley, and we have huge detention centers; I am afraid of the psychological climate, a “garrison state” feeling. Any comments on this?
Nicol: If the Texas border wall follows the pattern of the California section, it will cut off farmers from the river, which accounts for nearly all of the Valley’s irrigation water. It will discourage Mexican nationals from legally crossing the border to shop, and they currently account for an estimated 25% of retail sales in McAllen and Brownsville. It will destroy the area’s ecotourism industry, which brings in millions of dollars every year. Only the Border Patrol will thrive, with a promised massive increase in funds and manpower. If you cripple every major segment of the economy except security, a garrison state is all that you have left.
Author: What should my readers do, if they agree with you?
Nicol: Contact politicians at every level, from mayors to senators, and demand that they work to repeal the Secure Border Fence Act and the Real ID Act. For all the talk about a “virtual” fence or delays, the law on the books calls for “at least two layers of reinforced fencing” running continuously from Laredo to Brownsville, with completion by Spring 2008. So long as that is federal law, Homeland Security has no real choice, despite their constantly changing statements about how they plan to proceed. This border wall is far too destructive to go unchallenged.