By Nick Braune
Between 2006 and early 2009 particularly, wide ferment in the Valley rose up against the Border Wall. There were bi-partisan rallies and forums all along the Tex-Mex border, with liberals and the left and libertarians, and environmentalists, and ranchers and citrus growers, many mayors, chambers of commerce, all involved. Although apparently the only people who wanted it were some misguided “conservatives” up North and the Homeland Security monolith, the wall kept lengthening, a huge governmental sea monster pushing people aside.
One person I have interviewed several times on this matter is Scott Nicol, a Valley art instructor, environmentalist and cofounder of the No Border Wall effort. Since the wall has been off my radar recently and I have felt guilty about it, I chitchatted with him two weeks ago and asked for some comments.
Braune: Scott, could you tell us what you have been working on recently? I remember you are on a Sierra Club taskforce nationally.
Nicol: I co-chair the Sierra Club’s national Borderlands Team, which is primarily focused on the impacts of walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. Just as the walls built in South Texas did tremendous damage to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as refuges owned by Audubon and the Nature Conservancy, walls in California, Arizona, and New Mexico have severely impacted refuges and wilderness areas there.
And the Real ID Act allowed the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all federal, state, and local laws that might slow wall construction; consequently, the Department of Homeland Security has swept aside not only the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but also the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Farmland Protection Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The Sierra Club has mounted legal challenges to the constitutionality of giving one unelected official the power to waive all of our nation’s laws.
Our Borderlands Team also works to educate people around the country about the damage caused by building walls, and how ineffective walls are. (Even the Border Patrol referred to them as “speed bumps” that at best slow crossers down by a couple of minutes.)
I’m still active with No Border Wall as well, which has a new website describing issues and impacts related to border walls, from the environment to property rights to the deaths of immigrants, as well as the basic fact that walls have had no impact on the rate of immigration. [The new website: http://www.no-border-wall.com]
Braune: Although too lax on the issue of the wall recently, I did report on a wonderful protest, spearheaded by local artists, at Brownsville’s Hope Park some months back. Are there still things activists should be watching?
Nicol: Definitely. The biggest concern is that the new Congress will pass legislation calling for more border walls. In 2009 Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina introduced an amendment that would have added another 350 miles of “pedestrian fence” to that which already exists. Although passing the Senate, it was blocked in the House/Senate conference committee by Representative Ciro Rodriguez, whose district (unlike DeMint’s) already includes border walls. DeMint tried to reintroduce his amendment two more times.
Following the midterm elections Senator DeMint, a big Tea Party backer, is even more powerful, and the Senate is more conservative. Even though their districts are far from the border, a number of new House members campaigned on promises to build more walls, and Ciro Rodriguez lost his bid for reelection. It is a sure bet that DeMint will bring up his bill again, and with the new Congress it stands a very good chance of passing.
Braune: I understand California, Arizona, and New Mexico are largely walled off already, so if hundreds of miles of border wall are built, will they be built mostly in Texas?
Nicol: Yes. It will mean hundreds of condemnations against landowners (more than 400 were sued the last time around) and billions of dollars more wasted (beyond the $3 billion already spent). One would think that would awaken opposition from avowed conservatives like Senators Hutchison and Cornyn, but despite talking about property rights and fiscal responsibility, these two have voted for every Senate pro-wall bill, including DeMint’s 2009 amendment.
Braune: Where is Obama on all this?
Nicol: My guess is that the Obama administration feels like it has so much on its plate that they would rather not think about border walls. Secretary Napolitano could have stopped border wall construction when she took over at DHS. At that time lawsuits against landowners, including some south Texas farmers and citrus growers as well as the Nature Conservancy, were still being fought. Instead walls kept going up, and there are documents that indicate that walls are still on the drawing board for Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos, despite the flood risk that they would pose. If legislation calling for more border walls makes it to his desk, whether or not President Obama signs it probably has more to do with whether the bill had strong Democratic backing than anything else. If Democrats support walls, we will get walls. If they stand up for the border, the way that Ciro Rodriguez did when he blocked Senator DeMint’s amendment, we have a chance. But they will need to feel serious grass-roots pressure for that to happen.
[This article is a slightly expanded version of one run in Nick Braune’s weekly column in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, Dec. 22, 2010]