The Border Wall and the Fight for Human and Environmental Justice

The construction of the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border goes on, pandemic or not.

Border Crossings Environment


Saguaro Cactus
Saguaro cacti in the Arizona desert. Image courtesy of Circe Denyer.


With eyes riveted on the Covid-19 worldwide crisis, the longtime war on immigration led by President Trump must not be forgotten. In recent months, the first convoys of heavy machinery have been deployed to the border of the Sonoran Desert, uprooting entire rows of saguaro cacti, emblematic figures of this region.


At the heart of the desert, workers are pumping the meagre reserves of water and metal plates are slowly rising toward the sky. The construction of the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border goes on, pandemic or not.


Since the REAL ID act was passed in 2005, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has used provisions governing the construction of roads and bridges on the U.S. border to waive dozens of laws standing in the way of the wall's construction — dramatically affecting the safety of wildlife and communities on both sides of the border.


The Sonoran Desert is a unique ecosystem. It provides a haven to hundreds of animals and plants, but their survival is threatened by the relentless pressure of urban expansion, climate change, and border wall construction.


"What took 4 billion years to evolve is disappearing in the blink of an eye," writes the Centre for Biological Diversity about endangered species – such as the quitobaquito fish, the Sonoran pronghorn, the desert tortoise or the jaguar. Indeed, the border wall has fiercely impacted the cyclical migrations of endemic species. Wild animals can no longer access their feeding or breeding areas which reinforced the fragility of the region.


Even though scientists have warned of the negative environmental impacts, the project is still underway today, posing a life-threatening danger to the residents. The construction of the wall has already caused deadly flooding in several areas along the international boundary, burying homes underneath more than six feet of water.


As a result, both nature and human beings in the area are trying to adapt. Life goes on.


On the outskirts of the Lukeville Arizona Port of Entry, relatives physically separated by the border have resorted to chatting through the rusty brown wall. Meanwhile, plants are valiantly trying to find their way through the barbed wire, and bird nests are forming on top of the Border Patrol surveillance towers, a perimeter that is heavily monitored.


Under a glaring sun, humanitarian workers walk the trails along the wall in an attempt to help migrants who are trying to travel across this desert region, putting their lives at risk. They follow the footsteps of Border Patrol agents whose most recent arrests have left evidence of unfinished migration stories on the ground: crumpled water bottles, camouflage hike shoes, and ragged clothes can be found here and there in the rocky sand.


Sixteen. This is the number of bodies found by Scott Warren over the past six years near his hometown of Ajo, Arizona. The teacher and activist for the advocacy group No More Deaths drops off water tanks and food for migrants in the desert. Volunteers are trying to bring some semblance of humanity to the war against immigration, a conflict that is taking place in their own backyard. But for how long? Many of them are being sued by the United States government. Their crime? Rescuing migrants. In this area, humanity and solidarity have become crimes.


These types of measures are not new. In the 1980s, the government conducted an infiltration campaign called "Operation Sojourner" with the aim of disbanding organizations that provide aid to migrants.


Scott Warren has become a symbol of resistance against a government that tries to criminalize humanitarian aid. Warren was facing a sentence of up to 20 years in prison but was acquitted last November. A victory, indeed, but a short-lived one as the government is openly targeting activists, journalists, researchers, and lawyers working on the border.


Nonetheless, the work of volunteer groups has never been more precious. Over 7500 migrants have lost their lives crossing the United-States Mexico border since the late 1990s, according to the Colibrí Center, and President Trump’s wall will not reverse the curve.


Over the past few months, videos have circulated on social media showing Border Patrol agents destroying water containers laid out for migrants in the desert. The National Park Service also blames humanitarian organizations for polluting the environment by abandoning jerry cans and food intended to save human lives.


Ironically, special permits are given by this very same federal agency to scientists, authorizing the deposit of water reservoirs to support endangered animal species. Yet they have not been granted to volunteers who are trying to help human beings. The instrumentalization of environmental protection is becoming a new tool for those attempting to prevent humanitarian aid to migrants.


There truly is a crisis at the border — an humanitarian and environmental one. And it challenges the democratic foundations of American society.


As we approach the November election, the war on immigration continues to rage on. Water sources are being dried up, roads are being paved, biodiversity and nature are being destroyed, deaths are rising, and humanitarians are being prosecuted in the name of the border wall. Meanwhile, this war seems to be met mostly with general indifference and silence.


When will humanity win over fear and intolerance?



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Borders, Environment, Mexico, Human Rights, Humanitarian Aid, Humanitarian Intervention, Social Justice, Nature, Politics, US Foreign Policy