Border Puh-lease

According to Robert Frost, fences make good neighbors. But I wonder what good ole Bob would have said if his neighbor had hastily erected a wall along the property line, in the process cutting down the apple trees, bulldozing the vegetable garden, killing the livestock and polluting the drinking well?

I seriously doubt that could happen in any town anywhere across America without sparking the neighborhood association’s ire, unwanted attention from the local permit police, criminal fines and a big fat lawsuit.

Now imagine that the barrier in question is a 700-mile, two-layer fence along the U.S.-Mexico border ostensibly intended to keep illegal immigrants out, but guaranteed to wreak havoc on the environment.

Today the Department of Homeland Security waived 19 environmental, cultural and other federal laws in order to proceed with construction of that border wall (and a road) in southeastern Arizona.

DHS Secretary Michael Cherthoff invoked this broad waiver for the first time – under authority granted by Congress in 2005 in the passage of the REAL ID Act – after a federal judge halted construction earlier this month to protect the ecologically fragile San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area.

You betcha, Sec. Cherthoff has the “right” to ignore any and all laws of the United States when it comes to constructing barriers along the border. 

Certainly we can secure our borders without bulldozing America’s public lands.

In this case, the border wall threatens one of the last free-flowing rivers in the southwestern United States. This unique and biologically diverse watershed, internationally-renowned for its natural beauty, attracts visitors from around the world. Home to some 250 species of migratory birds, the San Pedro River region has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, and a World Heritage Natural Area by the United Nations.

Aside from the habitat damage resulting from the controversial border fence, local residents should be concerned about their own quality of life. Aside from the fact that the river also supplies clean drinking water to thousands of residents (on both sides of the border), this action demonstrates that the director of Homeland Security has is a license to waive any law, for any reason – or for no reason at all.

Just consider this sample of the fundamental laws now rendered moot by the Bush administration:

  • Clean Water Act
  • Clean Air Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act
  • Superfund
  • National Environmental Protection Act
  • National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • National Historic Preservation Act
  • Archeological Resources Protection Act
  • Historic Preservation Act
  • Antiquities Act
  • Noise Control Act
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • Federal Land Policy and Management Act
  • Farmland Protection Act

Message from the Bush administration:  America is a nation founded on the rule of law – but apparently not when the Homeland Security agency is involved.

Think about that for a moment. Laws that protect the environment, safeguard public health, ensure consumer and workplace safety, prevent unfair business practices, and ban discrimination – none of these laws (or any others for that matter) apply to the agency entrusted with protecting the American people.

Ironically, the one thing that pesky wall is keeping out of America is democracy itself.

There is a tiny sliver of hope, which is that Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would secure America’s border with Mexico while reducing the negative impact on local communities and natural resources, including national parks, wildlife refuges and monuments that are home to endangered species. The “Borderlands Security and Conservation Act of 2007” (H.R. 2593) would amend existing immigration and border security laws, including REAL ID and the “Secure Fence Act”, to help alleviate the impacts of border enforcement on public lands, wildlife and borderland communities.