The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s administration last week targeting a plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. The group is calling for the federal government to investigate the wall’s environmental impacts.
KUNM’s Chris Boros spoke with Randy Serraglio, the center’s southwest conservation advocate.
KUNM: Federal law requires that the environmental impacts if any major federal projects or actions should be taken into consideration. What does the Trump Administration have to do before building the wall?
Serraglio: The lawsuit is filed under the National Environmental Policy Act and that is very much a look before you leap law. So the government is required to analyze the environmental impacts of this proposal before it’s implemented.
KUNM: Researchers have found that the construction of security barriers along the border have a negative impact on animal species living there. What species are we talking about and how could they be affected?
Serraglio: The impacts of border security policy are so broad and so deep that our lawsuit is actually very broad – it’s calling for a comprehensive analysis. There’s more than a hundred different species in the border region that will be harmed many of which are threatened and endangered, they’re protected under the Endangered Species Act. Some of the biggest ones are jaguar and ocelots. We have a resurgence of jaguars in southern Arizona. So those animals if they are going to recover from threatened and endangered status need to be able to expand into territories and home ranges in the U.S.
KUNM: It’s not only about the wall though, right? It also has to do with road construction, installation of lighting and what else?
Serraglio: A lot of people don’t realize that our border security policy is full on militarization. There’s forward operating bases, there’s high tech communications towers and surveillance installations out there in the border region. The amount of activity out there is just incredible already. The damage is just going to increase exponentially. All of those impacts need to be analyzed legally. We need a sound scientific analysis of what are the impacts on all these different species. What is this going to do to the border ecology? And what is it going to do to border communities? How will this effect people who live near the border?
KUNM: How long do you think it will take before you hear back about the lawsuit?
Serraglio: Well, the gears of justice are grinding already. We have received an assignment of a federal judge and the legal process will play out. It will take some time to do that. And of course, such an environmental impact statement, as broad and deep as the impacts are, will take some years to play out as well.
KUNM: So how can we protect the U.S. border with Mexico in a way that doesn’t interfere with the ecosystem there?
Serraglio: What a lot of people don’t realize is that the border now is more secure by far than it’s even been in our nation’s history. In fact, border communities are some of the safest communities in the United States. El Paso, for instance, consistently ranks at the top as terms of the lowest level of violent crime. It’s a complete mischaracterization to look at the southern border and say that it’s somehow under siege from Mexico. Mexico is one of our biggest trading partners and the border region itself is very much culturally and economically interconnected with Mexico. Border militarization and border walls, they harm that dynamic. They divide families, they hurt economies, and of course they’ve chased thousands of people out into the desert where they’ve died in harsh conditions. I think it’s pretty clear that the enforcement-only strategy that we’ve taken to immigration in the last couple of decades is really not working.
Note: The Department of Homeland Security hasn't responded to requests for comment from multiple media outlets about the lawsuit. Congress has yet to fund the construction of the wall.