Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Border Fence: An Unintelligent & Environmentally Destructive Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

When I see young promising high school students lose an opportunity to go to college because they can't get a student loan... When I see families get denied the money they need to rebuild their homes and lives following Hurricane Katrina... And then watch as the federal government spends $billions on a border fence that will do nothing other than harm wildlife populations, I have to rub my eyes in frustration about the incompetence of those entrusted with our taxpayer dollars.

As a conservation biologist, I know well about the damage that the border fence will do to the migration, gene flow, and overall health of wildlife populations, including those of such endangered species as the jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi, and white-sided jackrabbit (which I got a great photograph of one afternoon while working on the Gray Ranch in southwest, New Mexico).

As plain ol' common sense, I know that a 10-foot-high concrete wall just isn't going to stop illegal immigration. It might boost ladder sales in border towns, and appears to be providing anti-environmental zealots with an excuse to waive environmental laws, but that's about it. Just listen to the response of local people in Texas (from the October 2 Associated Press article linked to above):

McALLEN – The first public forum of a new state border security group Monday turned into a one-sided referendum on the federal government's planned border fence, with local and state officials agreeing the structure will do little to stop illegal immigration.

But the Border Security Council told frustrated local officials that they were virtually helpless to stop the federal project to build hundreds of miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress has budgeted $1.2 million for the fences.

Instead, state officials said they wanted to secure the border by stopping drug and human trafficking and terror-related activities.

"The idea of fences is to keep terrorists from our country. I say that fences do not make arrests," McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez told the eight of the eleven members of the council who attended the meeting, the first of three this week in border cities.

Rodriguez said the money being spent on the new fence should instead pay for more Border Patrol agents.

I'm a supporter of smart, well-studied, and proven strategies to curtail illegal immigration, starting with boosting border patrols (and creating jobs in the process), among other options. As a note, when I conducted ecological field work on ranches along the U.S./Mexico border in the mid-1990's, I was highly impressed with the work of the Border Patrol - they certainly deserve the funding a whole lot more than a fence that doesn't stand an ice cube's chance in the Amazon of doing what it's supposed to do.

The border fence is just a nonsensical waste of cherished taxpayer dollars. I hope that environmental groups can work through their fear of the controversy surrounding the issue and organize to not just stop it, but motivate its removal.

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