Border Wall / Otay Mountain Wilderness Area / Texas Border Wall

Don’t let immigration hysteria undermine environmental laws

Here’s a piece by my friend Scott Nicol in response to the most recent border bill proposed by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT). Bishop is stoking the fires of anti-immigrant hysteria, and in the process, advancing a myth that an alleged conflict between local land managers and border patrol agents and officials is inhibiting border security efforts. The antagonism Bishop is pushing simply does not exist. In fact, border security depends upon the cordial, cooperative relationships between local agencies and border patrol that local border residents have fostered over the decades.

April 29, 2011
by Scott Nicol

Republicans are using hysteria over immigration to try to undermine environmental protection.

On April 15, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) held a five-and-a-half hour marathon hearing on the border, complete with headless body images. Never mind that those images actually came from Mexico, not the United States. The idea was to enflame anti-immigrant sentiment here at home.

Under the guise of improving border security, Bishop is promoting a bill that would jettison environmental protection laws along U.S. borderlands — including those that protect endangered species and safeguard clean air and water.

The so-called National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), introduced by a visibly angry and red-faced Bishop during his committee hearing, would permanently exempt border enforcement activities from more than 30 federal protection laws within 100 miles of the U.S. borders, as well as all maritime borders.

On the Senate side, Republican Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl have introduced the Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011 (S. 803), which would effectively give the Department of Homeland Security veto power over environmental protections on public lands within 150 miles of the border with Mexico.

Such a ham-handed approach to a detailed and complex issue may seem unprecedented, but it isn’t.

In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security used the Real ID Act to waive 36 laws. This allowed the department to construct barriers that now stretch 650 miles across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The results have been ugly.

In California, 530,000 cubic yards of rock was blasted from mountainsides in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, walls have caused serious flooding in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and walls now fragment the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, which was established for the preservation of endangered ocelots.

The 5.2 miles of border wall and access roads in Otay Mountain Wilderness Area are plagued by dangerous landslides of now-barren hillsides. Photo by Jill Holslin April 2011

This damage occurred because of the Real ID Act waivers, and Bishop’s bill would extend those waivers to cover the entire U.S.-Mexico border, the entire U.S.-Canada border, and along all U.S. coastlines. The lawless zone would then extend 100 miles into the United States from the borders and coasts.

Whereas the existing waivers are restricted to border wall construction, HR 1505 expands the waiver to cover any activity of the Department of Homeland Security that is intended to stop undocumented immigrants or contraband from entering the country.

Roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population lives in the area targeted by this waiver. Cities from San Francisco to Boston to New Orleans to Honolulu could no longer have the safeguards of the Safe Drinking Water Act and many other public health laws. Olympic National Park, Glacier and the Everglades would likewise be put at risk.

We must stop this assault on environmental laws and federal lands, and we should not allow national security to be used as a cover as Republicans try to rollback the environmental gains we’ve achieved as a nation.

Scott Nicol is co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team and manages the blogs for the national coalition No Border Wall. He wrote this Op-Ed for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail:; Web site: For information on PMP’s funding, please visit


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  1. Pingback: H.R. 1505 – The so-called National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act

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