Under the Trump administration, we have seen some of the most devastating impacts of the push to build a wall on the US-Mexico borderlands. Trump completed more than 415 miles of new walls and replacement barriers—using stolen funds from the military and destroying communities, habitat, and wildlands in the process.
The Trump administration waived cultural and environmental protections to build Trump’s wall, allowing the destruction of Tribal lands as well as sacred burial grounds of the Tohono O’odham Nation. His administration used an outdated piece of the Real ID Act as cover to neglect laws like the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act meant to protect Indigenous cultural sites. That's the most waivers used by any presidential administration since the Real ID Act became law.
Waiving bedrock environmental and health laws for construction puts communities on the border at risk of further environmental injustices. Without the Clean Air, Water and National Environmental Policy Act, these communities do not have legal protection if their water is depleted or polluted— which is common with these construction projects— and Native American Nations on the border do not have the safeguards needed to protect their cultural and historical heritage. We have already seen the use of these waivers lead the destruction of national monuments, Tribal burial grounds and the division and displacement of neighborhoods. For the sake of our environment and human rights—the Biden administration must make it a priority to undo the damage and restore the borderlands.
The border wall is not just a symbol of Trump's racist policies—it also inflicts irreversible harm on a very fragile environment. The construction of the new border wall has already ripped through some of the most biologically diverse desert lands in North America. This wall puts nearly 100 endangered species at increased risk. We are currently in a worsening mass extinction—the first in planetary history caused by humans. Building walls that destroy habitat is the opposite of what we should be doing to protect species.
Border barriers block wildlife migration, cause flooding, and damage our lands—including wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and national forests. In Arizona, we have witnessed walls worsen flooding and make the humanitarian crisis of deaths on the border much worse. These unnatural barriers in the middle of once-wild lands and ecosystems present a real danger to the communities along the border.
We are calling on President-elect Biden to uphold his promise to pull wall construction contracts and to rescind Trump’s waivers of cultural and environmental safeguards. Biden must instruct the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Homeland Security to cancel all border wall contracts and rescind all waivers of law issued since 2005 for border wall construction. Both of these are a matter of pulling the plug on the damaging decisions made by Trump and should be day-one priorities.
The Biden administration must work with these frontline immigrant and borderland groups to ensure that no further harm comes to these culturally rich and vibrant communities. That will require the Biden administration to go a step beyond halting construction: They must tear down the existing barriers that have already decimated and continue to harm habitat, people, and public lands. Sierra Club Borderlands advocates want real solutions to the challenges in the Southwest. The Biden administration must tackle just and fair immigration reform with a path to full citizenship, with a plan that addresses the root causes of complex border problems. These first steps should be a priority in the first 100 days of the Biden presidency.
To learn more about the Sierra Club’s borderlands program, click here. Join the conversation by using the tag: #TearDownTheWall.