|HIDALGO, June 22 - The Sierra Club has denounced plans to build hundreds of miles of additional border walls, saying the only place left to add more barriers is through wildlife refuges and private property along the Rio Grande in Texas.
In a statement, the group said America and its environment can’t afford another “Border Splurge.” So far, six hundred miles of walls have been built along the U.S.-Mexico border. “What we’ve learned,” the Sierra Club states, “is that that these barriers do not stop immigration – they only devastate wildlife and habitat while bisecting communities and costing taxpayers millions of dollars per mile.”
Plans to build more border walls came via an amendment to the Senate immigration reform legislation authored by Republican U.S. Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The amendment, which has the backing of the so-called Gang of Eight U.S. senators, would require the construction of hundreds of miles of border walls, to be added to the existing 651 miles of fencing already built, in addition to a near doubling of the U.S Border Patrol by adding 20,000 agents.
There would also be a lot more towers, cameras, sensors and drones. The additional border security could cost $48 billion over ten years.
Dan Millis, of the Sierra Club Borderlands team, said the Sierra Club “strongly opposes this reckless and unrealistic proposal that would not only destroy habitat, cut off wildlife migration corridors and cause flooding, but also waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on technology we know has little impact on fixing our immigration system.”
Millis pointed out that last year the U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement - more than all other federal law enforcement combined.
“Our borderlands are already overrun with excessive numbers of Border Patrol vehicles, agents, towers and buildings. We have more than 650 miles of border fence that only serve to bisect communities and devastate the borderlands environment. We already have a border splurge – we don’t need another one,” Millis said.
Millis said the proposed doubling of the Border Patrol is precisely that, another border splurge.
“While cutting basic services and environmental protections, they want to waste billions more building more fences. The truth is the only place left to build more fences is through wildlife refuges and private property along the Rio Grande in Texas, where Homeland Security estimates future wall construction projects to cost $9.4 million per mile. That means spending billions of dollars on hundreds of miles of fence that won’t do what they want it to do,” Millis said.
“Our communities, our wildlife, and our borderlands can’t afford another border splurge, and neither can American taxpayers.”
Another group that has come out strongly against the Corker-Hoeven amendment is CAMBIO, which stands for Campaign for an Accountable, Moral and Balanced Immigration Overhaul. Its members include the Border Network for Human Rights, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, and the Northern Borders Coalition.
The group released the following joint statement in united opposition to the negotiated Senate deal:
“This is a bad deal for U.S. taxpayers, but especially for those that live and work in the border region. While the flow of migration is at a historic low, excessive enforcement remains unchecked and unaccountable to communities in which Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection operates. This proposal to increase enforcement without checks and balances is an example of excessive and wasteful government spending and represents an unnecessary expansion of the federal government's authority.
“We know the effects that these provisions will have on the daily lives of all border residents. Our communities have endured the painful reality of unchecked and unaccountable enforcement operations, which have led to decreased civil liberties and civil rights protections, interruption of commerce and trade, constant surveillance in our neighborhoods, excessive and deadly use of force by Border Patrol agents, and the outright militarization of border communities. The senators need to be reminded that border communities are still part of this nation and that there should be no further militarization of our neighborhoods. In fact, there has been an immediate and overwhelming response from mayors, local elected officials, law enforcement leaders and faith leaders along the border in opposition to the proposal.
“As border communities, we stand united in our resounding rejection of the Hoeven-Corker deal and urge the Senate to include accountability and oversight mechanisms to the already massive presence of border agents in our communities. This includes mandating lapel cameras for border agents, providing subpoena power to the DHS Border Oversight Task Force, applying geographic limits on warrantless Border Patrol stops in the southern border, and directing any increase in personnel to ports of entry where they are needed to facilitate trade that is fueling our economies.
“The Hoeven-Corker proposal to increase the number of Border Patrol, add additional fencing, and spend trillions in technology is expensive, extreme and wasteful, particularly at a time when we need to improve our schools, fix our roads, and grow our economy. It is an assault on our system of checks and balances and seriously threatens the quality of life of border residents. Overhauling the nation's immigration process is urgently necessary, but this should not be done without proper consultation with those communities who must live with the effects of poorly thought-out policy. We cannot not remain silent as politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to treat border communities as an endlessly expendable trade-off for immigration reform.”
Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas was one of the elected officials to welcome members of the Border Network for Human Rights when they participated in a caravan for immigration reform in Laredo on Tuesday.
This week, Salinas has been in Las Vegas for the Conference of Mayors’ summer meeting. Salinas offered a resolution in support of comprehensive immigration reform that was approved by both the Conference of Mayors' Immigration Reform Task Force and its Criminal and Social Justice Committee. This committee is chaired by Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker.
“I am grateful to Mayor Parker for carrying the resolution through her committee and I am prepared to carry the resolution on the floor of the Conference on Monday,” Salinas said. “Immigration reform is needed now more than ever, and I am pleased that the Congress and the GAO have now documented the Immigration Reform is not only the right thing to do, it will provide this nation a needed economic stimulus.”
Vice President Joe Biden spoke about immigration reform at the Conference of Mayors event. “The math is pretty simple, if you bring people out of the shadows and you give them a start they add to the tax base. They start investing in the communities where they live and they begin to lay down roots,” Biden said. Salinas was pleased with the remarks Biden made.
“Vice President Biden referenced research that documented that the majority of small business that are started today are started by immigrants. But, more than the research, I was pleased that the Conference of Mayors debuted a documentary on the DREAMERs. You don't need research to see the desire in those young people's eyes,” Salinas said.