Nicol: Sierra Club hopes Johnson’s visit is more than a photo-op

McALLEN, RGV – Incoming Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson’s visits to McAllen and Tucson offers a great opportunity for the DHS Chief to see firsthand the impacts of his Department’s actions upon borderlands residents and ecosystems.

Border communities have borne the weight of a decade of bad border policy, including border walls that slice through residential neighborhoods and wildlife refuges alike, but if he remains ensconced within the walls of the Border Patrol’s headquarters or the parking lot of the Anzalduas Bridge he will never actually see the border.

Those of us who live along the border hope that Secretary Johnson will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. The border is not a war zone, and we do not need more walls, more drones, more boots on the ground. Hopefully he’s coming to offer a fresh approach, not more of the same.

We hope that his Texas visit will include trips to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Brownsville neighborhoods that have been sliced in two by border walls. We hope that this will be more than just a photo-op.

Under the Bush administration DHS Secretary Chertoff waived 37 laws, from the Endangered Species Act to the Farmland Policy Protection Act, to build hundreds of miles of border wall. When Chertoff retired there were parties in Brownsville and Tucson celebrating his departure. Unfortunately Secretary Napolitano followed in Chertoff’s footsteps, building border walls from California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to Brownsville’s Las Milpas neighborhood.

The Sierra Club hopes that Secretary Johnson will announce that funds promised by DHS in 2009 to mitigate some small portion of the environmental damage wrought by border walls, and then quietly rescinded, will finally be provided to our impacted wildlife refuges, national monuments, and wilderness areas. We hope that the Department of Homeland Security will stop using waivers issued in 2008 to ignore environmental laws and the health and safety of border residents for new border projects.

The Sierra Club urges Secretary Johnson to refrain from building new border walls. We hope that when he visits South Texas he will announce the cancellation of plans to build border walls in the Rio Grande floodplain adjacent to the towns of Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos. During a flood these walls will put the lives and property of people on both sides of the river in jeopardy. They will also violate our treaty with Mexico, and will inflict further damage upon the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. And like the walls that already tear through South Texas they will have no effect on immigration or smuggling.

As candidate Obama said when he visited South Texas in 2008: ‘We have to work with local communities to deal with the border in intelligent ways. We can’t do it by building a wall along the border. That’s not going to work.’

Under Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano the Obama administration failed to uphold that commitment. Border residents hope that with a new DHS Secretary we will see the Obama administration finally begin to ‘deal with the border in intelligent ways,’ rather than continuing the failed and destructive policies of the Bush administration.

Scott Nicol is co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team, which works to protect the ecosystems and wildlife migration corridors along both the U.S. border with Mexico and our border with Canada. For more information visit

Scott Nicol
Scott Nicol

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