There’s nothing borderline about the farcical and foolhardy nature of government fences.
As a graduating senior faced with an employment market in dire straits, I was relieved to receive a call from my mother one day informing me that she had found the perfect job for me – as a member of the U.S. Border Patrol. It’s true that commercials featuring ATVs and horseback riding across our sandy southern regions appeal to my sense of adventure, but I’m not sure it would be a good career fit ideologically. If asked in an interview “What would you do if you saw someone trying to sneak across the border?” I would probably answer, “Um . give them a ride?”
While immigration policy may be a source of heated debate, for most of us, the commercials that evoke daydreams of action-hero adventure are probably the only time we think about this issue, or border security specifically. So you may have missed the fracas surrounding the land that separates us from our neighbors to the south. And this week, things got crazier.
The linchpin project in heightened border control planning has been the notorious (and ridiculous) giant fence. The project is headed by the Department of Homeland Security and includes the construction of 670 miles of fence across the approximately 1,969 miles of border shared by the United States and Mexico. Though it has been in the works for years, it was shot back into the limelight this week because it received congressional waivers allowing it to bypass more than 30 laws and regulations – many relating to the environment – according to The Associated Press.
Environmentalists are upset by the possible effect these waivers could have on ecosystems, so much so that heavyweights like the Sierra Club have even asked the Supreme Court to declare the waivers unconstitutional, according to CNN.
And dissent doesn’t stop there. Even from within the federal government, organizations are voicing concern. In correspondence obtained by the AP regarding one contested project the waivers could help, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services acknowledge that following through with the project would contribute to habitat fragmentation.
How, then, has the administration justified its actions? Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, succinctly summed up the department’s brilliant justification for the passage of these waivers this week, stating, “Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation.”
Yes, why let pesky things like facts get in the way? Or due process and the proper application of the legal system, for that matter? Don’t let details like further fragmenting habitat at the expense of endangered species stop you from building your fort – oh, I mean fortress of security.
Biological corridors are important for preserving genetic variation, something important in the management of animals like the ocelot and jaguarondi, two endangered species expected to be harmed by the border barriers. Physical barriers prevent these animals from crossing borders to reproduce, hurting the populations overall. In the end, border “protection” does basically nothing to stop aliens from getting in. Meanwhile, it keeps animals out, doing little to protect their future.
Blatant absence of environmental consideration is a problem that has plagued this administration. Our furry friends have had it tough. Polar bears are still waiting to be added to the endangered species list, and wolverines – near and dear to our hearts – lost their case earlier this month. The government’s treatment of big oil is a rant for another day, but it’s worth a passing mention in the discussion of federal irresponsibility.
The point is clear: Whether these decisions stem from a misunderstanding of environmental issues or simply a lack of concern, when it comes to dealing with the environment the federal government is the last entity that should have total control. The removal of waivers does just that. It takes away what little oversight existed in the first place.
This decision also sets a disturbing precedent for the future. Ignoring legislation and compromising habitats simply in the name of headlong action creates a slippery slope. The case, along with the handling of Gitmo, wiretapping and countless other examples, is indicative of the growing ability of the federal government to make up rules to suit its fancy.
When the fence was simply a stupid, ineffectual solution to an obviously misunderstood problem, it was, if not tolerable, easier to ignore. In the context of larger issues, battles must be triaged. But this new development moves the project from inane to inexcusable.
Kate Truesdell can be reached at email@example.com.