For months before January 20, 2021, the Mexican/US border was an enormous linear construction zone. Overlooking the border area from a vantage point in the Coronado National Memorial, one could see that the top of a mountain just south of Coronado Peak had been removed, heavy equipment and use of explosives had crawled up the east side of the peak and snaked down the west side toward San Rafael Valley.
All went silent on January 20, 2021, Inauguration Day of President Biden, when the President signed an “Executive Proclamation on the Termination of Emergency With Respect To The Southern Border Of The United States And Redirection Of Funds Diverted To Border Wall Construction.”
A border map shows the older vehicle barrier across the San Rafael Valley, flanked east and west by the bollard pedestrian fencing coming from the east into Coronado National Memorial, and east and west of Nogales for five miles each way.
The border is segmented with new bollard pedestrian fencing. Much of the new fencing was constructed on Federal land such as National Forest, National Wildlife Refuges, and National Memorials to avoid any legal action that would have delayed the road construction and building of the wall.
As a last-minute push in January 2021, a 1.5-mile road was bulldozed from the Kino Springs area in the Coronado National Forest towards the west side of the Patagonia Mountains, within the Patagonia Unit of Jaguar Critical Habitat. Severe damage was incurred leaving the soil of volcanic tuff exposed to the elements, causing dust, erosion, and a scar that will be visible for eons. Much of the older vehicle barrier fencing along that route was removed, leaving an open border along the route. West of Nogales the construction caused severe damage in the Pajarito Mountains. In the Sasabe area, segments of new and replacement pedestrian fencing span approximately 21 miles with severe damage in the Cerro Del Fresnal area, according to Wildlands Network, “The Border Wall Arizona and New Mexico,” July 2021.
Wildlife has been significantly impacted where the stretch of pedestrian fencing has been erected. Trail cameras that, before the wall, had captured thousands of photos of wildlife including mountain lion, bobcat, javalina, an occasional jaguar, now capture very few. Trail cameras in the San Bernadino Wildlife Refuge that had previously captured photos of hundreds of wildlife, captured one photo of a skunk along the newly constructed pedestrian wall. (“The Refuge & the Wall”, 2020 documentary video, by Leslie Epperson, Small Wheel Films, Wildlands Network).
Plans are evolving to repair environmental damage, including erosion control, revegetation, repairing vehicle barrier fencing, and returning some private lands to individuals are under way. The Office of Management and Budget said in a statement, “Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or responsible use of federal funds.”
The Biden administration plans to return $2 billion of the $3.9 billion taken from the Pentagon to the projects for which the funds were originally intended. The remaining $1.9 billion appropriated by Congress will be used for restoration of environmental damage caused by wall construction. According to Sky Island Alliance of Southern Arizona, “Some repairs to flood barrier systems and dangerous soil erosion areas have been made, but there is still much to do in Arizona. During FY2021 appropriations, the House version of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill directed $75 million from DHS to the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service for mitigation activities around the border wall and barriers. We are hopeful that these funds will be used to start restoration projects.”
Funding could also be used for virtual surveillance, a mix of surveillance towers mobile and fixed, underground sensors that detect motion, aerostat blimps, drones, facial recognition cameras at border crossings, and license plate readers. Virtual surveillance has little negative effect on the ecology of an area and is considered highly effective.
When Bill Clinton established the border enforcement policy in 1994, it was known as ‘Prevention Through Deterrence,’ the theory being that pedestrian fencing will reach so far out from the areas of urban illegal crossing that the migrants would be deterred from crossing into the dangerous desert areas. Deterrence has not worked and has contributed to thousands of deaths of people trying to migrate into the US. Since 2000 the remains of almost 4,000 people identified as migrants have been found in the Arizona desert.
Addressing the humanitarian needs on both sides of the border with effective law enforcement is a challenge that has eluded many administrations. Across the southwest, in fiscal year 2021, there were 1,734,686 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) ‘enforcement encounters,’ a 279% increase over the previous fiscal year. Construction of the Border Wall may have halted, but the border remains a political hot spot for the new administration and its evolving approaches to control illegal immigration.