Newly bladed roads on the west side of Patagonia Mountains near Kino Springs. Since Jan. 9, the road has been cut about 1.5 miles up the 
Patagonia Mountains in the span of three weeks. Photo by Myles Traphagen – Wildlands Network

The last few years of the Trump administration has added hundreds of miles of new border wall construction that has dissected the US/Mexican border, for better or worse. The terms, wall and fencing, are used interchangeably but the definitions are quite different. The wall refers to a pedestrian “fence” or wall which is constructed as an impermeable barrier disallowing movement from one side to the other. In the case of the bollard construction along the border, the largest animal able to move through the 4-inch slats of the metal bollards would need to be no larger than a rabbit. The need for a barrier that is “one size to fit all” and the funding for this construction has resulted in a massive national controversy. 

On January 20, 2021, President Joseph Biden signed 17 executive orders after his inauguration. The order that pertains to the wall is the “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.”

The order is written to pause work on the wall until the legality of funds that were diverted for the wall is resolved. As stated in the first paragraph of the proclamation, “It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall. I am also directing a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall.”

The proclamation repeals the National Emergency Declaration to build the wall. The Secretary of Homeland Security will no longer be allowed to waive all laws for wall construction. The power of the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been amplified by the 2005 REAL ID Act. The provisions in the act have allowed the DHS to operate unchecked,  above the law with no accountability to any laws, federal, state, or local. Forty-eight environmental laws have been waived, some of which are National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, and many others designed to protect wildlife, wilderness, coastal zones, National Parks, and National Wildlife Refuges.

 The proclamation does not deal with rescinding the Real ID Act, which must be rescinded by congress.

The pause to construction is requested as soon as possible and no later than seven days from time of proclamation to be stopped, January 27, 2021. There will be some exceptions if work needs to continue for safety reasons. There will be a 60-day review process to access the use of funds and how to proceed with border security.  

Since the Nov. 3, 2020 election, wall excavation launched into a fevered pace with blasting and blading the mountains and stacks of bollards transported to construction sites. Locally, new bladed roads in the Coronado National Forest are moving from west to east in the Patagonia Mountains.

According to Myles Traphagen, Borderlands Program Coordinator for Wildlands Network, the western section of segment 5 of the wall running west from Nogales toward the Tohono O’odham Nation has been in active construction in what is designated critical jaguar habitat. Heading east of Nogales are newly bladed roads from west side of Patagonia Mountains near Kino springs where the Santa Cruz river reenters the U.S. 

Since January 9, 2021, the road has been cut about a mile and half up the Patagonia Mountains in the span of three weeks. If one more mile is built to the east toward the San Rafael valley, critical jaguar habitat will be cut off. If all these projects from east to west of Nogales are completed, then 90% of the critical habitat for jaguar migration would be cut off along with migratory routes of numerous migratory land species. 

Since the proclamation for the pause in construction, activists are watching the border construction for activity. As of January 23, 2021, at Project B Segment 5 site, which is located just east of Kino Springs, there was no construction activity observed. All heavy equipment is sidelined, and very few personnel were on site. 

The “pause” gives all of us time to reassess our own opinions on the border wall. What type of security is best, how should it be funded, human factors, environmental factors, and the long-term environment we want for our community and borderlands?