Anticipating the end to Title 42, tens of thousands of cartel coyote customers await their opportunity to fan into the United States from south Texas to California. Many of these will join the estimated 400,000 “getaways” in fiscal 2021 who were not even processed by federal officials to enable them to receive taxpayer funding.
Regardless of one’s opinion of foreigners preferring America to their homeland, the fact is that these “getaways” in particular do major damage to land and water in the Southwest. Ranchers and other landowners, long hard pressed by trespassers invading their private property, now face the twin terrors of higher taxes (to fund the government’s massive migrant support programs) and environmental devastation to their property and to millions of acres of nearby public lands.
In recent months, according to Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe (a 31-year Border Patrol veteran), border crossers have begun to trash fields, smash water pipes, leave faucets running, destroy fences, and commit other acts of intentional vandalism that only adds to the environmental toll. To many border ranchers, the hordes who traverse their properties must seem like a Zombie apocalypse is happening.
American media rarely report on the negative impacts brought by trespassers who kill livestock, set forest fires, and leave mountains of trash behind as they seek to evade government agents. Decades of destruction are the price only those who live and work along the border are forced by their government to endure at their own expense. Meanwhile, billions of their tax dollars are lavished upon those who have trashed their properties and on occasion robbed and killed their family members and friends. Many of these landowners are of Hispanic origins.
This is not new. Long before Obama and Biden, Republican Presidents and Congresses looked the other way and instructed their lieutenants to thwart all efforts by local residents to rein in te destruction. The federal judiciary will not even consider demands that the government at least file an Environmental Impact Statement to address these negative impacts, as would normally be required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Much of the opposition to President Trump’s border wall came from groups like Defenders of Wildlife. To highlight their concerns, they cited a statement by Nancy Brown, public outreach specialist at the South Texas Refuge Complex. According to Brown, “The four most southern counties in Texas constitute one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America.” We have a documented 1,200 species of plants, 513 species of birds, and nearly 300 butterfly species.”
Many of the creatures that dwell along the Rio Grande exist nowhere else in the United States. In justifying a Center for Biological Diversity-led lawsuit to try to block wall construction, Defenders acknowledged that “the lower valley of the Rio Grande is being eroded and divided by roads, barriers, and other infrastructure.”
But, to groups like Defenders and the CBD, tens of thousands dumped by coyotes into these same lands and those further west must have zero environmental impact. Indeed, these groups have long looked the other way even as hundreds die each year in the Rio Grande and in deserts on private and public lands.
The reality is quite different from what television news portrays. The media’s sole focus is on those who have paid or perhaps promised (but this is never mentioned) thousands of dollars in tribute to criminal gangs to ensure their safety as they conspire to cross the U.S. border without going through the costly, and quite lengthy, legal immigration process.
In filing one of many legal actions seeking to force the EPA to outline the environmental damages caused by interlopers, the Immigration Reform Law Institute sought to require federal agencies to provide estimates of illegal border crossings in two national forests, the amount of trash removed from each property by the Forest Service, a full accounting of resource damage and the impact on wildlife on Forest Service lands caused by illegal campfires, and other pertinent information. To their dismay, their efforts have been squashed by federal judges.
Why bother to file?
“One of the most under-reported stories about illegal immigration is the damage it causes to the environment in border areas,” according to IRLI executive director Dale Wilcox. “Tons of trash, abandoned vehicles, and dangerous campfires are common along the border. The federal government,” he argued, “needs to be transparent with the American people about the destructive impact illegal immigration has on our environment.”
These activities are hardly a new phenomenon. A 2011 General Accounting Office report on the Arizona border region concluded that federal agencies are doing a poor job of supporting wildlife fire management activities. The report stated that “human-caused wildland fires are of particular concern in Arizona – especially within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border because this is a primary area of entry for illegal border crossers and GAO has previously reported that illegal border crossers have been suspected of igniting wildland fires.” [emphasis added]
The GAO report admitted that federal agencies had failed to investigate a large majority of human-caused wildland fires, had no idea of the percentage ignited by illegal border crossers, and did not even have a strategy for selecting fires to investigate. As a result, the agency could not determine the full economic and environmental impacts of these fires.
Worse, the GAO said, the very presence of illegal border crossers had complicated fire suppression activities in the Arizona border region (likely the case in other states). According to agency officials, illegal border crossers increase concerns about firefighter safety and, in some instances, require firefighters to change or limit their firefighting tactics. And wildfire fighting is a dangerous occupation.
In February 2018 the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, conducted a hearing on existing regulatory impediments to securing the southern border. Some grim facts that emerged included the 800,000 pounds of trash collected and removed by the Bureau of Land Management over a five-year period earlier in the decade.
Among items collected were “tremendous amounts of human waste and garbage … medical supplies, diapers, clothing, and even broken-down cars.” Garbage and waste from these border crossers were also identified as a major contributor to pollution in the San Pedro River.
All in all, U.S. border policy is a mess. On the one hand, border crossers are damaging our environment, but on the other hand, the methods employed to limit that environmental damage are causing environmental damage of a different kind. This. Is. Not. Good.
Perhaps it is time to recall the wisdom of Lyndon Baines Johnson in quoting the prophet Isaiah:
“Come and let us reason together.”
A rational nation could put an end to environmental and economic damage and death for which much blame goes to Congress and the White House. No one as been willing to design and implement domestic and foreign policies that address ways that both honor the humanity of those coming to America and protect the rights and properties of both individuals and the American people (as owners of our national parks, forests, and other supposedly “protected” land).
- Duggan Flanakin
- Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, “Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout.”
May 17, 2022