After President Trump announced the construction of 40 miles of new border walls and gates at the southern border, officials announced last week that they are waiving approximately 30 environmental laws in Texas in order to expedite construction, citing homeland security concerns.
Predictably, environmental groups are not happy, and some plan on suing the Trump administration to block the move. One member of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity told the Los Angeles Times that the wall would lead to "ecological devastation" in the Rio Grande. In a press release, the Sierra Club said, "These laws were enacted to protect communities and the environment and there is no justification for waiving them." Both groups expressed particular concern over the impact to habitats of endangered species, such as aplomado falcons and ocelots.
The Trump administration has already made some effort to address these concerns, and has in the past discussed the inclusion of holes in a border wall to allow smaller animals to pass through. Further, the Trump administration's move is not without precedent — the Bush administration issued five waivers under the REAL ID Act in 2005 as justification to build over 250 miles of fencing in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
But more broadly, while animal welfare concerns from environmental groups over a border wall are at least understandable, it is harder to take these concerns at face value given the complete unwillingness of environmental groups in recent years to take on any position that could be perceived as "anti-immigration", even if they have compelling ecological reasons to do so.
For example, I've chronicled how the Sierra Club has completely reversed its opposition to immigration-driven population growth, despite the ecologically devastating effects of a booming first-world population and urban sprawl. Further, environmental groups did not express concerns when federal agencies failed to produce environmental impact statements when it came to other immigration initiatives, such as family-based immigration or Temporary Protected Status (for which the Center is now suing DHS).
In fact, these environmental groups have admittedly "teamed up" with open-borders activists on a whole range of issues in the Trump era. The Sierra Club has criticized the Trump administration over its "family separation" policy at the border in a press release that barely even attempted to pretend the issue was an environmental one. As one immigration activist admitted in a recent article for High Country News:
I would hear [five or six years ago] some environmentalists say that (migrants) are destroying the landscape so we have to stop people from coming in. That really set back this intersectionality that we are seeing today, where I think environmental groups are finally getting it. That in order to get things done in a political environment like this, we have to work together.
In other words, environmental groups intentionally stopped talking about certain politically incorrect environmental issues so that they could remain in the good graces of the broader left-wing political coalition. The environmentalists were right to worry about illegal immigrants' damage to the environmental landscape — another topic I've covered — but apparently that's another topic, similar to population growth, that they no longer feel comfortable discussing. The relationship between environmental groups and immigration rights groups seems quite one-sided, with the former making many sacrifices to appease the latter, but the latter sacrificing nothing to appease the former.
Overall, there are certainly steps that the Trump administration can and should take to ensure that any physical barrier minimizes its ecological impact, such as small openings for animals and strategic placements. The U.S.-Mexico border has very high levels of wildlife diversity, and it's important that we preserve that while also recognizing that a border wall would cut down on the ecological damage left by illegal aliens crossing the border. There is a balance that ought to be struck between the thousands of tons of trash left behind by aliens and smugglers, and the risk to migratory patterns that the wall poses for certain species.
Yet sadly, it's hard to imagine having such a nuanced discussion about a border wall with the same conservation groups that have capitulated on every other immigration-related environmental issue for the sake of political expediency.