We all know the saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That saying doesn’t seem to apply on the U.S.-Mexican border.
In 2008, I traveled to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, a paradise for botanists, bird watchers, photographers and ordinary nature lovers, like me. Jagged mountains offer incredible vistas of saguaros and organ pipe cacti that fill the landscape. The desert preserve seems to stretch south without end.
But there is an end to the park, a stark one. A stretch of fencing divides the U.S. portion of the ecosystem from the Mexican portion, cutting through the national monument.
The U.S- Mexico border fence is an enormously expensive project that certainly hasn’t won the war on drugs or stopped illegal immigration. A simplistic approach to a complicated set of problems.
Sure, it’s stopped some illegal immigrants but not in the way anyone wants. Border crossing deaths have increased dramatically because the fence has caused people to seek out alternate routes into the U.S. Many travel across long stretches of inhospitable desert, and, every year, some die while attempting that crossing.
The border fence is an environmental disaster, too. Wildlife corridors have been broken, threatening many species of animals. Fragile ecosystems have been scarred. The border fence interrupts water flows causing flooding and erosion.
Still, in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, rangers must deal with illegal border crossing attempts, including not just hopeful immigrants, but also drug traffickers, some of whom are violent. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been described as the most dangerous park in the country. I’m sure many rangers like the border fence.
Or maybe they’d much rather see the federal government implement a more nuanced and more effective solution to the border challenges in the National Monument. A solution that doesn’t threaten the fragile ecosystem which has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Fortunately, the Obama administration has put the brakes on border fence construction and some mitigation funds have been provided for environmental impacts associated with the fence. The border fence is much less in the news today than it was just a few years ago. Still, the border fence continues to cause problems. In 2011, forty feet of the border fence fell over in Organ Pipe National Monument after a heavy rainfall.
That might be cause to celebrate, except the collapse damaged the environment, and, as far as I know, the fence was reconstructed.
If you’re interested to learn more about the border fence, I recommend The Sierra Club Borderlands Project ( http://www.sierraclub.org/borderlands/ )and the Defenders of Wildlife report “On The Line” (http://www.defenders.org/legislation/borderlands).