The 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico traverses hundreds of miles of public lands, including six national parks. Environmentalists have long argued that a border wall has negative impacts on wildlife and on delicate desert and mountainous terrains. With President Trump's national emergency declaration, those concerns will only grow.
More than a decade ago, Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security authority to waive environmental regulations for national security reasons. The government can bypass a whole host of laws, including the Endangered Species and Clean Air Acts, in order to expedite border wall construction.
That concerns environmentalists like Laiken Jordahl, with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. On a recent overcast morning, he stood in front of a new section of border fence near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in southern New Mexico. The 20-mile-long steel fence was constructed last year, replacing waist-high vehicle barriers.
"To think we could do something like this free of significant environmental consequences, it's delusional," Jordahl said. "We're fundamentally changing the landscape here."
At first glance, the Chihuahuan Desert seems somewhat deserted — mostly sand, spotted with mesquite and soaptree yucca. But it's actually home to lots of wildlife, from mountain lions and coyotes to the endangered Mexican gray wolf.
"All sorts of animals have evolved for millennia untold to migrate freely through the desert," Jordahl said. "And now we have, really, this landscape-scale obstruction that will stop all species in their tracks."
The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups have filed numerous lawsuits challenging the government's authority to waive environmental regulations. So far, most have failed. Now, the Center has joined two other conservation groups in a new lawsuit against the national emergency declaration.
Customs and Border Protection takes issue with claims that the wall is damaging local environments. A CBP official explained that the agency "conducts all necessary research and surveys to include environmental clearances prior to beginning any construction to identify and avoid or mitigate potential impacts to sensitive locations."