Border Wall Semantics: A Dangerous Distraction
Barriers already wreak havoc on wildlife, communities
The bickering over what to call President Trump’s border wall is a dangerous distraction from the death and destruction these barriers already have caused.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re called walls or fences, or whether they’re made of concrete or steel slats. They’re all immovable, landscape-scale obstructions that wreak havoc on people and the environment. Hundreds of miles of these barriers already terrorize communities and wildlife in the borderlands.
For decades, those of us on the border have called these barriers one thing and one thing only: border walls. No one who’s stood in the shadow of a 30-foot steel bollard wall would dismiss it as just a “fence.”
But now, as Trump’s temper tantrum of a shutdown drags into its third week, some Senate Democrats are signaling that they oppose Trump’s wall, but could support border “fencing.”
This border “fencing” is the same dangerous design that Border Patrol, Congress and those of us who live on the border have called border “walls” for decades.
The wall vs. fence debate has national pundits looking up dictionary definitions and politicians from both parties sharpening their talking points. But there is no difference between a wall and a fence. A member of Congress who opposes a “wall” must also vote against a “fence.”
Indeed, the finer points are lost on ocelots, Mexican wolves and Sonoran pronghorn. Fence, wall, whatever. They all stop natural migrations that are essential to the survival of wildlife, and they jeopardize the existence of more than 90 endangered and threatened species.
They create debris dams and cause catastrophic flooding.
They slice through spectacular public lands including national parks, wilderness areas and an international biosphere reserve.
They divide tribal nations and communities and push migrants into dangerous terrain, where thousands perish.
They cross private property ― some owned by families for generations ― that has been seized by the government through eminent domain.
And they cost taxpayers billions of dollars, while doing nothing to stop drug or human trafficking.
We know from science and experience that the border barriers Trump and Congress are contemplating will do real damage. The fence vs. wall debate is linguistic gymnastics intended to deflect and deceive.
As pressure mounts to end the government shutdown, it’s important to remember that Congress has already funded $1.7 billion for border wall construction since Trump took office.
The Department of Homeland Security recently completed 20 miles of new bollard-style barriers along a remote, peaceful stretch of New Mexico desert, after illegally waiving 25 environmental laws. It’s a $73 million eyesore that’s already harming wildlife by slicing pristine desert habitat in two.
Another 33 miles of new walls are planned in the Rio Grande Valley.
Thirty-foot levee walls of concrete and steel will cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, described by U.S. Fish and Wildlife as “one of the most biodiverse regions in North America.” Most of Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, an international bird-watching destination, will end up south of this new wall.
To top it off, the Trump administration will seize land from hundreds of private properties and family farms.
The destruction that’s already been wrought is plain as day to the people and animals who live along the borderlands. The future is even more frightening.
It’s all there, for anyone who bothers to put down their dictionary, quit the semantic games and take a look.
Laiken Jordahl works at the Center for Biological Diversity, where he focuses on protecting wildlife, ecosystems and communities throughout the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.