Among the questionable objections to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall is the claim that it would “cause serious environmental damage.”

However, environmental damage, and lots of it, is being done daily as human traffickers, drug cartels and other criminal elements crash unsecured sections of the U.S.-Mexico border, trampling delicate plant life and leaving obscene amounts of trash, human waste and other carnage in their wake.

Ironically, among the most vulnerable sections are 693 miles ostensibly protected by the U.S.  Wilderness Act. Included are five wilderness areas that abut the Mexican border in California and Arizona. Fifteen other designated wilderness areas lay within 20 miles of the border.


While these areas have been protected from law abiding Americans, they haven’t been adequately safeguarded against illegal aliens whose last concern is the integrity of the environment. And as a transit corridor for illegal aliens, this scarred swath of southwestern border territory has become a dangerous, and often polluted, wasteland.

“Under the Wilderness Act, border security officials may be barred from entering designated ‘wilderness’ areas, leaving our southern border lacking law enforcement and leaving it open for illegal aliens and human- and drug-traffickers to cross into the United States,” says Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana.

“It is outrageous that we have allowed criminals to take over public lands on our southern border,” added Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. In a monumental understatement, Gohmert noted, “They’re not protecting our lands.”

To tighten security and safeguard the environment, the House Natural Resources Committee passed Johnson’s “Securing Our Borders and Wilderness Act (HR 3593) last week. The bill amends the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow the U.S. Customs and Border Protection onto otherwise protected lands in order to:

  • Access structures, installations and roads.
  • Use motor vehicles and aircraft.
  • Deploy temporary infrastructure in response to emergencies.
  • Construct and maintain roads and fences, subject to the approval of the Department of the Interior.

“Any such activity shall be carried out in a manner that protects the wilderness character of the area,” the measure stipulates.

These reasonable amendments to the Wilderness Act come 54 years late and the odds of passage just got longer as Democrats prepare to take control of the House. No Democrats have signed on to HR 3593.

Whenever, or if ever, a border wall is constructed, it is more likely to protect delicate southwestern eco-zones, rather than causing environmental damage. As Johnson puts it:

“Allowing large swaths of our border to go unprotected while illegal immigration numbers soar and caravans of migrants head toward the United States is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous.”

That danger threatens the integrity of our environment just as profoundly as it threatens our safety and security.

Bob Dane is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, who has been with FAIR since 2006. 

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