Published: 11.05.2007 in the Tucson Citizen
Recently, the Department of Homeland Security restarted fence and road construction within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
The project will include a 15-foot-high fence, which closely resembles a wall, vegetation removal, road construction and “temporary barriers” within the San Pedro River.
The Secure Fence Act requires walling off nearly the entire Arizona border with Mexico, and the project on the San Pedro should bring home to southern Arizonans the real-world effects of our nation’s failed border policies.
Roads and fences slicing across the river will scar the landscape and forever destroy its use as a corridor for wildlife species that travel its banks. But the roads and fences will not keep people from entering the United States from Mexico.
The imminent destruction of the San Pedro is the result of years of failure on the part of Congress and the president to comprehensively address immigration policy in a way that takes into account the strong pull the U.S. has for unskilled workers whose own countries are in economic and political turmoil.
Instead of making a sincere, level-headed effort to fix immigration policy, past Republican-controlled Congresses and the administration have repeatedly fallen back on the lowest common denominator: attempting to solve our immigration problems through an “enforcement-only” approach.
While many federal legislators long have recognized that our immigration system needs restructuring, during my first two terms in Congress, the right-wing, anti-immigrant faction of the Republican Party repeatedly derailed efforts by more level-headed members to address immigration reform.
Instead, Congress passed laws that only serve to perpetuate the myth that the problem can be solved with more and tougher enforcement alone and ignore the flaws of our immigration and foreign policy.
For example, the draconian Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandates the construction of a 15-foot high wall along more than 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, including virtually all of Arizona’s border, does not require consultation with local communities and gives no discretion to the Border Patrol to decide whether to utilize other methods for border security.
The REAL ID Act of 2005 contains a number of odious provisions, the worst of which allows the secretary of Homeland Security to waive all federal laws for fence and road construction on the border.
The secretary has used this authority three times so far, once in California and now twice in Arizona, first on the Barry M. Goldwater military range and now on the San Pedro River, where he waived 19 federal environmental, health and safety laws after a federal judge found that an analysis of the project was likely insufficient.
Passed without any hearings, and as a “rider” on another designated must-pass funding bill, the REAL ID waiver provides unchecked power to a political appointee.
In response to these laws and others reaching back to the mid-1990s, the U.S. Border Patrol comes out with a new “initiative” every few years intended to finally eliminate unauthorized crossing of our border. Yet each year, despite increased infrastructure on our border, the numbers of undocumented people crossing our border and dying in our deserts has only increased.
Something is wrong here. There is a compelling reason why people keep risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones to cross our border.
We must begin to look at the root causes of this migration, and we must begin to address it with intelligence instead of fear.
The REAL ID waiver and the Secure Fence Act were knee-jerk reactions, but reversing the mindset that enforcement alone will solve our problems will be an uphill climb.
Now that Democrats control Congress, we have a better chance to consider immigration reform, as well as reconsider ill-conceived ideas such as the Secure Fence Act and REAL ID.
However, with anti-immigrant fervor at an all-time high, the new Democratic majority is fearful and taking only tentative steps to do so.
Stronger and bolder action is needed now. The consequences of not doing anything will be many more examples like the San Pedro River, which is about to be sacrificed because of our failed border policies.
I recently introduced legislation that would repeal the REAL ID waiver and amend the Secure Fence Act.
My bill, the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act, would require Homeland Security’s secretary to consult with local and tribal officials and create a strategy, in consultation with local land managers, to protect our public lands in border security operations.
It would ensure transparency, public participation and flexibility for experts and the community to work on solutions.
I also continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform, the only long-term solution to our border crisis.
In the meantime, I call upon Secretary Michael Chertoff to show respect for the citizens of Arizona.
Border security and enforcement are not compromised by transparency and respect for the rule of law; in fact, they strengthen our securi