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OP-ED: Trump’s wall is bulldozing the borderlands

Dan Millis
Tribune News Service
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during the Opportunity Now summit at Central Piedmont Community College on Feb. 7, 2020 in Charlotte, N.C. The event brought together White House and administration officials, state and local elected leaders, and private and community partners for a half-day summit addressing inmate re-entry, low-income area economic development, infrastructure, and the future of historically black colleges and universities. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

Picture a cool running stream — a ribbon of life in southern Arizona’s rocky deserts. Now envision bulldozers stripping the surrounding land and erecting steel slats right across it.

President Donald Trump wants to build part of his promised border wall on top of one of the last free-flowing rivers in the American Southwest.

In late January, more than a thousand people gathered at an event called “Hands Across the San Pedro River.” They held signs that said, “Keep Our River Flowing” and chanted “No wall! Protect our river!”

This fight, which I am proud to be part of, is urgent and justified. The contract for these new walls has already been granted, while locals are kept in the dark the project’s timeline and design plans.

In Arizona, my home state, border walls are also planned in a number of national parks and wildlife refuges. They are already under construction across the more than 30-mile southern boundary of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — a Sonoran desert gem home to endangered species found nowhere else.

More:Border wall to go up in national monument, wildlife refuge

More:Border Patrol allows activists to replant garden bulldozed without warning

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for the wall’s concrete are being pumped from beneath a natural spring called Quitobaquito. Located on the land of the Hia-Ced and Tohono O’odham indigenous peoples, Quitobaquito and the area around it host many sacred sites and archaeological resources worthy of protection.

Kiewit Construction, the company building this expensive, destructive wall, is also destroying the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona’s southeast corner. San Bernardino, like Organ Pipe, is an important ecosystem for endangered species. And, just as at Organ Pipe, Kiewit’s pumping threatens to dry out San Bernardino’s life-sustaining springs.

New walls have already been plowed into this area and will soon connect to walls through the San Pedro, creating one of the longest uninterrupted barriers to natural flows of water and wildlife along the entire border. This stretch would be 70 miles, but about 450 miles are planned, contracted, or under construction.

The San Pedro River. Organ Pipe. San Bernardino. All will be walled off.

Worse, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new contract to wall off the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge by the end of 2020. The refuge includes the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, the world’s second-fastest land mammal, behind the cheetah.

These resources are being destroyed without regard for the rule of law. That’s because DHS can legally void any law in order to build border walls. So far, 51 laws are off the books, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This is the broadest waiver of law in U.S. history.

That our border communities and wildlands do not have equal protection under the law is unconstitutional and un-American.

The Trump administration continues to abuse its power to get a border wall. As Congress refused to allocate the funding Trump demanded, the Defense Department’s budget was raided, instead. This spurred a lawsuit from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sierra Club.

Trump’s wall is a constitutional and concrete crisis.

Wildlife, ecosystems and sacred indigenous lands are being destroyed, not for security, but to appease Trump’s vanity and pad the swollen pocketbooks of a few wealthy corporations. This administration is diverting billions of tax dollars — money that could go to improve schools, clinics and other facilities that serve our active duty military — to build this wall.

Mexico, by the way, is definitely not paying.

It is time for the courts and Congress to shut down this process. We must preserve our public lands, protect sacred places, and restore justice to border communities.

— Dan Millis is Borderlands Program manager for Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter. He lives in Tucson, Ariz. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project and distributed by Tribune News Service.