U.S. Immigration Law Could Harm Desert Animals, Critics Say

March 31, 2006

As the U.S. government debates major immigration reform, environmentalists warn that the proposed laws would also prevent animal migrants from crossing the country's southern border.

Specifically, the legislation's proposal to erect 700 miles (1,125 kilometers) of immigrant-stopping fence could block key wildlife migration routes in the Sonoran Desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.

(Photos: See aerial views of the Sonoran Desert.)

Combined with a new federal policy that could allow the plan to proceed without environmental review, the proposed fence poses disastrous threats to the desert's signature creatures, experts say.

The nonprofit group Defenders of Wildlife has estimated there are 47 endangered species—including the jaguar, the ocelot, and the lesser long-nosed bat—living around the border.

"We've got this entire ecosystem that would be sliced in half by this wall," said Jenny Neeley, the organization's Southwest representative, based in Tucson, Arizona.

Environmental Override

In December, Duncan Hunter, a Republican representative from California, added the fence proposal to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Control Act.

The amendment would require a double fence to be constructed along parts of the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. That legislation is now making its way through the Senate.

The Bush Administration has argued that such a barrier is too costly a solution—the project carries an estimated eight-billion-U.S.-dollar price tag.

Jarrod Agen, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), says his agency agrees that a fence is too expensive.

The department has already begun work on a borderwide smart fence, or virtual fence, that would use lower-impact technologies such as cameras, sensors, and satellite imagery, instead of physical obstructions.

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