From a distance, the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge on
the Arizona border between the United States and Mexico looks like
a tranquil sanctuary for flora and fauna. The 118,000 acres are a
fragile ecosystem that is home to animals like deer, pronghorn, and
pygmy owls. But according to
Tim Vanderpool of Tucson Weekly, the refuge can also
‘host up to 3,000 illegal migrants and smugglers on any given
night,’ along with an army of Border Patrol agents and park police
tasked with stopping them. The daily cat-and-mouse game has left a
crisscross of trails and roads, and a heavy ecological footprint.
As politicians and activists gear up for battle over President
Bush’s new proposal to further militarize the border, the
environment of the American Southwest is becoming a forgotten
The reason so many migrants choose to brave the wilderness may
be a direct result of Border Patrol policies. Vanderpool reports
that since 1994 the US government has ‘deliberately aimed to push
smuggling and immigration routes further into remote areas.’ Some
experts believe the decision to reroute immigrants into the
wilderness was an attempt to direct them away from politically
powerful urban areas. Others say the tactic was meant to ebb
illegal immigration by making the trek more costly and arduous.
Whatever the impetus, the results of rural migration have been
disastrous for Southwestern preserves like the Buenos Aires
National Wildlife Refuge. Each year, the park produces
approximately 500 tons of trash, and that costs money to clean out.
The refuge has a $1.5 million budget, but one-third of it goes to
policing the area. As a result, many of the ecological upkeep
duties, like rooting out invasive species, simply go unheeded.
As bad as the ecological situation is right now, plans are
underway to make it worse. The Real ID Act, signed by President
Bush in 2005, is designed to curb the flow of illegal immigration.
Vanderpool points out that the legislation allows Border Patrol ‘to
waive all environmental reviews when building roads, barriers, and
other security aids along the Mexican boundary.’ Some proposals
have gone even further, suggesting the construction of a 700-mile
fence along the border. The proposed wall would further the
destruction already being caused by the thousands of illegal
immigrants and the army of trucks, Humvees, and helicopters
deployed to stop them. Even so, the situation as it stands now is
grave enough. According to environmental management expert Stephen
Mumme of Colorado State University, ‘this ranks right up there with
the most serious and long-term adverse consequences for the
environment created by humankind.’
— Bennett Gordon
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