Morgan Griffith: The border crisis is an environmental crisis, too

morgan griffithPresident Trump has signed a bill funding the portions of government recently affected by the partial shutdown. It extends until February 15, and during that time, negotiations about securing the border should take place.

Although I am skeptical, I hope that Democrats will take this opportunity to engage in good faith negotiations with the President and Republicans on solutions to secure the border.

A recent trip to the border in Arizona, organized by Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), confirmed what I have been reporting in these columns in past weeks: the humanitarian, security, and legal crisis is real. I talked with Border Patrol and Customs agents and citizens living on or near the border who described firsthand the human trafficking, drug smuggling, and violence that often accompany illegal border crossings.

In addition to addressing the humanitarian, security, and legal problems caused by inadequate border security, a wall and other enhancements to border security would help protect the environment.

One individual who was educated about and had worked on environmental issues asked me, “Why isn’t anybody talking about the environment?”

He pointed at the mountains and said that they had once been covered by large Douglas fir trees in a virgin forest. Whether it was lit unintentionally or as a diversion by the drug cartels to distract first responders, fire consumed the trees that had once blanketed the mountainsides.

He also reported on the trash and other waste left by the tens of thousands crossing the border illegally as they traverse the landscape.

The next day, a border security officer talked about the benefits a wall, access roads, etc., had for wildlife. In places where illegal crossings are frequent, lay-bys are areas when the crossers hang out until they move to the next camp. At these sites, trash and other refuse piles up, and wildlife disappears.

Where increased security discouraged crossings, the wildlife started returning. This officer showed me a picture on his phone he had taken of a bear in the area. They hadn’t been around for years in that area, but now they are back. The population of big cats also has rebounded, he told me.

A large portion of land along the southern border is managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. These lands are meant to be preserved for the benefit of the American people. But the ecosystems they are charged to protect suffers from rampant illegal activity.

Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality estimates that over 2,000 tons of trash is discarded each year along its border with Mexico. People leave behind food containers, backpacks, sleeping bags, and other detritus from their journey to the United States. As a tragic side note, some of the materials left behind are the clothes of sexual assault victims.

Trash threatens wildlife and destroys habitats. Vegetation is trampled by smugglers and illegal immigrants traveling by foot or by vehicle. Cacti, some over a hundred years old, are cut down, etc.

Officials at the border offered many ideas for increased security, including more personnel and technology, but in some remote places of the Southwest, a wall is the only realistic option, as a lack of roads prevents agents from arriving in time to prevent crossings even if they are detected.

But in most places right now, the border isn’t secured by a wall. In one place, I found it secured by a small rope which ties the end of a barrier to a small barbed wire fence. Someone wanting to cross illegally can come to that spot, undo the rope, and easily walk between the barrier and the barbed wire fence.

To cut down the amount of dangerous narcotics entering the country, prevent horrific abuses of human rights, and protect the natural treasures of the Southwest, let’s build the wall, build access roads, and secure the border.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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