Nearly 70 indigenous rights, wildlife, and civil rights groups are calling on the Biden administration to tear down nearly 60 miles of border fencing erected by the previous administration in Arizona, as well as some fencing along other regions of the border. While President Joe Biden ordered a 60-day halt to review the legality of the project we were always told Mexico was going to pay for, fencing has cut through tribal lands and continues to harm communities and wildlife in the region.
“One of the longest wall sections in the report runs along 7 miles of the border near Quitobaquito Springs on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,” Arizona Daily Star reports, noting the arrests of a dozen Tohono O’odham protesters late last year. One activist was shot with rubber bullets by officers as he sang a traditional Tohono O’odham song.
In addition to the harms to tribal communities and their lands in the region, “[e]nvironmental groups have long raised concerns that the wall would cause ecological damage to wildlife and plant species,” Arizona Daily Star continued. Advocates with Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups comprising the coalition appealing to the Biden administration, has noted constructed has “gouged” through a critical jaguar habitat in the state’s Huachuca Mountains.
These big cats “depend on roaming freely through the landscape for their very survival,” Center for Biological Diversity’s Laiken Jordahl told the Arizona Daily Star. “In many of these locations, if the wall doesn’t come down, that will be pushing these species closer and closer to extinction.” The organization said last month that “[m]any other animals use these remote areas to migrate across the landscape. A 2017 Center report identified 93 threatened and endangered species along the 2,000-mile border that would be harmed by Trump’s wall.”
Even though Biden terminated the so-called “national emergency” his predecessor declared as an excuse to build his disastrous wall and ordered a halt to construction “as soon as possible but in no case later than seven days,” Jordahl last month shared video footage of what appeared to be bulldozers continuing on with construction anyway, in “apparent violation” of his order.
“ALERT: Contractors are still hard at work building Trump’s #BorderWall,” he tweeted. In the one-minute and eighteen-second clip he shared on Twitter, at least two bulldozers and an excavator can be seen tearing into the Pajarito Mountains in Arizona. “They’re leveling mountains & destroying jaguar habitat in an apparent violation of Biden’s order to halt construction,” he said. “@POTUS must investigate & stop this madness for good. Footage shot by Tucson Samaritans.”
The Supreme Court last month granted a request from the Biden administration to cancel arguments around wall litigation, as well as the inhumane “Remain in Mexico” anti-asylum policy. “Both cases are still pending but will probably be dismissed as moot, since Biden’s Justice Department will not defend either facet of the Trump immigration policy,” NBC News reported at the time.
Organizations that sued the previous administration over its money grab to build the wall applauded the news, and similarly called for fencing to be brought down.
“It’s a good start that the Biden administration is not rushing to defend Trump’s illegal wall in court, but just hitting the brakes isn’t enough,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Security Project senior staff attorney Dror Ladin said. “Trump’s wall devastated border communities, the environment, and tribal sites. It’s time for the Biden administration to step up for border communities, and commit to mitigating environmental damage and tearing down the wall.”
Lower courts ruled that the previous administration’s money grab was illegal. In its June 2020 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said “[t]hese funds were appropriated for other purposes, and the transfer amounted to ‘drawing funds from the Treasury without authorization by statute and thus violating the Appropriations Clause. Therefore, the transfer of funds here was unlawful.” But just weeks later, the Supreme Court gave the previous administration the green light to continue construction.
“We are relieved to see a pause on wall construction while the Biden administration decides whether to defend Trump’s illegal and disastrous national emergency declaration,” Sierra Club managing attorney Gloria Smith said about the Biden administration’s request to the high court. “Ultimately, the destructive border wall must be torn down.” In a letter to the Biden administration this week, border legislators called on the president to cancel border contracts now.