Grijalva, Democrats Highlight Destructive Border Wall Impacts on Indian Country, Southwestern Communities at Committee Forum

Washington, D.C. – Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and a group of House Democrats today highlighted the destructive impacts of the wall and associated infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border at a forum this morning hosted by the House Natural Resources Committee. The hearing was livestreamed and can be watched at https://bit.ly/2QRrPsT.

Brief video highlights are available here. More comprehensive highlights, including quotes, facts and supporting video materials, are available below.

Chairman Grijalva opening statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8Kuo9KpZnI

Remarks by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNfHx7ukSDs

Remarks by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.): https://youtu.be/VhiG-KdtEIE

Border wall impacts on Southwestern native species: https://youtu.be/T8z5FphOco4

Tohono O’odham leader on border security: https://youtu.be/8PZPKSGcfXQ

Trump administration violations of the National Environmental Policy Act: https://youtu.be/fIx5fDJUPVk

Lessons From the Border Wall Forum

Tribal sovereignty is being trampled on

The construction of President Trump’s border wall would divide the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona, forever altering their traditional ceremonies and disturbing sacred burial sites. Vice Chairman Verlon Jose testified that the federal government did not consult with his community about the new wall and that the federal government is attempting to seize land from the sovereign Tohono O’odham Nation.

“We have not had these discussions with the president himself, and we will continue to advocate that we need to have a seat at the table.” - Verlon M. Jose, Vice Chairman, Tohono O’odham Nation

“In history, we are one people… Our reservation shares a 62-mile border with Mexico… To build a physical wall along the border would divide not just the land, but also would divide our people. Our nation’s members regularly engage in border crossing for pilgrimage and ceremonies and important religious and cultural sites on both sides of the border.” - Verlon M. Jose, Vice Chairman, Tohono O’odham Nation

Border communities are thriving, productive, and safe

Despite President Trump’s narrative that the border is a national crisis, the crime rate along the border is lower than other parts of the United States. Unauthorized border crossings have been declining for nearly two decades. In 2017, border-crossing apprehensions were at their lowest point since 1971.

“Even though the President begs to differ, the border is not in a state of crisis. In fact, the general border region is overall safer than other regions in the country. Communities with more immigrants on average have fewer crimes than those with less immigrants, and overall, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the general U.S.-born population, according to the American Immigration Council. There is simply no valid and truthful justification for this wall. ” Raul Garcia, Senior Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice

“The southern border region is one of the most diverse, safest and economically vibrant regions in the country. Our southern border region, home to 15 million residents, is a place of encounter, hope, and opportunity - not fear and conflict. We are deeply disturbed by this administration’s mischaracterizations of the region as a war zone to justify a deadly, harmful and wasteful border wall.” - Jennifer Johnson, Border Policy Advisor, Southern Border Communities Coalition

"My immigrant family works hard, they attended Ivy League Schools and do jobs that help America. We are not 'bad hombres.'" Robert García, Founder & Counsel, The City Project

"My husband and I have six children we’ve reared on the border. It’s been a privilege and a joy to take them fishing and kayaking on the river, where I learned to waterski more than thirty years ago. It’s been wonderful to take family and friends on night hikes to the river and sunset cruises with Father Roy Snipes... All of this would be impossible if the crisis narrative were true.” -Marianna Wright, Executive Director, National Butterfly Center

"I am an immigrant. I arrived at four. I graduated from Stanford and Stanford Law School… I am a human rights and civil rights attorney. Our brothers and sisters and cousins and children have graduated from Cornell, Boston University, Princeton, other elite colleges. They are social and business entrepreneurs… and good citizens and residents. They do not fill only jobs that nobody else wants. We pay taxes, and we vote. And my family is here because of the type of family migration that Republican supremacists condemn now as ‘chain migration’ and that Trump’s own family used to be here."- Robert García, Founder and Counsel, The City Project

A border wall forces Americans to lose land through eminent domain – or to Mexico

Border barriers disrupt the dynamic, cross-border flow of residents that is typical of daily life in border communities. Residents often work and live on one side of the border while dining and shopping on the other. Understaffed ports of entry often have excessively long wait times, deterring cross-border traffic and trade. A 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office summarized multiple studies that quantified the economic impact of wait times; findings ranged from $452 million in the San Diego area alone to $1.9 billion across five cities.

On private lands, the broad authority of the waiver provides little incentive for CBP to consult with property owners and business. Lands have been split by border barriers, decreasing the usability and value of the property. A recent report suggested that 100 eminent domain lawsuits remain unresolved in the Rio Grande Valley alone.

Thousands of people will have to fight for their private property that lies in the way of the planned border wall, and only wealthy families will be able to sue for adequate compensation. Land owners along the wall are being given very short notice to sell their property to the federal government. The border wall will be built 2 miles into some parts of America, thereby ceding land to Mexico.

“Approximately 70 percent of existing border wall is located in California, Arizona and New Mexico - almost all of it on federally controlled land. But in Texas, the vast majority of land adjacent to the border is privately owned. There, hundreds of private property owners have already been forced to give up their homes, farms and ranches - some that have been in their families for 250 years - through eminent domain seizures by the federal government for wall construction. In some cases, the Department of Homeland Security has used ‘quick take’ condemnations to take possession of private property and start wall construction even before just compensation has been determined and the property owner paid.  And now, hundreds more are at risk of losing their property, or ready access to it, if further walls are built. Already in the Rio Grande Valley, at least one hundred landowners have received letters from the federal government that are the first step in the eminent domain seizure process.” - Jennifer Johnson, Border Policy Advisor, Southern Border Communities Coalition

“Landowners who did sue the federal government were compensated on average 1,200 times more than the landowners who did not. Those who could afford to sue [got more for their land].” - Marianna Wright, Executive Director, National Butterfly Center

“All in all, more than 11,000 acres of public greenspace will wind up behind the border wall, which will be built over two miles inland as the river winds.” - Marianna Wright, Executive Director, National Butterfly Center

A border wall will not make America safer

“Walls and the associated hyper-militarization of the border don’t make us safer or address the root causes that motivate individuals to make the trek to our border. Instead, walls harm those who call the southern border region home, endanger wildlife and the environment, and reflect a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.” - Jennifer Johnson, Border Policy Advisor, Southern Border Communities Coalition

“We have lived on the front lines of the U.S.-Mexico border for a very, very long time. The Nation’s own law enforcement officers work closely with Customs and Border Patrol officials, and we take border security and protection measures very seriously. But our longstanding experience tells us that building a physical wall on or near our reservation will not achieve the objective of securing the border in our area.  To the contrary, for the reasons I have discussed today, building a wall on our reservation would instead do us harm.”- Verlon M. Jose, Vice Chairman, Tohono O’odham Nation

The border wall is harmful to the environment, endangered species, and national parks

Many endangered species live along the border wall, including the jaguar, which is sacred to the American Indians. Construction of border walls damages ecosystems and irreparably harms natural places. There are an estimated 50 globally or federally threatened animal species living within 30 miles of the border. Building a border wall greatly increases the likelihood of destructive flooding and damming as well as significant erosion and sedimentation as a result of extensive drilling and blasting of rock to build the wall.

“We have 11 biologically distinct ecosystems in the four-county region – that is not found anywhere else in North America. But yet, there’s this idea that the border lands are a wasteland or unworthy of protection… and nothing could be further from the truth.” – Marianna Wright, Executive Director, National Butterfly Center

“In 2008, flash floods in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and sister cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, led to millions of dollars of damage and the deaths of two when floodwaters were blocked by border wall. New walls planned for the Rio Grande floodplain in South Texas pose an alarming risk to wildlife habitat, property and the safety of hundreds of south Texans and their neighbors across the river. Furthermore, the proposed wall would decimate the region’s wildlife refuges and parks that are the cornerstone of the ecotourism industry that provides $463 million to the local Rio Grande Valley economy.” - Jennifer Johnson, Border Policy Advisor, Southern Border Communities Coalition

The Trump Administration is waiving laws, including NEPA

These legal requirements include bedrock environmental laws, public health and safety protections, and Native American rights, among others. The REAL ID Act allows border construction projects to waive environmental laws like NEPA, the ESA, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, among others. So far the administration has waived 37 of these laws that have not been waived anywhere else in the country. Past construction projects of border walls have led to flooding, damage to critical habitat, and blatant disregard for the environment. Under the REAL ID Act, the government won’t be responsible for the environmental damages incurred from border wall construction, with no public input. And sadly, the burden of living in a damaged environment will fall on the shoulders of people of color and lower income groups, who did nothing to cause the problem.

“The border wall is yet another gimmick used by the Trump Administration to intimidate communities, particularly border and immigrant ones, from exercising their civil rights, including their right to a healthy environment. The wall is a symbol of fear that comes at the expense of our public lands, wildlife, and environmental safeguards that protect border and immigrant communities. A core problem with the border wall is that it is usually built outside of the bounds of the law. The nearly 700 miles of border barrier that were already built were created without regard for local, state, and federal laws meant to protect the environment and communities. In 2005, the REAL ID Act became law. It included a provision that gave the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive several laws in order to build barriers and roads along the southern border. After several modifications to the REAL ID Act, the provision today gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive any law he or she wants to build barriers and roads. The current Administration has used this power several times to waive 37 laws as it builds new or replaces border barriers.” - Raul Garcia, Senior Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice

Americans overwhelmingly oppose the border wall

Every witness who provided testimony at the Democratic forum and the majority of Americans oppose President Trump’s border wall. It would have devastating environmental, social, and economic impacts on communities and lands along the border. The construction of additional border wall will exacerbate those impacts and continue to strip rights and protections away from residents of border communities. Despite this, President Trump has pulled the American people into the longest government shutdown in history and has publicly refused to sign any spending bill that does not include $5.6 billion in federal funds for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Between eminent domain payouts, inevitable flooding between the Rio Grande and the wall, maintenance and upkeep, and other unexpected costs, the border wall would cost American taxpayers much more than the requested $5 billion.

“Indeed, 30 cities and counties in the southern border region have issued resolutions opposing border walls, including 16 cities and all three border counties in the Rio Grande Valley. All nine congressional representatives serving border districts oppose more border wall funding.” - Jennifer Johnson, Border Policy Advisor, Southern Border Communities Coalition

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