Why I sued to stop Trump's bogus border wall plan

President Trump says he cares about people, money and the environment. But if the money belongs to the federal treasury, the people are from diverse cultures, or the environment isn’t near one of his golf clubs, his concern disappears. There is no better example of this brutal indifference than the president’s plan to build a “beautiful” wall along our southern border.

Trump’s attempt to wall out Mexicans mixes scapegoating with bigotry and then disguises them as concern for public safety. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent prepared remarks for a trip to Nogales, which I represent, stripped away the façade. He described the peaceful, law-abiding American Southwest as “ground zero” in a fight against “criminal aliens” — ignoring the fact that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born citizens.

This irresponsible rhetoric, which now stains the pages of the Department of Justice website, comes at a high cost. The last time anti-immigrant fervor ratcheted up, then-Gov. Jan Brewer told fanciful stories about “beheadings in the desert,” Arizona tourism suffered badly and local businesses lost money so she could score a few political points.

As before, today’s debate over the wall has depended too much on melodrama and unfounded claims. Let’s talk facts. El Paso, Texas, has made headlines for years for its low crime rate and quality of life, and was named last year by U.S. News and World Report as one of the 10 best places in the country to live. Wall advocates prefer to dismiss this reality.

They also dismiss the real human, financial and environmental costs of building the wall. To pay for this $21 billion boondoggle, the president has proposed cutting funding for agencies that actually secure our safety. Among other reductions, the administration’s budget would slash Coast Guard funding by 14 percent and Transportation Security Administration funding by 11 percent. In sum, Mr. Trump’s plan would transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from twenty-first-century national security agencies to a “security” project dating from the Roman Empire.

The environmental consequences of erecting a wall over thousands of miles of natural and cultural resources must be considered as well. The Tohono O’odham Nation has flourished for centuries along dozens of miles of Arizona’s southern border. This land has long been shared by families and wildlife, and both move back and forth across the border daily.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spoken publicly of his expectation that the Department of Homeland Security will “put forward a waiver on the border, which will allow [him] more flexibility.” In other words, he expects federal agencies meant to act in the public interest to ignore environmental laws along the border so this destructive wall can be built.

The Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress will do all they can to build this wall — and they don’t seem interested in knowing what the impacts will be. That’s why the Center for Biological Diversity and I recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection calling for the preparation of a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement (essentially a thorough exploration of environmental impacts) for the U.S.-Mexico border enforcement program.

The overall program, which includes not only wall construction but the use of drones, high-cost machinery, constant road traffic and much more, has not had its environmental and wildlife impacts evaluated in 16 years. It’s past time, and we’re confident the courts will agree. We need to understand what impacts we’re already having on the environment of the Southwest before we push forward another destructive, unnecessary project.

The construction of a wall is ill-conceived on many levels. A nation can never be a shining city on a hill if it hides behind a barricade of concrete. We are not protecting our country by impoverishing our people and communities to pay for a costly fool’s errand. If we build Mr. Trump’s wall, it will be because we accept his fear of the outside world. Like all weak foundations, it will crumble over time, leaving our nation forever diminished.

By:  Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva
Source: Arizona Daily Star