On Sept. 14, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff used a new anti-terrorism and immigration-control bill to waive environmental laws along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in May, permits Chertoff to bypass any federal or state law — including environmental, safety and labor laws — that might hinder the construction of border barricades. In this case, it will allow the government to fill in wetlands so that it may complete a 14-mile-long border fence south of San Diego.
The National Guard has already built nine miles of the
multi-layered barrier, which includes access roads, lighting, and
surveillance cameras. Three and one-half of the final miles will be
in a corridor up to 700 feet wide, and plans call for filling in a
canyon and wetlands so that Border Patrol agents can patrol more
efficiently. "The terrain favors smugglers," says Michael Hance,
field operation supervisor with the Border Patrol’s San Diego
sector. "We want to reverse that trend so that the terrain favors
the Border Patrol."
The California Coastal Commission, a
state agency, has opposed the federal government’s plan
because of its environmental impacts. Dirt fill for the project
will likely wash downstream, choking the Tijuana Estuary, and
construction work could harm imperiled species, such as the
southwestern willow flycatcher. But Peter Douglas, the
commission’s executive director, says that no legal recourse
is available to stop the project: "Congress took that away. All we
can do is mourn the day this thing gets built."