The wall is not a solution--in my mind it is a surrender. This wall is an admission of defeat by this administration and the Congress in the face of an important public policy challenge.

Rep. Raul Grijalva,

May 11, 2008

The economic and policy dynamics that have led an increase of human migrants and illegal drugs coming across the U.S.-Mexico border are complex and date back two decades to the consequences of NAFTA and a war on drugs that attempted to deal with the supply of drugs rather than the unquenchable demand. The current reality created by these dynamics fostered further policy, which instead of dealing with root problems, promoted building a border wall. Construction is expected to cost more than $6.5 billion and according to most, will not solve the drug and immigration inflow, a problem that is likely to only become worse in the years to come.

Borderlands Home

Borderlands Policy 




Faces of the Borderlands


News Feed

Take Action!

Borderlands exhibit

Borderlands Project



Read more about borderlands policy

High Country News story by Charles Bowden  

Analysis of border wall costs by Taxpayers for Common Sense

LA Times story on high cost of wall and questionable efficacy  

Additional 300 miles of wall defeated in October 2009. Story in the Houston Chronicle

Contact e-pic



In the 1990s, when the United States began building infrastructure and increasing enforcement in urban areas of the U.S.-Mexico border, desperate migrants and high volume drug smugglers began to turn increasingly to remote stretches of the borderlands, many of which were areas of critical importance to wildlife. This shifting of traffic brought degradation to the borderlands and also shifted U.S. Border Patrol’s enforcement zone, bringing off-road vehicles and aircraft to an area that had previously been a quiet haven for wild creatures and people seeking the solitude of desert parks.

    In 2005, in order to complete a new section of wall in San Diego without the delay of environmental regulations, the U.S. Congress passed a measure within the Real ID Act (section 102), which granted the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the authority to waive all laws when building infrastructure on the border. It was believed by many in Congress that this authority would be applied only to the section of wall in San Diego. But in 2006, when Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, mandating 700 miles of wall be built on the border, it became clear that the waiver authority was much broader and far reaching than previously anticipated.


The Real ID waiver provision combined with the Secure Fence Act provided for the broadest dismissal of  law in U.S. History and has allowed about 650 miles of barrier to be built without regard to the consequences for wildlife, the land and human communities. In all, the Department of Homeland Security waived dozens of laws, including the Endangered Species Act, which had protected species like the jaguar, ocelot, Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn from activities that would threaten their long-term survival. But the law was set aside in its entirety to build wall through crucial habitat and migration corridors. Also waived were the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and many others, a list of which you can see here.

    The impact of the legal waiver has been to dismiss any attempt to protect the environment within the courts. In 2008, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club sued the Department of Homeland Security over a section of wall going through the San Pedro River corridor in Southern Arizona, a critical area for myriad wildlife species. This case was won by Defenders and Sierra Club when a temporary restraining order was put on wall construction. But DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff waived the laws used by the organizations to block construction, and construction continued.

    In order to restore law to the borderlands, Rep. Raul Grijalva introduced the Border Security and Responsibility Act of 2009 (HR 2076). The bill calls for the revocation of the legal waiver, and funding for monitoring and mitigation of damage done to the environment by wall construction. Find out how to support this bill on our Action page.



Attempts to build more wall are ongoing. There are some in the U.S. Congress who are pressing for double layer wall along the entire 2,000 mile border. In fall 2009, the Senate passed an amendment to the DHS appropriations bill that would have removed recently built vehicle barrier and replaced it with solid wall. The amendment was removed in the House-Senate conference, but as comprehensive immigration reform is debated, attempts to add border wall will reignite.

    A broad coalition of groups has been working on the problems associated with building walls as a substitute for immigration and drug policy reform--from a waste of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, to a massive increase in human deaths in the desert, to an assault on decades of effort on endangered species recovery. The borderlands network includes government waste groups, like Taxpayers for Common Sense, environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, human rights groups like No More Deaths and immigration reform supporters like the United Church of Christ and the Latin American Working Group.

“You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano,

Spring 2007