Arizona Daily Star
September 2, 2009
by Dan Millis
For the next year, border humanitarian Walt Staton will spend his Saturdays picking up trash. He'll also have regular check-ins with a probation officer, who will make sure he doesn't set foot on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, from which he's been banished.
Thirteen additional No More Deaths border humanitarians accused of littering will be arraigned today.
It is true that environmental destruction along the U.S.-Mexico border has run rampant lately, causing serious, perhaps irreparable, harm to the fragile ecosystems of the borderlands. However, neither Staton's upcoming year of toil, nor the hearings, jury trial or sentencing in federal court that he endured bring us any closer to environmental justice on the border.
They got the wrong guy.
The Sierra Club wrote a letter to the judge on behalf of Staton, voicing its opinion that "we do not believe that preserving imperiled species and the lands that support them is at odds with the efforts of border humanitarian groups."
We know the humanitarians regularly strive to remove as much trash as they can. We in the Sierra Club have come across them and even collaborated with them in our own efforts to clean up the borderlands.
But trash, though an eyesore, is hardly the big issue here. Our borderlands environment is constantly subjected to crimes far more heinous than littering.
If littering is the jaywalking or shoplifting of the borderlands, then the border wall itself is a much more serious crime. And the offenders are still on the loose.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is at the top of the most-wanted list. He used a little-known caveat of the Real ID Act to build hundreds of miles of border wall despite laws that may have prevented it. Among the 36 federal protection laws Chertoff waived like a cowboy hat: the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act.
Flooding, erosion, sedimentation, habitat loss and fragmentation have plagued natural areas along the more than 630 miles of border where barriers and walls now exist. Though inconvenient and ugly, ephemeral border trash poses a much smaller environmental problem than these massive threats to the security of our ecosystems.
If anyone deserves banishment from the Buenos Aires Refuge, it is Chertoff. Photos show a mountain lion blocked by his border wall there, and more than 50 acres of potential habitat for the endangered masked bobwhite quail, for which the refuge was established, have been lost forever in wall construction.
Also preying on border wildlands is South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. He slipped an amendment into the Senate version of the Homeland Security appropriations bill that calls for construction of more than 350 more miles of environmentally devastating border wall. True border environmentalists will do whatever it takes to remove that amendment from the bill in committee, probably late this month.
We hope, but do not anticipate, that Chertoff and DeMint will turn themselves in so that true environmental justice can be served on the border. In the meantime, Staton will be serving their time.
Dan Millis is appealing a September 2008 conviction for littering in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, for which he was given a suspended sentence. His case is separate from that of the No More Deaths group.