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The Environmental Cost of a Border Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 27, 2021 -

Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) led a forum on the southern border crisis and the risks illegal immigration poses to the environment.

"Despite President Biden’s purported commitment to protecting our environment, his immigration policies will lead to the degradation of our border lands, including federally protected areas," Westerman said. "When people illegally enter our country, they do not respect federal designations or the restrictions applied to those areas. As the Biden administration sets records for the number of people attempting to illegally enter our country, we can only expect exponentially more harms to our public lands."

"Earlier this month, my district staff joined me and other volunteers to clean up garbage left behind by illegal border crossers," Gosar said. "We spent the day with San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez and picked up over a thousand pounds of trash. The discarded garbage poses risks to our health, landscapes and wildlife. I was glad to help clean up our desert, but it served as a solemn reminder of the consequences of more and more illegal border crossings. That is why this forum provides us such an important opportunity. We must call attention to the consequences we know will follow increased illegal immigration, encouraged by Mr. Biden and his reckless policies. We know that a porous border subjects our environment to extreme levels of deterioration. We know the safety of families living and working along the border is jeopardized when illegal immigration is encouraged. We know that these policies place a huge burden on our Border Patrol agents as they work tirelessly to prevent illegal border crossings and keep our nation secure."

The panel of Republican members heard from four witnesses during the forum:

The Honorable Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy, Center for Immigration Studies
Katie Conner, director of media relations, Arizona Attorney General’s Office
Joe Johnson, cattle rancher, New Mexico
Brandon Judd, president, National Border Patrol Council

"Past estimates show that each illegal migrants discard pounds of trash once they enter this country," Arthur said. "That trash despoils the landscape and threatens fragile habitats, and when multiplied across tens of thousands of illegal entrants causes significant ecological damage. Why are those migrants coming now? The president made clear on the campaign trail that his immigration policies would be more permissive than those of his predecessor. That has almost definitely led to what one of my colleagues dubbed the 'Biden effect,' which has drawn foreign nationals to enter illegally and take advantage of the current more generous immigration policies."

"If you take a trip down to our border, you will see it is littered with trash," Conner said. "Each migrant leaves approximately six to eight pounds of trash in the desert, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. The trash can be human waste, backpacks, drugs, plastic bags – you name it. The trash is not only a threat to wildlife and natural habitats, but it can also become fuel for wildfires."

"I am the third generation to live and operate a cattle ranch that has been in my family since 1918," Johnson said. "The southern boundary of my ranch runs up against the US/Mexico border for approximately eight miles. For most of those 103 years, there was only a five-strand, barbed wire fence separating the US/Mexico border. This was a fence that was built, maintained and paid for by my family. In my lifetime, I have seen all types of problems and issues that most people do not have to deal with. We have had cattle stolen, fences damaged, water storage tanks drained and damaged, death and sickness in cattle, homes and buildings broken into, vehicles stolen at gunpoint and pastures burned, just to mention a few. All these things were caused by illegal alien traffic."

"In one of my personal experiences in the mid-2000s in the Naco Area of Operations within the Tucson Sector, the Border Patrol built a continuous fence that was constructed right up to the San Pedro River within the San Pedro National Conservation Area," Judd said. "This conservation area runs north from the border and is made up of approximately 57,000 acres of public land, managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management. While we were able to continue with the construction of the fence to the west of this sensitive riparian area, due to legal restrictions, we had to wait to complete construction within the conservation area until we had the required permitting and the environmental impact studies were complete. During this long waiting period, the massive hole left in our fencing allowed criminal enterprises to drive their vehicles up the riparian area along and near the riverbed, with absolutely no regard for this environmentally sensitive area. While we now have some barriers in place that make it a little more difficult for criminal enterprises to spoil this riparian area, due to the difficulty of the laws the barriers are a far cry from what’s needed and are easily defeated."

Watch the full forum here.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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