Prof says border enforcement harms environment

While he admits that illegal immigration is part of the problem, he asserts that too much border enforcement is more of a problem.

A New Mexico Tech professor has found that both legal and illegal activity at the U.S.-Mexico border are causing a decrease in vegetation cover.

A study from a New Mexico professor claims that activity at the border affects nearby vegetation. The professor who authored the study is warning against increasing border enforcement for fear of damaging the environment in the immediate area. 

New Mexico Tech professor Haoying Wang set out to analyze the changes in vegetation along the U.S.-Mexico border and determine whether or not such changes could be attributed to climate change or illegal immigration.

By using NASA images and data from the Department of Agriculture, Wang found that “both illegal and legal activities have statistically significant impacts on the border region,” but that border patrol agents and the enforcement of the border have a much larger impact on the environment than actual completed illegal crossings. His findings suggest that if increased by 10 percent, illegal border crossings would cause a 13 percent decrease of vegetation in the immediate area, while a 20 percent increase in Border Patrol agents would damage vegetation by 135 percent.

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Wang suggests that this difference hinges on factors such as the fact that Border Patrol uses heavy machinery while illegal immigrants’ actions of creating unauthorized roads are less invasive. He does not address the inherent differing impacts of an increase in staffers remaining on the border for an extended period of time as opposed to an increase in immigrants momentarily passing through. 

“Typically, you have people hiding out in areas along the border for a few days or weeks,” Wang told The Albuquerque Journal. “They leave campfires … that can be harmful. They are leaving trash. They are also leaving trails where there hadn’t been trails before. Border Patrol agents are also creating trails with their heavy equipment.”

The professor concludes that it “can be challenging to manage both the natural resources and border security effectively” and says that his findings “should be able to shed some light on finding a solution that could integrate the stewardship of the natural environment and a secure border.” Such a solution, Wang says, “can only become effective in the context of binational economic integration.” 

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Wang is reportedly in collaboration with the National Park Service about solutions. While he admits that a decrease in illegal border crossings would help the situation, he says an increase in border enforcement and security would likely result in more of the same detrimental effects. He has stated that a border wall would also cause harm to the environment. 

In a statement to Campus Reform, Wang called his study “non-partisan.” 

”In general, for any policy, while it intends to bring social welfare improvement we have to concern about any unintended consequences it may leave behind as well. For a fixed border barrier, most of the existing studies have shown that it could have a significant impact on wildlife. A lot of species have their habitats spanning across the border and free movement can be important to their reproduction and livelihood,” he added.

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