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Border Report: Wall Prototypes Are Dead, But Environmental Fights Live on

The United States is expanding its “remain in Mexico” policy, a new paper finds that Central Americans aren’t bringing crime with them and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.

Border wall prototypes under construction in Otay Mesa / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

San Diego’s border is booming — construction-wise.

Last week, the Union-Tribune broke the news that President Donald Trump’s eight border wall prototypes, would need to be demolished to make way for the replacement of the secondary border barrier in the area.

The prototypes cost $5 million. They also racked up more than $1 million in security costs for the city and county as they were being built, the U-T reported last year.

They were destroyed Wednesday.

A Border Patrol agent told KPBS that the prototypes served their purpose to help inform the design of future walls.

“It’s gonna give agents a lot more confidence in the area they’re working and more safety for our agents and safety for communities in San Diego,” the agent said.

Construction began on a 30-foot bollard-style replacement of the secondary border structure along San Diego’s border the week before the prototypes came down.

Several environmental and other advocacy groups submitted comments on the project in January, citing concerns that the construction could impact habitats for several endangered species.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a waiver for the secondary wall project in early February, speeding up the project by exempting itself from the normal environmental review process.

“With these waivers and with DHS basically having skirted environmental law for basically a decade now, there haven’t been as many scientific studies done to build new border walls or to assess the damage they cause,” said Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of several environmental groups that submitted official comments in response to the waiver. “We’re worried about the disturbance from construction, the noise and dust on wildlife and flowers. It will impact their abilities to photosynthesize. Usually the agencies are required to mitigate construction impacts, but since they’ve waived all the laws, they haven’t had to.”

Jordahl, whose organization has also sued the government over environmental waivers, contends that DHS was not interested in public input or scientific data because it signed a construction contract in December, before the comment window had closed. He and others have criticized U.S. Customs and Border Protection for what they see as a lack of good faith.

In June 2018, CBP released an Environmental Stewardship Plan for the replacement of the primary border fencing in the San Diego region. It analyzed the potential environmental impacts of the projects and offered ways to mitigate those impacts.

In their comment letter, the organizations argue that normal environmental reviews require agencies to look at project alternatives that would cause less damage, but that the environmental stewardship plans “have been used to justify decisions already settled on for projects that were undertaken before the drafting or release of an ESP.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld a decision against the Center for Biological Diversity, other environmental organizations and the state of California in a lawsuit about the waiving of the environmental laws for the San Diego and Calexico border structures in February, affirming the federal government’s right to waive the laws to speed up construction of border structures.

Jordahl said the group still has lawsuits pending over similar issues in other courts and also filed a suit against the federal government over the declaration of a national emergency for the purpose of building a border wall.

“We continue to believe that the vast waiver of environmental laws are unconstitutional,” he said. “It is clear to us that this waiver authority wasn’t supposed to be in perpetuity. It would mean DHS has the authority to waive any laws it wants along the border forever — which is crazy — so we certainly hope for a better outcome in the other cases.”

The Latest in Family Separations

On Sunday, 29 parents who were deported after being separated from their children returned to the border. They asked border officials at the Mexicali/Calexico port of entry to allow them to re-enter the United States to await asylum hearings alongside their children, and after 12 hours were allowed to cross the border. (Time)

The ACLU asked District Judge Dana Sabraw to expand his order to reunite separated families. He appears poised to require the government to fully account for families separated before the government formally announced its “zero tolerance” policy. (USA Today)

The Union-Tribune profiled a father who was facing deportation after being separated from his family at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in November 2017. He has since received temporary relief from the pending deportation.

United States Expanding ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy

Central Americans Aren’t Bringing Crime With Them

There is no correlation between migrant caravans or increases in Central American migration and crime in the United States, according to a new paper from the University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico program.

Researcher Daphne Blanchard decided to tackle the question of whether those who are seeking asylum from Central America were fleeing violence or bringing it with them.

Blanchard looked at the most violent U.S. cities and found that not one of them had high numbers of immigrants from the Northern Triangle region of Central America, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Between 2005 and 2017, San Diego saw an increase of 16 percent of people from the Northern Triangle, but in the same time period crime decreased by 27 percent, Blanchard found. She also found that the gang MS-13, which is often associated with Central Americans migration to suggest migrants bring crime to the country, makes up only 0.3 percent of the U.S. population and commits 0.03 percent of crimes.

“They are pockets of terror that have the ability to disrupt neighborhoods, but not U.S. national security overall,” Blanchard said.

More Border News

  • The Desert Sun has an incredible series on the surge in asylum-seekers from Mexico, particularly from Guerrero and Michoacán, a trend the reporters first began to notice in Tijuana while most attention focused on the Central American caravans.
  • A San Diego biotech company is teaming up with doctors to offer genome sequencing to children in Tijuana. (Union-Tribune)
  • This video examines how all the border politicking and a humanitarian crisis is shaping youth culture in Tijuana. (i-D)
  • California submitted an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by Al Otro Lado challenging the U.S. Customs and Border Protection practice of “metering” or putting daily limits on the number of people who can request asylum at a port of entry.
  • Unauthorized migration along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2019 is on pace to reach its highest level in a decade. (Washington Post)
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