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Listening to Border Communities

Jan 28, 2019

By Barbara Turnbull and Hayley Drapkin, Government Affairs Interns at LCV

During the Trump shutdown, Representative Raúl Grijalva, House Natural Resources chairman and public lands champion, prioritized highlighting diverse, local perspectives on Trump’s reckless border wall. In January, the committee hosted a panel on the environmental implications of the wall for the surrounding communities and fragile ecosystems caught in the balance.

A tweet from LCV’s Chispa on the forum

Panelists shed light on many unrecognized and far reaching implications, highlighting that as soon as February, the border wall is headed for a state park, a butterfly refuge, and the lands of families who’ve called the Rio Grande Valley home since before it was the United States.

Time and again, committee members and panelists emphasized that the border wall disproportionately impacts indigenous people and people of color. Verlon Jose, Vice Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, explained that the wall poses many consequences to his nation’s cultural and religious traditions. His and other border communities “regularly engage in border crossing for pilgrimages and ceremonies at important religious and cultural sites on both sides of the border,” meaning that a physical wall would actively inhibit religious expression. He described, in depth, the interconnectedness of his people and their natural lands, sharing with the committee that a wall threatens their access to water resources and will prevent the jaguar, a sacred animal to the Tohono O’odham nation, from moving freely across its territory. These and other unforeseeable consequences threaten people’s very way of life — the vast majority of whom are people of color.

A tweet from the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators about the panel

Environmental injustices the fact that communities of color have historically suffered the brunt of pollution and public health risks must be considered in any conversation about environmental policy. Jose and other panelists, such as Robert García from The City Project,  brought this sentiment to the forefront of the conversation: the border wall will disrupt and damage communities of color and low income communities the most. In order to have a complete conversation about the wall, it’s important to step back from the dominating rhetoric and listen to the voices of people whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically connected to the borderlands.

Video of Grijalva’s opening statement is above.

Grijalva summed up the overlapping dynamics that have been present but largely ignored in the border wall debate, pointing out that “the underlying problems here have to do with race, and they have to do with poverty, and they have to do with representation.” He called for the committee to follow up on multiple issues raised by the panel, which would provide for critical oversight on the environmental justice issues at stake. Specifically, he called for a review of the issues of eminent domain and sovereignty between border communities, tribal nations, and the U.S. government. This is a critical step towards ensuring justice for people who are all too often left out of the conversation — and for a project as massive and harmful as a border wall, it is all the more important to include their leadership.

Grijalva, joined by Representatives Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Deb Haaland (NM-01), concluded by asserting the need to “expand the definition of border security beyond the very myopic and narrow definition we are hearing from the president.” Grijalva argued that border security “can accommodate the environment, it can accommodate sovereignty and it can accommodate people’s rights.”

A tweet from Rep. Deb Haaland (NM-01) following the event

As the shutdown continues, Grijalva’s continued receptiveness and responsiveness to the needs of the communities who will be most impacted by a border wall sets an example of how to begin addressing critical environmental justice concerns. We appreciate the House Natural Resources Committee for exploring the damage Trump’s policies could cause communities, as well as the committee’s resistance to the bigotry and xenophobia that fuel this administration’s actions.

Make your voice heard today! Join these representatives in fighting back against Trump’s xenophobic, wasteful, and environmentally destructive border wall: