Last night’s debate included some good news for the embattled wildlife and landscape of the Southwest.

In response to a question about whether or not they would slow construction of the border wall under construction in the Southwest, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton criticized the wall as ineffective and counterproductive.


Obama went so far as to say he would “reverse that policy” of building a wall, while Clinton criticized the wall as “absurd” and said she would “have a review and listen to the people who live along the border, who understand what it is we need to be doing to protect our country.” Obama’s answer gives hope that if elected he would tear down at least some of the stretches of wall that have already been built, like the one in Arizona sundering the San Pedro National Riparian Area, the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and Clinton’s response shows … that she has a hard time taking positions on controversial issues.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Of course, both Clinton and Obama voted to build the border wall in the first place, which makes me question their courage a little bit.

It’s one thing to oppose a border wall weeks before a Texas primary in which loads of anti-wall South Texas Democrats are voting, and quite another to do it when Republicans have whipped the country into an anti-immigrant frenzy and ludicrously fixated on the wall as the solution to the rising tide of illegal immigration.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

After all, the concerns Clinton and Obama expressed last night about the wall — that it won’t work, that it will divide families and communities, that it will drive species to extinction (the wall will cut off endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, and Sonoran pronghorn antelope from the breeding populations in Mexico they need to survive) — were just as clear in 2006 when they voted for the wall as they are now. Nevertheless, seeing the severe impact of the wall and recognizing that an 11-foot wall won’t do anything to stop someone with a 12-foot ladder may have changed their views.

Other good news is that John McCain, though he’s eager to pander to the right-wing base on the issue, is willing to tell even pro-wall advocates that a wall is pointless in sensitive desert ecosystems, though he was clearly willing to include a wall in his failed immigration reform as the price of right-wing support.

So it looks like the next president may stop the building of the wall. But the Bush administration, led by Michael Chertoff, are on an irrational crusade to build the wall as quickly as possible through wilderness areas, endangered species habitat, wherever, even though they know it will do nothing to stop illegal immigration, drug trafficking, or terrorists (who can build tunnels, fly over the wall, go around it, or just overstay their visas).

The key will be to slow or stop as much construction as possible (it will be politically a lot harder to stop the wall than to dismantle it once it’s already built — and the environmental damage will already have been done). So far, national environmental groups have been afraid to do much about the wall because they’re reluctant to touch the red-hot immigration debate (which I find really strange because they’ve clearly got the courage to take on the military, big business, and President Bush on lots of issues, often requiring more courage than wading into immigration issues).

That means filing as many lawsuits as possible, though it’s important to keep in mind that Congress gave the administration the authority to waive any environmental laws when it comes to constructing walls. Congress could also pass a moratorium on wall construction. But I think what’s really going to need to happen is protracted civil disobedience — people need to obstruct every move the feds make to construct this monstrosity. You can contact me if you’re interested.