Watchdog finds Border Wall caused “significant” environmental damage

September 7, 2023

The wall on the U.S.-Mexico border advanced by former President Trump caused “significant” harm to the environment and on Native American Cultural sites, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report says that some 450 miles of border wall was erected between 2017 and January 2021. Before construction began, “the Department of Homeland Security assessed some potential effects of the construction. But federal officials and stakeholders said they didn’t get enough information from DHS to give meaningful input.”

The GAO says that while 81% of the border wall was put up to replace existing barriers, the construction also “harmed some cultural and natural resources, for example, by blasting at a tribal burial site and altering water flows.”

According to the GAO, more than 62% of barrier miles were erected on federal lands, including some on federally recognized Tribes, which led to “various impacts,” including to cultural resources, water sources and endangered species, as well as from erosion.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has prioritized efforts to address safety hazards left at incomplete project sites since January 2021, the report notes, though it also states that during the Trump Administration CBP relied on “waivers of cultural and natural resource-related laws to expedite construction.”

Following its report, the GAO has made several recommendations, such as that CBP and the Department of the Interior document a joint strategy to mitigate resource impacts from the construction. Further, the GAO recommends that CBP evaluate lessons learned from its assessments of potential cultural and natural resource impacts. The government watchdog says CBP has not yet done any such evaluation.

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