“I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
Those were the words of president Donald Trump as he announced late last week that he was stepping over congressional approval and declaring a “national emergency” in an attempt to access billions of additional dollars to build a wall along our border with Mexico.
The president admitted there was no emergency. The true national emergency lies with Trump’s attempts to violate separation of powers and his flippant disregard for the harm this wall will inflict on communities along the border.
As Trump made his declaration, the ACLU of Texas, along with the ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California, mobilized to respond to this unprecedented usurpation of power. We prepared to sue, and on Tuesday we did just that.
The ACLU of Texas could not allow Trump to threaten our border communities – people and environments that exemplify what makes our state great – without a fight. In representing the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, we aim to amplify the voices of people who live, work, and recreate along the border, including the 1,200 miles running along the southern end of Texas. These families and communities, along with wildlife and treasured natural resources, will be forever harmed by this politically-contrived, unnecessary wall.
We know this because we’ve lived through it before; Ongoing construction of a border wall has already devastated communities and wildlife in Texas. Existing border wall in El Paso, for instance, has led to extreme flooding during heavy rainfall thanks to the wall’s keen ability to catch debris, clog drainage, and totally disrupt the normal flow of water. The floods caused $800 million in property damage and displaced people from their homes and businesses on both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border.
We’ve known about this potential for disaster for a long time. A 1970 update to an international treaty protected the Rio Grande from construction along its banks if building projects were shown to “deflect or obstruct the normal flow of river or of its flood flows.” Assessments for the wall’s construction by various independent agencies and engineers have shown that this would be the case. And yet, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has refused to heed the warnings of experts, despite admitting that the risks of pursuing plans to build the wall would be too dangerous and could lead to “loss of life.”
Just as important as the environmental degradation is the societal damage that this illegally-funded construction will cause. A wall would heighten divisions in border communities and promote hostility towards immigrants and communities of color. The land and communities along the southern border are among the safest and most beautiful places in the country. Residents of the biodiverse, economically vibrant, and historically rich borderlands have been resisting attempts to build the wall for a decade, because they see it for what it is: an expensive, unnecessary monument to hate that would deprive them of their homes and their way of life. They’re tired of having their self-determination threatened by xenophobic rhetoric from politicians and pundits.
Ultimately, Trump’s impulsive strategy to hastily move forward with his border wall, with or without congressional approval, puts the country – and especially the borderlands and the people that treasure them – at unprecedented risk of further destruction. His disregard of constitutional separation of powers runs in parallel to his disregard of environmental and international laws meant to protect human life and natural resources.
If Trump thinks he can write himself a blank check to fund a wall, destroying our homes and lands in the process, he’s wrong. We are proud to stand with the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition against this illegal move.