The wall built on the border with Mexico under the administration of former US President Donald Trump (2017-2021) caused damage to tribal areas and also had a negative impact on the environment, the Government Oversight Office (GAO) concluded this Thursday .
This non-partisan watchdog recalled in its report that the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, together with Customs, erected approximately 458 miles (approximately 737 kilometers) of barriers between January 2017 and January 2021.
81% of the new structure replaced existing barriers, but opted to make them narrower to prevent pedestrian crossing as much as possible. Until then, half of the wall erected served to block the passage of people and the other half to prevent the passage of vehicles, with the distance between the posts being greater.
The GAO found that the barrier constructed between 2017 and 2021 to minimize bureaucratic hurdles — 62% of them on lands under federal management — caused damage to cultural enclaves and water resources and also harmed endangered species.
For example, members of the Tohono O’odham tribe explained that part of Monument Hill was damaged, a site that other tribes and the Hia-C’ed O’odham, ancestors of the Tohono O’odham, traditionally used for religious ceremonies.
The barrier also caused changes in the natural flow of water. According to the study, there is a connection between the reduction in water pressure and the water consumption for the construction of the facility.
The new, narrower barrier, it added, would also impact wildlife in the area. Although some parts had openings at the base for small animals to pass through, these were not wide enough for the passage of larger animals such as wolves.
Clearing land to build the barrier damaged native vegetation and caused erosion in some mountainous areas.
The GAO emphasized that while the Department of Homeland Security had warned of the potential impacts, federal employees and other involved parties claimed they had not received enough information on the matter and that environmental and other federal laws had not been followed to make further progress to achieve quickly.
When the Joe Biden administration halted construction of the wall after coming to power in January 2021, the cancellation of the contracts exacerbated some of the problems by leaving the projects as they were.
GAO required implementation of a strategy to mitigate the cultural harm caused and to determine the cost and time required for implementation. He also called for an assessment of the danger that incomplete construction works pose to the local population.
Their recommendations include identifying and addressing the long-term impacts of cultural and natural resource impacts and advising local tribes on any actions that impact these communities.