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The Policy of Border Fencing between the United States and Mexico: Permeability and Shifting Functions Donna L. Lybecker In the late 1990s those who knew of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (CPNWR) considered it a treasure: an area of pristine desert in southwestern Arizona. Over the following ten years the refuge has sustained some of the most extensive environmental degradation along the U.S.–Mexico border due to increasing numbers of illegal crossers. This damage occurred in part because past actions to curtail illegal crossings did not eliminate the stream of people illegally entering the United States. Instead these policies shifted the location of the crossings from the increasingly impermeable urban regions to the more porous rural segments of the border. This paper assesses the U.S. federal policies and management practices that affect the permeability of the U.S.–Mexico border. 1 By examining the policies and practices over time and in a variety of regions, the paper identifies the shifting, increasingly impermeable function of the U.S.–Mexico border. The paper begins with a discussion of environmental concerns along the border, using CPNWR as an example. It then explores the functions of the border created by policy and created through implementation, and examines the impact of these functions on the border, including the border environment. The paper concludes with a discussion of possible pathways for future policies and management that move toward a view of the larger picture: providing protection without isolation. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge CPNWR provides an excellent example of the environmental outcomes of shifting U.S. federal policies and management practices for rural areas Donna L. Lybecker is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Idaho State University. Journal of the Southwest 50, 3 (Autumn 2008) : 335–352 336  ✜  Journal of the Southwest along the U.S.–Mexico border. The region and associated environmental problems exemplify the challenges that exist all along the border. Federal protection for CPNWR was established in 1939. Today, more than 90 percent of the refuge is officially designated wilderness. Located in southwestern Arizona, CPNWR encompasses 860,000 acres of delicate Sonoran Desert land. The southern boundary of the refuge is fifty-six miles in length and borders on Mexico. Until the late 1990s the environmental effects of the CPNWR’s location on the border were minimal, consisting of a few walkers illegally entering the United States. According to Roger DiRosa, manager at CPNWR since 2002, the tranquility of the refuge changed about 1998, when the rangers began noticing tire tracks in the virgin desert (interview with author, November 21 and 22, 2005, CPNWR). Coyotes, Mexican smugglers, were trying a new route into the United States—a response to heavy enforcement of the border in the urban areas such as San Diego, California. Over time a few tracks multiplied into dozens of illegal roads. DiRosa notes that today more than two hundred miles of illegal roads crisscross the refuge, heading north to connect with the road network beyond the refuge and in the neighboring Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. Furthermore, within the last few years narcotics peddlers have joined the crowd. In 2004, nearly twenty thousand pounds of drugs were seized in or next to CPNWR (Ingley 2005). The impact of this traffic is clearly evident within the area designated as wilderness. Abandoned vehicles and tons of trash litter the landscape. In addition, to escape the sun, crossers clear out vegetation under trees, killing slow-growing young desert plants. Curt McCasland, a biologist and the assistant manager of CPNWR since 2005, fears destruction of native plant cover, both from the direct clearing of the plants and from the illegal roads that function as canals, changing water flows during storms and bringing in aggressive invasive species (Ingley 2005; McCasland, e-mail to the author, May 30, 2007). Without a doubt, the majority of ecological damage on the refuge is due to illegal crossings over the border into the United States. The refuge sustains environmental damage that will persist for hundreds of years. The condition of CPNWR in 2006, contrasts starkly with the 1998 landscape. Unfortunately, CPNWR is not an isolated case. Although particularly evident in a pristine wilderness...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1371
Print ISSN
0894-8410
Pages
pp. 335-351
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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