Immigration Bill Hides Environmental Waivers

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Conference Committee To Address Permanent Exemptions

(09/17/1996) - Washington, D.C. - As the Senate and House start final negotiations on the Immigration Reform bill (H.R. 2202), conservationists are weighing in on anti-environmental riders in it. A permanent nationwide waiver of both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for border control activities is hidden in the House version of the immigration bill despite strong opposition from many sides.

"This Congress is downright deceitful. They are giving election-time promises to protect our natural heritage, but they are continuing to attack our nation's most important environmental laws during their last few weeks in Washington," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife.

The Immigration Reform bill mandates that the Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) construct roads, fences, and other barriers to control illegal immigration along the U.S. border. However, it also eliminates consideration of environmental factors by waiving the ESA and NEPA. The ESA requires federal agencies to avoid adverse impacts on endangered and threatened species, while NEPA requires agencies to consider all reasonable alternatives before investing taxpayer funds.

"This is not an either/or situation. Environmental conservation and border control are compatible," said Heather Weiner, Legislative Counsel for Defenders. "In fact, of the thousands of federal projects reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Protection Agency, only a tiny fraction are halted or even slowed because of environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act."

Defenders of Wildlife is especially concerned about the impacts of these waivers on wildlife in the southwestern United States. "In the Southwest, we are working with federal and state agencies, as well as private landowners, to conserve the precious and unique wildlife. These good faith efforts to protect border-area biological diversity would be undermined by the waivers in the Immigration bill," said Schlickeisen.

According to Defenders, endangered species like the Sonoran pronghorn antelope and the ocelot cross the U.S./Mexico border with more concern about speeding trucks than immigration laws. Many of the endangered and threatened species living near or along the U.S./Mexico border could be seriously harmed unless Fish and Wildlife Service biologists are allowed to give the INS directions on how to minimize ecological damage while continuing border control activities.

Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope This critically endangered species barely survives in the arid Sonoran desert of southwest Arizona and Mexico. With only 80-160 antelopes left in the United States, and an estimated 300 in Mexico, this species is dangerously close to extinction. Unrestricted fence-building, road construction and habitat destruction by INS under the directives of the Immigration bill could completely extirpate the Pronghorn antelope.

Masked Bobwhite Quail Excessive grazing since the 1880's, combined with severe draught, has led to the destruction of much of the native scrub grassland habitat of the masked bobwhite quail. The species has been reduced to less than 1,000 individuals in Mexico and one population of 300-500 individuals in southcentral Arizona. The protection of wintering habitat in valley bottoms is crucial to the bobwhite's survival.

Endangered Cats Fossil evidence suggests that the Ocelot, an endangered spotted cat, was once present throughout the American Southwest from California to Florida and northern Mexico. Today the Sonoran ocelot is believed to wander back and forth from Mexico to Arizona, living in coastal and swampy areas, semi-arid thornscrub, and humid tropical and subtropical forests, much of which is being cleared on both sides of the border for immigration monitoring. The greatest threat to another cat, the very rare Jaguarundi, is also habitat loss and fragmentation by roads and fences.

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Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Mike Senatore, 202-682-9400 x292 (Legal)