California’s border with Mexico is a place of sharp contrasts. The harsh desert climate masks a fragile environment where people and animals struggle for survival. The jagged line of the border wall obscures the cultural ties that bind our two countries together.
President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a massive wall along California’s southern border reveals another dividing line – between the American Dream of a better future for all who come here and a nightmare of exclusion and untold economic and environmental destruction.
There are already more than 600 miles of border walls and barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in all four southern border states – California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Building more and higher walls will not provide greater security for our borders. Trump’s executive order to expand the extensive border wall by more than 1,200 miles continues the false rhetoric that armoring our border will somehow make us “safer” and delivers a message of exclusion instead of inclusion.
But while it won’t make us safer, a multibillion-dollar border wall will have unknown and damaging consequences for California’s economy, environment and bi-national culture.
Extending the barriers increase the risks for people who cross the desert in a journey to safety. Tens of thousands of migrant children have made the dangerous journey through Central America to escape the violence in their shattered countries. A wall can’t choke off people’s dreams, but it will make their journeys more dangerous.
The border wall also threatens California’s rich natural heritage. California has some of the most iconic and abundant wildlife in the country. Along our shared border with Mexico, we have vast stretches of desert wilderness, mountainous terrain, meandering river and stream corridors, and fragile coastal estuaries.
Expanding the existing barriers along California’s border would bisect and isolate iconic southern landscapes and push vulnerable borderland species to the brink of extinction. Border barriers already affect more than a dozen endangered and rare species in California, including the endangered Arroyo toad and Quino checkerspot butterfly.
Any extension of the border wall would bisect the Tijuana River. And an impenetrable wall would divide the federally protected Jacumba Wilderness area, cutting off important migration routes for the highly endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, devastating recovery efforts.
Senate Bill 30, introduced in the state Legislature in December, stands up against the threat to our social and natural worlds that extension of the border wall creates. The bill would prohibit California from awarding or renewing a contract with any person who is providing goods or services to the federal government in furtherance of the construction of the border wall.
California will be spending billions of dollars to upgrade our roads, highways and mass transit in the years ahead. We need companies to do the work that moves our state forward, not on a wall that will hurt our economy and take us backward.
If SB 30 is enacted, Californians would be able to stand together against such a divisive, artificial barrier. The Legislature has an opportunity to give Californians the lead on a matter that will affect their families, their environment and their world.
For people pursuing a better life and borderland wildlife fighting to survive, a border wall will not solve problems; it will only create or exacerbate them.
The Legislature should pass SB 30, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.
Leaders here and all over the country need to continue speaking out against this outrageously expensive, divisive and impenetrable wall that would ultimately shred the fabric of our core American values – equality, justice, the preservation of our natural heritage – and the American Dream.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is the author of Senate Bill 30. Follow him on Twitter Senator.Lara@senate.ca.gov. Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife and she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.