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Calling out the environmentalists! Why illegal immigration is also a major environmental problem
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Great attention is paid to the fiscal and social impact of illegal immigration on the United States. However, little attention is paid to the ecological disaster caused by the waves of people entering the country between acceptable ports of entry. Massive quantities of pollution including discarded clothing, plastics, and even discarded hypodermic needles, and human waste, are filling the deserts of the American southwest.
Illegal immigrants are leaving trails of trash along their routes, which creates health and environmental hazards.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - A little-known consequence of illegal immigration is the environmental impact of tens of thousands of people crossing the border between authorized points of entry. An unknown number of people cross through the deserts of the border states, often through private property, or national parks where enforcement and security are easiest to evade. Unfortunately, this means people are passing through some of the most inhospitable territory in the United States. And as they go, they deposit trash, such as clothing, plastics, and human waste, including diapers. This waste is harmful to the environment, and some of it washes into local rivers.
The quantity of trash is substantial, with photos showing the ground almost covered with discarded items. Clothing, plastic bags and bottles, and backpacks are among the most common items seen. It is unclear how long it takes so much trash to accumulate, whether the photos depict years of accumulation, or perhaps days.
Images of the trash became public in 2007, but are rarely reported in the media. The problem persists.
With the summer monsoon season, thunderstorms interrupt the scorching heat with torrential downpours. The rain quickly floods wadis (small, usually dry streams) and carries away massive quantities of garbage. Once the water subsides, the garbage is deposited elsewhere or makes its way into larger rivers such as the Rio Grande and Colorado. Those rivers eventually empty into the Gulf of Mexico or Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), respectively.
Trash deposited in rivers will be swept up in the next monsoon rain, which usually occurs in late summer.
While states like California banning plastic straws to protect sea life, it becomes upsetting to imagine the quantity of plastic waste entering the sea because of trash deposited in the desert.
Photos of this disaster have been circulating online at least since 2007. In viral posts, commentary which accompanies the images suggests illegal immigrants have no respect for the laws of the United States or the environment.
One viral post includes this commentary:
The trash left behind by people illegally crossing our border is another Environmental Disaster to hit the USA. If these actions had been done in one of our Northwest Forests or Seashore National Parks areas, there would be an uprising of the American people... but this is the Arizona-Mexican border. You won't see these pictures on CNN, ABC, NBC or the Arizona Republic Repugnant newspaper. Nor will they mention the disease that comes from the uncovered human waste left in our desert. This information needs to be seen by the rest of the country. BUILD THE WALL!
Trash accumulates at rest-spots used by caravans of illegal immigrants. Discarded needles, backpacks, and even soiled diapers are everywhere.
The reasons for the trash are unclear, and it may not always be a lack of respect. Using several sources, including Alan Watts, Rosa P. Oakes, from New York University explained:
Despite stereotypes (e.g. young people, poorly educated, poor self-image, disrespectful, lazy, careless, or dirty) of people who randomly dump garbage, research shows that there are other more prevalent factors, some of which may bear true with illegal immigrants. Taking into account the mental state of someone who has been walking in the desert for days without food or water, it is conceivable that the environmental effects of littering are not a concern. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, other, more common factors are: litter has already accumulated -- the more litter present the more people are inclined to litter; lack of social pressure to do the right thing; absence of penalties or consistent enforcement; availability of receptacles; sense of pride or connection in the areas they are littering; or, the item is not considered litter such as cigarette butts. "Increasingly, the world around us looks as if we hated it (Alan Watts)."
Regardless of the reason, this is why the United States must tackle the problem of illegal immigration. The United States has the right to secure its borders. Private property, where some of this litter accumulates, should be respected. National parks and the otherwise pristine desert environment is protected by law, which ought to be enforced. And human trafficking and other crimes which take place in the desert should be stopped by all reasonable means necessary.
None of these affirmations is xenophobic. As Catholics, we have a duty to show hospitality to the alien, especially those fleeing persecution. But when it comes to illegal immigration, the number of people who fleeing actual persecution is likely small. Those who are fleeing persecution would be better served requesting asylum at a port of entry. And those who are attempting to enter illegally, do not have the right to be present. They are unjustly crowding those entering legally and those seeking asylum.
How immigrants are being detained and handled at present is also a source of debate. As stories of "concentration camps" propagate with reports of separated families, long detentions, and even deaths of children, immigrants are discouraged from using the ports of entry. It is clear the present system, isn't acceptable by any Catholic standard.
The essence of the problem is that neither political party seems willing to address the issue definitively. It sounds plausible that any two people could sit at a table and sketch out the broad strokes of a plan to resolve the issue of illegal immigration in under an hour, and that plan would likely please most Americans while better serving those trying to enter the country. Yet somehow, by some unknown logic, an army of professional, high-paid politicians, working on the problem for decades, remain at a perpetual impasse. That impasse is not broken when one party controls the House, Senate and Oval Office either. The fact is, both Republicans and Democrats benefit from the problem politically, so there is no incentive to solve it.
In the meantime, illegal immigration depresses wages, reduces the number of jobs available to citizens, increases the expense of public programs from education, to healthcare, to welfare, contributes to crime, including trafficking, and pollutes the environment.
There are reasonable solutions to this problem that are perfectly moral and ethical, and consistent with human rights and the enforcement of United States and international law. Faster processing of immigration and asylum requests alone would greatly improve the problem. More resources, including the possibility of more physical and virtual barriers in some places could be part of the solution. Cooperation between the United States and other nations, especially those of Latin America, is essential.
So far, only President Trump has made the issue a priority. His own party seems unwilling to do much about the issue, and the same can be said for Democrats. However, President Trump's solution is also problematic, since it is open to criticism and may be discouraging people from using ports of entry, and crossing through the deserts instead. So, something different must be done.
Much of this trash will be washed into the sea. For those concerned about straws entering the ocean (a minor, yet legitimate concern) this issue should also be considered.
In the meantime, waste of all kinds is piling up in the deserts of the American Southwest, and some of it is washing into the seas. For those who care about the environment, the issue of illegal immigration is one they ought to consider as well.
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