In a final push to advance immigration-reform legislation prior to the mid-term elections, the Senate approved the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061) before recessing in September. President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law on 6 October 2006, temporarily ending the immigration debate.

The legislation approved by Congress authorizes construction of a 700-mile fence along the border between the United States and Mexico. Under the new law, fences will be built in several locations. Among the areas scheduled for a fence is the border between Calexico, California and Douglas, Arizona, from Columbus, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas, from the Gulf of Mexico to Laredo, Texas, and from Eagle to Del Rio, Texas. Local governments will be involved in the fence planning, and where necessary, other avenues of border protection can be used, such as the "virtual fence," according to last minute language added to the legislation.

Environmental organizations and scientists across the southwest have decried the border fence as an ecological travesty. "This is a disaster for the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, Sonoran pronghorn and all of the other wildlife species of our borderlands. The only thing the wall won't stop is people," said Michael Finkelstein, executive director of the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. "The Sky Island region is a premier example of the interconnectedness of ecosystems -- it spans the temperate and sub-tropical, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan. What would a wall mean for the jaguar, for the ocelot, the black-tailed prairie dog, or hundreds of other species (including various species of low-flying birds) that rely upon the ability to travel between our two countries for their daily, seasonal, or annual life-cycle needs?" asks Matt Skroch, executive director and biologist for the Sky Islands Alliance.

The border land between the U.S. and Mexico represents an already threatened junction between two fragile ecosystems—the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. This land area is often referred to as the "Sky Islands" because it encompasses forty forested mountain ranges that connect the U.S. Rocky Mountains to the Mexican Sierra Madres. These two ecosystems are utilized by several wide-ranging species that do not pay attention to political borders. The fence would be placed through this ecoregion, possibly reducing the dispersal capability of animal species. Federal managers on the San Bernadino National Wildlife Refuge outside of Douglas, Arizona are also concerned about the fence. "The fence would have a negative effect on everything from the insects...to the birds that eat them, right up to the large predators like the jaguars," says William Radke, the refuge manager (from Reuters 29 September 2006).

 


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