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Obama to Defer to Napolitano on Border Fence

Buried in an article about an interview President-elect Barack Obama gave to The Chicago Tribune yesterday is this little nugget that should reassure supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.

Asked if he would support the extension of the fence between the U.S. and Mexican border, Obama deferred to his nominee for the Homeland Security Department, Janet Napolitano.

This is good news for anyone who opposes on principle the construction of physical barriers between peoples. As governor of Arizona, Napolitano has long been a vocal critic of the fence and supporter of expanding the legal immigration process. It would be difficult to imagine that completion of the planned 700-miles of fencing — of which less than 250 miles was completed as of last month — will be very high on Napolitano’s list of priorities.

As Rob Inglis of High Country News recently noted in a post at The Plank, this is also good news for environmentalists concerned about the unintended consequences of the fence.

The fence has already caused flooding in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where the water drainages flow from north to south, across the border, and the fence acts as a dam when it rains. More significantly, the fence threatens to impede the migration of wildlife, especially the endangered jaguar, which is starting to make a comeback in southern Arizona. And some sections of the fence currently under construction will channel human migrants into more remote—and more sensitive—areas, increasing the already-significant environmental impact of having hundreds of thousands of people walk across the border each year.

None of these environmental impacts have been taken into account in border-fence construction decisions, because the Real ID Act of 2005 gave the secretary of Homeland Security the power to bypass the standard environmental review process in order to expedite construction of the fence.

With increased Democratic control of both houses of Congress, and a small handful of moderate Republicans putting the 60-vote Senate super-majority necessary to end a filibuster in reach, comprehensive immigration reform may get a fair shake in the near future.

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