By Brenda Norrell
US/MEXICO BORDER -- Over three years time, Samia Carrillo-Percastegui lived alone for long stretches of time in the wilderness of the high mountains of Sonora, Mexico. It was because of a love she has known since childhood. The jaguars were calling her.
"I always thought of myself as studying jaguars," Samia said recently. She always told herself, "I'll be studying cats."
Samia did study the cats, the big cats, in a way that few young women could imagine. She went alone into the wild to collar those cats (Panthera onca) in order to learn more. She tracked the patterns of jaguars in hopes of helping scientists protect the largest mammal in North America and one of the most shy.
Working with the Northern Jaguar Project, Samia struggled to learn more about their eating habits, including the need to ensure foraging grounds for the deer and javelinas, two of the jaguars' food sources. "They are scavengers, they eat whatever is available. And they are really smart."
Now, the cats are prey to a new enemy. It is neither a larger animal stalking them, nor the hunters looking for bounty. It is not even the encroaching mining. The big cats are now prey to Homeland Security.
When Homeland Security voided all court orders and federal environmental laws to build the border wall on the eastern border of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, it destroyed the habitat and built a barrier in the path of the migrating endangered jaguar.
Within a few weeks of banishing all laws, the border wall was under construction and the migrating jaguar was halted at the border, according to the Northern Jaguar Project. The court actions of Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club were voided by Homeland Security. With few to champion the rights of the jaguar, or the migrating Sonoran pronghorn on the western side of Arizona, the border wall construction continued while most Arizonans shopped at Wal-Mart.
Utilizing fear tactics by way of the media, and the Real ID Act to banish laws, Homeland Security found little resistance in Arizona. Combined with the television news induced hysteria, racism and xenophobia, lawlessness reigned.
The ancestors of the Tohono O'odham in the path of the border wall were dug up on the western side of the Tohono O'odham Nation by the contractor Boeing, in violation of federal law.
Read more about the Northern Jaguar Project:
U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Answer: Is Chertoff Above the Law?
Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club take their constitutional challenge to the next level
WASHINGTON – (March 17, 2008) Today, Defenders of Wildlife and The Sierra Club filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its argument that the REAL ID Act, which grants Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff unprecedented and sweeping authority to waive any and all laws to expedite the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, is unconstitutional besides being harmful to the environment and border communities. The two conservation groups charge that such unbounded authority to the executive branch is a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers provisions.
“By granting one government official the absolute power to pick and choose which laws apply to border wall construction, the REAL ID Act proves itself to be both inherently dangerous and profoundly un-American. The issue here is not security vs. wildlife, but whether wildlife, sensitive environmental values and communities along the border will be given fair consideration in the decisions the government makes,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will take up this case in order to protect the fundamental separation of powers principles enshrined in the United States Constitution”
“Laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act are part of America's enduring legal framework, and no agency or public official should be allowed to ignore them,” said Carl Pope, executive director of Sierra Club. “Our laws have provided Americans a voice in the decision-making process that affects their lives, their human rights and the protection of wildlife; our government must not exempt itself from obeying those laws.”The groups’ petition is the latest chapter in their legal efforts dating back to October, 2007 to safeguard the borderlands in the face of aggressive border wall construction. At that time, Defenders and The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit challenging DHS and Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of border wall construction within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona. After a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia found that the groups would likely prevail on their claims and issued an injunction blocking further construction of the wall, Secretary Chertoff waived 19 laws intended to protect public health, wildlife and endangered species, clean air and water, and historic and archeological sites to move forward with construction.
In their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Defenders and The Sierra Club contend that the REAL ID Act’s waiver provision unconstitutionally allows the DHS secretary unilaterally to repeal laws, threatening the system of checks and balances assured in the Constitution.
Since passage of the REAL ID Act in 2005, Secretary Chertoff has used this power to waive laws on three occasions:
to complete a wall near San Diego, California
to remove vehicle barriers and replace them with a wall in the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona
to build a border wall within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
In addition, Secretary Chertoff appears poised to again waive laws in relation to proposed border wall construction in Texas, in order to bypass extensive opposition from local residents, elected leaders, business owners, and conservationists.
“It isn’t too much to ask that DHS and other government agencies comply with our nation’s environmental laws along the border, particularly where international treasures like the San Pedro River are at stake,” said Schlickeisen. “We can not afford to let this keep happening all across the border or we will be left with nothing but a 700-mile testament to our own short-sightedness.”
Defenders and Sierra Club are represented by the Yale Law School Supreme Court Clinic, led by Professor Dan Kahan. Defenders is also represented by Andrew J. Pincus and Charles Rothfeld of Mayer Brown, LLP.
Contact(s) Joe Vickless, Defenders of Wildlife, (202)772-0237 Oliver Bernstein, The Sierra Club, (512) 289-8618
Learn more about what Defenders is doing to protect border species.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit http://www.defenders.org/.
With more than 1.3 million members and supporters, Sierra Club, established in 1892 by John Muir, is the oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. Visit http://www.sierraclub.org/.
Photos: Sonoran jaguar and Jaguar reserve in Sonora, Mexico/Photo credit Northern Jaguar Project. Photo Samia Carrillo-Percastegui/Photo credit Brenda Norrell