One of President Joe Biden’s many Inauguration Day actions was to cancel Trump’s border wall — the great, great wall that was supposed to run the full 2,000-mile length of the southern border and that both Congress and Mexico refused to pay the $25 billion to build. The project shrank in scope over the years, from the end-to-end wall he promised in 2016 to 1,000 miles of border. In the end, just 450 miles of it were built, mainly along the southern border of California and Arizona, plus a little in Texas. Nearly all of it replaced existing barriers. Just 47 miles blocked previously unprotected parts of the border. That the purported builder-in-chief is leaving office with his signature construction project not even a quarter finished is both fitting and unsurprising — but the legacy of the wall and its construction is one of damage and destruction, especially on remote stretches of federal land in the Sonoran Desert.
Thanks to the 2005 Real ID Act, Customs and Border Protection was able to waive any and all laws, except for the Constitution, that would have hampered border-wall construction. On both reservation land and protected wilderness areas in southern Arizona, those included the Wilderness Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, among many, many others. Towering saguaro cacti that can live for centuries were uprooted to build construction roads in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; the water level in the Quitobaquito Springs dropped precipitously as construction neared the rare bit of fresh water, probably because the underground aquifers that feed it were being used by CBP to mix concrete.
All that damage was done in the name of a structure that was always a cudgel — a nominal deterrent intended to make an already treacherous and frequently deadly crossing for immigrants a little more difficult. The cruelty, as many have written, always seemed to be the point.