Opinion: Horton Lecture Draws Gaze Up At Screen And Down To The Border

Dr. Adriana Martinez stands at the front of the lecture hall before the start of her lecture, “Floods and Fences: A Comprehensive Look At Border Wall Impacts in Eagle Pass, Texas.” The lecture focused on the environmental impacts that structures such as fences and proposed border walls along the Rio Grande have on both the natural world and human dwellings (Photo illustration by Juan Rodriguez).

Eagle Pass, Texas is a border town that few are familiar with. It has an estimated population of 28,130 people, according to the 2020 US Census. Of that number, 96.7% are of Hispanic or Latino origin. That makes sense for a town on the border.

You know what else is on the border? A wall of storage containers and a razor wire fence runs along the Rio Grande. That’s just one of the many things Texas Governor Greg Abbott accomplished during his first term in office to address immigration concerns and keep immigrants from crossing over. 

Like a lot of modern policy though, it’s not at all a viable long-term solution. 

In case you missed the annual Robert E. Horton lecture, hosted by the Department of Earth and the Environment on March 30, here’s a bit of a recap. Surprisingly, there’s a lot that I, as a Texan, was unaware of.

Dr. Adriana Martinez, associate professor of Geography and GIS at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, made it clear during the lecture that Eagle Pass has been facing serious flooding for some time now. Floods in 2010, 2013 and 2014 had extended out far enough to reach portions of the fence that had been around for nearly a decade. 

Flooding, in and of itself, is always a serious concern. Dr. Martinez showcased a map that demonstrated how extensive flooding could be with regard to geographic impact, depending on what sort of flood occurred in a given year. For this visual, the priority was mainly on how far the flooding went without taking into account the impacts of the border fence.

On the lower end of the scale, there are floods that expanded out into Mexico as a result of lower floodplain elevations. The larger the floods got, though, the higher up they reached. Soon enough, by the 25-year mark, floods began reaching inland commercial areas in Eagle Pass and residential areas in Mexico.

Martinez said that the flooding, bad enough as it is, has only been made worse by the border wall. Places where the water is forced to gather as a result of structures like the containers have the potential to worsen the frequent sorts of floods that Eagle Pass experiences. 

Whenever the water finds a gap in the fences, it’ll rush through it, Martinez said. Velocities climb as the water rushes to escape confinement, creating the potential for dangerous conditions that anyone trapped out on the water may face. In residential and urban areas where increased velocities may occur, the damage to property can be disastrous.

Where the water is kept confined and allowed to gather, things aren’t much better. It’ll take the water time to dry out. The more water the fence contains though, the longer it’ll take to dry out. The longer it remains, the more likely the risk of waterborne diseases becomes.

So, what’s all that mean?

It means that maybe someone should have stopped to consider the environmental impacts of putting down shipping containers and any sort of man-made barriers beforehand. Instead, what we got was a bunch of people in charge who just didn’t care what they had to do, so long as they were able to keep out immigrants.

National Security, they call it. Racism, I say. 

That’s the reason why barriers like these are put up. It wasn’t done to help the local environment. It wasn’t done to protect the local population. It was done to hurt people. 

It’s easy to get away with discriminatory practices if it means selling people on the idea that they’ll be better off. A border wall won’t keep immigrants out, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all just theatrics. It’s about showing people that you’re on their side, that you want to keep immigrants out for the sake of the average USAmerican, never mind the fact that no politician can be trusted to care for the average individual. 

Just look at Eagle Pass a bit longer, and you’ll start seeing that low-income neighborhoods are likely to be hit the hardest by the worsening flooding. Remember, this is a predominantly Latino town! There’s a high likelihood that the town consists predominantly of low-income individuals and families who would struggle to rebuild in the aftermath of natural disasters. The data supports this. The poverty rate in Eagle Pass is close to 25%, with the median income coming in just barely above $20,000 per individual.

The issue of flooding along the Rio Grande is as much a class and racial issue as it is environmental. We can’t allow ourselves to forget that. They are born of the same place, leaders who have little care for the natural world and all those who inhabit it. They see themselves as above nature, as above the rabble. They argue that they’ll do as they please 

The truth of the matter is that, as much as they may try, their time and influence is limited. Their influence will be felt by many over the decades to come and there will be those who actively resist the rubbish being peddled to the ordinary individual. Nature will thrive only when we realize we are part of the very environment we inhabit, as integral a creature as any plant or animal that fulfills an ecological niche. 

There is a place for humanity to exist in the natural world. However, there is no room for the obsession with abusing the bounty that nature offers us. The time is always right to push against the darkest bits of human nature. We must not allow these things to go on unnoticed. Everyone has a part to play in making this planet we call home a better place to live. 

About Juan G. Rodriguez 45 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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