Shrubs and Safety on the Mexican Border

In her column, Borderline, Maggie Tishman looks at the Border Patrol’s controversial new weed-killing plan.

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Suburban homeowners know that shrubs are great for privacy; put up a few rhododendrons and you’ll never have to see the neighbor’s kids again. The US Border Patrol, however, seems to have a very different philosophy of property maintenance.

While some are sprinkling fertilizer on their hedges, the Border Patrol announced last week that it would be dumping Imazapyr, a powerful weedkiller, on theirs. According to Border Patrol officer Roque Sarinana, criminals have taken to using the dense Carrizo cane, which can reach up to sixteen feet in height, as a hiding place from authority. Luckily for the foliage under attack, it turns out this border dog’s bark is bigger than his bite, and come last Wednesday, BP took it all back with a big “jk” and a “brb” as it agreed to consult studies about the environmental safety of the proposed planticide.

It seems scientists are still undecided on the health effects of Imazapyr: the Department of Agriculture insists that the chemical is safe, although highly mobile and persistent in the soil, while a private study commissioned by the Alaska Community Action on Toxics found Imazapyr to be a relatively potent ground and water pollutant. But at least one of its effects has already become clear. Though the plan intended to make the border harder to penetrate, concerns about its safety and morality—not to mention its alarming resemblance to the US’s herbicidal warfare policy used in Vietnam in the 1960s—crossed the Rio Grande with ease. The so-called “twin cities” of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas never looked more alike, as fence sitters on both sides appealed to US officials, asking them to think more critically about the potential implications of their plan.

Despite these objections, it seems it’s more the means than the eventual end that has people uneasy. In fact, most people, both north and south of the border, agree that the US is on to something—and not just for security but environmental reasons as well. A transplant from Spain, the Carrizo cane consumes an inordinate amount of water and asphyxiates native vegetation.

But fumigation might not be the only way to save Texan fauna and eliminate hiding spot for undocumented newcomers. A comment posted on the Houston Chronicle article on this topic suggests, with tongue in virtual cheek, that the government hire day laborers (notorious for having a large number of undocumented immigrations) to dig out the plants instead. With a lagging economy and even fumigation an expensive option (the pilot program proposed $2.1 billion for a 1.1-mile stretch), hiring American workers and/or documented immigrants in a public works-style project doesn’t seem too ludicrous an idea.

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Tags: houston

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