After three years of cleanups, the federal government has achieved no better than a 1 percent solution for the problem of trash left in southern Arizona by illegal border-crossers.
Cleanup crews from various agencies, volunteer groups and the Tohono O’odham Nation hauled about 250,000 pounds of trash from thousands of acres of federal, state and private land across southern Arizona from 2002 to 2005, says the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
But that’s only a fraction of the nearly 25 million pounds of trash thought to be out there.
Authorities estimate the 3.2 million-plus immigrants caught by the Border Patrol dropped that much garbage in the southern Arizona desert from July 1999 through June 2005. The figure assumes that each illegal immigrant discards eight pounds of trash, the weight of some abandoned backpacks found in the desert.
The trash is piling up faster than it can be cleaned up. Considering that the Border Patrol apprehended more than 577,000 illegal immigrants in 2004-05 alone, the BLM figures that those people left almost four million pounds of trash that same year.
The trash includes water bottles, sweaters, jeans, razors, soap, medications, food, ropes, batteries, cell phones, radios, homemade weapons and human waste.
It has been found in large quantities as high as Miller Peak, towering more than 9,400 feet in the Huachuca Mountains, as well as in low desert such as Organ Pipe National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
In 2002, the United States estimated that removing all litter from lands just in southeast Arizona—east of the Tohono Reservation—would cost about $4.5 million over five years. This count didn’t include such trash hotbeds as Ironwood Forest National Monument, the Altar Valley, Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta.
Since then, Congress appropriated about $3.4 million for a wide range of environmental remediating measures in all of southern Arizona. This includes repairing roads, building fences and removing abandoned cars.
The five-year tab is $62.9 million for all forms of environmental remediating for immigration-related damage across southeast Arizona, including $23 million for the first year.
Most of the garbage is left at areas where immigrants wait to be picked up by smugglers. The accumulation of disintegrating toilet paper, human feces and rotting food is a health and safety issue for residents of these areas and visitors to public lands, a new BLM report says.
But a Cochise County activist who has been photographing garbage and other signs of damage from illegal immigration for five years said she is appalled the federal government is spending tax dollars to pick up the garbage.
Illegal immigrants should pick up the trash themselves, said Cindy Kolb, who helped found the group Civil Homeland Defense.
“Our mothers did not pay someone to pick up our trash,” Kolb said. “We were taught to pick it up ourselves and to practice civic pride as law-abiding citizens.”