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N4T Investigators: Border Trash

TUCSON – Scores of migrants are illegally crossing our nation’s southern border, and some of those entering the United States through Arizona are leaving behind piles of trash.

So, what impact is it having on our environment; and is the situation getting better or worse?

“Up to ten tons in one location, we’ve hauled out in the course of a weekend,” Said Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish.

Over the past several decades, once pristine desert areas in southern Arizona have been turned into dump sites.

These are so-called lay-up spots for migrants illegally crossing the border.

“A layup spot is a place where a migrant dumps gear used in border crossings. They change clothes and they clean-up, so they can better blend in the street, and they leave behind all that material,” Hart told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, between 2007 and 2018 more than 230 tons of trash was cleaned up.

“It’s a problem from a wildlife management standpoint; it’s a problem for ranchers, and we’ve worked together in the past to clean them up to the extent practical,” Hart told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Much of the trash along the border was collected by Arizona state prison inmates.

“Right now crews from the Arizona Department of Corrections go out up to three times a week,” Hart said.

Myles Traphagen with the Wildlands Network tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, while the problem has not gone away, he has seen it much worse in previous years.

“I’ve been working in the borderlands since 1996, and back in those days up into the early to late 2000s, you found a lot more trash,” Traphagen said.

One reason for that he says may be the fact that migrants are no longer crossing the Arizona desert in large groups, but instead, are turning themselves in for asylum.

“I think that the people just aren’t here. They aren’t crossing anymore,” Traphagen told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

While groups including the Wildlands Network oppose a border wall over fears it could impact wildlife – that is already happening.

“While issues like the border wall disrupting wildlife corridors get a lot of attention, people need to understand that illegal immigration impacts wildlife right now,” Hart told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Click here for more information on what’s being done to clean up border trash, including how you can take part in clean-ups.  

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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