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November 17, 2010

Borderlands Activist Works to Protect Habitat, Change Trade Policies


Sean Sullivan, co-chair of the Sierra Club's Borderlands Team, recently organized a photography exhibit, "Continental Divide," in Jackson, Mississippi, showcasing the environmental havoc and habitat disruption wrought by the newly-constructed 600-mile-long US-Mexico border wall.


The Jackson Free Press honored the Jackson resident on November 1 as its Person of the Day. "We are opposed to the construction of the border wall," Sullivan told the Free Press. "It disrupts habitats, it disrupts the watershed, and it blocks wildlife from moving back and forth." He also noted the human toll exacted by the border wall.

Continental Divide features 30 photographs taken by a team of International League of Conservation Photographers. The traveling exhibit debuted on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and has since traveled to seven states. Anyone wishing to host the exhibit can learn more here.

Photo by Jeff Foott

Sullivan's hope is that Continental Divide will move citizens to demand changes to federal border and trade policies. Of particular concern is Section 102 of the Real ID Act of 2005, which gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all local, state, and federal laws that interfere with the construction of border barriers.

Photo by Krista Schlyer

"With the change of power in the House of Representatives, it's extremely important to urge our environmental allies in the Senate to be on the lookout for mandates to construct additional miles of wall," Sullivan says. "The Borderlands Team is asking people to contact Congress with a simple message: No more border walls! They're bad for wildlife, the landscape, people, and we cannot afford anymore billion-dollar boondogles."

[Following is Sullivan's own account of the Continental Divide exhibit and the the environmental & political challenges presented by the border wall.]

"I never thought about the environmental impacts of the fence." "Why isn't this in the news?" These were just two of comments I heard last week at a photo exhibit sponsored by the Sierra Club's Borderlands Team. With the help of the Club's Activist Network, I was able to bring this powerfully visceral exhibit to Jackson, Mississippi, during the first week of November. As the two comments above indicate, there is a pressing need to spread the word and shed light on the environmental destruction occurring along the US-Mexico border. The exhibit and the Sierra Club-produced film Wild Versus Wall were included in the fifth annual Unity Conference sponsored by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which helped our message reach social activists across the nation.


Recently, the International League of Conservation Photographers sent a team of world-renowned photographers to the borderlands of the United States and Mexico to document the wildlife, the ecology, and the effect of the border wall on this landscape. The finished product is a traveling photo exhibit called Continental Divide. The images capture the raw beauty of the landscape and wildlife, as well as haunting images of people who live on the border, revealing the destructive force of more than 600 miles of walls and other barriers.

Photo by Miguel Angel de la Cueva

More than 175 people came to view the exhibit, about 40 people came to watch the film, and there were quite a few inquiries about how to purchase prints of the images in the exhibit. I own one myself, and it serves as a constant reminder of the need to continue fighting the kind of border policy we have seen over the last 15 years.


The great thing about this exhibit is that anyone can bring it to their hometown for display. Information about the exhibit, including set-up costs, can be found online. If hosting the exhibit is more than you want to take on but you still want us to help raise awareness, you can host a member of the Borderlands Team and hold a screening of our film. For more information please contact me at


US-Mexico border issues are complicated, and there are no easy answers to many unresolved policy questions. What we do know is what doesn't work: tall walls that block wildlife movement, cause flooding, and force thousands of migrants into harsh desert lands where they often perish; policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which undercut environmental protections and exacerbate economic disparities; and measures such as the REAL ID Act that allow one appointed individual to waive environmental protection laws.

Enough is enough-help us spread the word in your community!

You can learn more about border issues at and join in the action at the Borderlands Team's Activist Network page. And don't forget to follow us on Facebook, where you can join or contribute to the cause.



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