Opposing the Border Wall
In 2007, before the Department of Homeland Security could bulldoze the first plot of land to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, Scott Nicol, 41, was organizing residents to fight the massive government land grab.
A year earlier, Congress had passed the Secure Fence Act, mandating 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. McAllen resident Nicol, his wife Stefanie, and other border residents learned that the fence would be built through miles of pristine parkland along the Rio Grande. Even worse, hundreds of property owners would have to forfeit their land to the U.S. government for construction of the wall.
“The more I looked at it, the more outrageous it was on so many different fronts,” Nicol says. “Not only does the wall do tremendous environmental damage, it funnels border-crossers deeper into the desert where hundreds die every year. It causes land condemnations, and it basically brought about a suspension of the rule of law by giving one unelected official [the DHS commissioner] the authority to waive any law without judicial review.”
After the Secure Fence Act passed, one of the biggest hurdles for border residents was finding out what the government planned to do next. Whose land would be condemned? Which nature preserves along the Rio Grande would be closed because of the fence?
“We had a hard time finding any information,” Nicol says. “The general consensus was that we needed some kind of web presence. A place where we could not only get the word out about our opposition, but also provide people with information.”
Nicol and other volunteers got to work in 2007 creating a website called No Border Wall to compile information about the fence and to host a blog where people could voice their concerns. The group, which consisted of environmentalists, landowners and other border residents, formed the No Border Wall Coalition. They organized events to publicize the government’s plan to condemn private property. And they designed an iconic black-and-white logo with “No Border Wall” circled by razor wire, which they printed on thousands of bumper stickers.
Today, much of the wall has been built along Texas’ southern border, but dozens of landowners are still embroiled in lawsuits with the federal government over condemnation of their property. Congress is constantly threatening to build more border fence, which would start yet another round of condemnations and further imperil fragile parklands along the Rio Grande.
Nicol hasn’t slowed down since 2007. In fact, he’s become even more engaged since other volunteers have moved on to tackle other issues. When not teaching art at a local community college, Nicol devotes most of his time to the No Border Wall Coalition and to blogging on the issue. He also pens op-eds, makes nationwide presentations on border-wall impacts, and meets with government officials.
He also co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team, regularly conferring with other volunteers along the border. And he files Freedom of Information Act requests to help keep tabs on the Department of Homeland Security’s plans. Recently, he collaborated on a 20-minute documentary called Wild Versus Wall about the environmental degradation caused by the border fence.
Nicol does all of this on a volunteer basis, he says, because his outrage hasn’t waned since he first learned of the government’s plans. “If we could just inform enough people about the reality of the situation of these walls, people would reject them,” he says. “But the question is, how do you get ahold of a megaphone big enough to do that?”