NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2005

The last decade has seen an unprecedented increase in illegal border crossings through the desert in Arizona. The ecological havoc there will inevitably be seen on the ground well into the 22nd century, says Gary Nabham, director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University.


  • Illegal immigrants drop an average of 6 to 8 pounds of waste during their journey, according to government estimates.
  • An estimated 1 million people crossing into Arizona each year leave an estimated 4,000 tons of garbage.

The worst areas are smugglers' "lay-up" sites, where travelers waiting to be transported to areas such as Tucson and Phoenix; backpacks and clothes practically pave the ground, left behind so more people can pack into vehicles, or when immigrants try to change their appearance.

Federal and state money to address the problem has trickled down, but it is not enough, resource managers say. Citizen cleanup efforts exist, but volunteers and private landowners can not keep up.

The problem on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona is even worse. As many as 1,500 illegal immigrants cross the Nation each day, leaving more than 4 million pounds of trash a year, according to a 2004 Government Accountability Office report.

The Nation has been among the most aggressive in addressing the issue, using global positioning systems to map and monitor the dumping grounds. It has also received grants totaling $100,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management to help fund cleanup projects.

Source: Andrew Becker, "Migrants Leaving Ugly Mark on Land," Dallas Morning News, September 25, 2005.

For GAO report:


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