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U.S.-Mexico border tensions are impacting science, making research riskier

James Clarke

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Off the southern coast of California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico, dolphins swim around the fence that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. “They don’t really care,” said Jeff Crooks, a University of San Diego scientist who has been doing research along the U.S.-Mexico border for the past 16 years. “I fell into the river and came out dusty.” He suspects that the river wasn’t flowing when the border was set over a century ago.

“One of the things that is really evident for people on both sides of the border is that nature has no borders,” said Sergio Avila, a conservation scientist who has worked around the borderlands for 20 years. “Nature does not care about policies on one side of the border or the other.”

For years, scientists have been working in the U.S.-Mexico border regions.

But it’s not just the plants and animals whose movements will be increasingly restricted; scientists too are finding that their work is becoming more difficult – with their personal safety sometimes at risk – as political tensions rise and security is bolstered along the border.

In the past, Vanderplank routinely brought scientific specimens collected south of the border back into the U.S., but this has become increasingly difficult. “I’ve been sent back to Mexico, or rejected at the border, have had my specimens held, or had them taken away and destroyed.”

While she lives in California, much of Vanderplank’s work is on the Mexico side of the border. “It actually caused me to postpone teaching my graduate class this year.”

Due to confusion over her crossing specimens, Vanderplank’s sentri pass, which allows expedited crossing, was revoked by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

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