Commentary: Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today to challenge its waiver ignoring 25 laws to speed construction of 20 miles of border wall in eastern New Mexico, an area that’s home to rare wildlife in one of the world’s most biodiverse deserts.
Today’s filing in U.S. District Court says the Department of Homeland Security does not have authority to waive laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and wildlife in the borderlands. Homeland wants to convert vehicle barriers into bollard walls along the border west of El Paso, Texas, at the Santa Teresa Land Port of Entry.
“The Trump administration is casting aside bedrock environmental protections to fulfill a hateful campaign promise,” said Jean Su, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This waiver has expired, and Trump’s sweeping delegation of authority to Homeland Security is unconstitutional. It’s also an enormous waste of money, since border walls don’t stop illegal drug or human smuggling. But they do irreparable harm to communities and wildlife.”
Bollard-style walls obstruct the natural migration of wildlife, including birds and insects. Dozens of rare wildlife species, including the Aplomado falcon and Mexican gray wolf, make their homes in this region of New Mexico, as do kit foxes, bighorn sheep and ringtail cats. The area is also within historic jaguar habitat.
“By waiving these laws in the name of bringing law and order to the region, DHS is literally making the border lawless,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “Our wildlife and communities deserve the same legal protections as every other community in America.”
“Construction of the border wall would cause permanent and irreparable damage to over a hundred endangered and threatened species that call the border area their home,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The wall would literally divide animal families, interfere with breeding and migratory patterns and ultimately may result in the extinction of many of these species. These are the very irreparable harms meant to be prevented by the environmental laws the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has unilaterally waived.”
“Our nation's environmental laws protect both people and wildlife from bad decisions. Waiving these safeguards to rush construction of President Trump's ill-conceived border wall will no doubt adversely impact the communities and wildlife along the border,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife
The lawsuit states that the waiver authority, granted in 2006, is no longer valid and is an unconstitutional delegation of power to the department. The waiver authority applied to border wall construction under the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which required Homeland to build 700 miles of border barriers. That mandate was met several years ago, using the REAL ID authority five times to waive more than 35 laws on 625 miles of border wall and barrier construction.
Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.