DHS issues waivers for wall in New Mexico

In its continued effort to manifest President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials with the Department of Homeland Security announced it had issued more than 30 waivers to bypass environmental laws in New Mexico, according to the agency’s website.

“(DHS) announced that it has issued a waiver to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international border in the state of New Mexico, near the Santa Teresa, New Mexico port of entry,” according to a news release on the agency’s website.

The area near the Santa Teresa port of entry, which sits within the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, was “an area of high illegal entry,” according to DHS.

U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 25,000 undocumented immigrants and seized about 34,000 pounds of marijuana in fiscal year 2017, DHS has reported. By contrast in the Rio Grande Valley sector, agents apprehended more than 137,000 undocumented immigrants and seized more than 260,000 pounds of marijuana, according to official U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.

The waiver would cover a 20-mile area of the border in New Mexico beginning at the Santa Teresa port of entry and extends west, DHS said.

Officially published Tuesday, the waiver is meant to allow construction in New Mexico without having to comply with laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands or endangered wildlife, according to officials with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“To begin to meet the need for additional border infrastructure in this area, DHS will replace legacy vehicle barriers that no longer meets the Border Patrol’s operation needs with new bollard wall,” the DHS news release states.

Brian Segee, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity — which sued DHS over similar waivers in San Diego last September — said they are considering a legal challenge to these waivers as well.

In September 2017, the center expanded its lawsuit against the federal government’s border wall and prototype projects in San Diego, challenging the Trump administration’s authority to waive environmental laws and calling for an end to “the unconstitutional strategy,” officials said.

“The lawsuit states that waiver authority expired years ago, it’s an unconstitutional delegation of power to the Department of Homeland Security, and the wall violates the Endangered Species Act,” according to a statement from the center.

Local environmentalists who are fighting their own battle against the federal government in places such as the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the National Butterfly Center in Mission — locations the government has designated for border wall construction — said the outcome of those legal challenges could have an impact on the Valley should federal government officials begin their plans for border wall construction.

DHS officials said they are committed to ensuring that any damage to the environment is minimized.

“While the waiver eliminates DHS’ obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, DHS remains committed to environmental stewardship,” the DHS website states.

Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity reiterated that a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would only do irreparable harm to the environment.

“The Trump administration is stopping at nothing to ram through this destructive border wall,” Segee said. “Trump’s divisive border wall is a humanitarian and environmental disaster, and it won’t do anything to stop illegal drug or human smuggling.”

A court hearing in the center’s lawsuit against DHS in San Diego is scheduled for early February, according to court records.