DHS files waivers for gate construction in RGV

A US Border Patrol agent patrols north side of border wall at the edge of a sugarcane field March 30, 2016 near Progreso. photo by joel Martinez/jmartinez@themonitor.com

The Trump administration announced it will again waive more laws in its continued efforts to build barriers in the Rio Grande Valley, documents show.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that beginning Tuesday it will waive laws in its continued efforts to speed border wall construction in the Valley.

“…The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security has determined, pursuant to law, that it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations, and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border in Cameron County, Texas and Hidalgo County, Texas,” the filing, which is expected to be published Tuesday, read.

Paulo Lopes, public lands policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, who described the new law waivers as “heartbreaking,” said the president must be stopped in his mission to destroy the environment for a barrier with Mexico.

“It’s heartbreaking to see dozens of laws ignored so that more of the beautiful Rio Grande Valley can be bulldozed for Trump’s border wall,” Lopes said. “Every mile of this new construction has been funded by Congress. Lawmakers must stop condoning this lawlessness and refuse to give Trump another nickel for his vanity project.”

The construction, according to the filing, will be relegated to gates in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration in 2018 to challenge border wall construction in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, and near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico as well as for the emergency declaration.

The lawsuit, which was filed March 22, 2018, challenged the administration’s wall waivers, which they claimed was granted in 2006, but no longer applied because it only applied to border wall construction under the 2006 Secure Fence Act. This set into motion the construction of 700 miles of border barriers during that time.

The lawsuit specifically challenged the DHS waiver of 25 laws to speed construction of 20 miles of border wall in eastern New Mexico, where DHS wanted to convert vehicle barriers into bollard walls along the border west of El Paso at the Santa Teresa Land Port of Entry.

In October 2018, the same groups sued the Trump administration on a similar basis, this time for border wall waivers in Texas — specifically 28 conservation laws that were waived for expedited construction in the Rio Grande Valley.

That lawsuit was effectively consolidated into the March 2018 lawsuit.

Just this month, on Sept. 4., U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson dismissed the lawsuit brought about by officials with the Center for Biological Diversity, Southwest Environmental Center, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Despite that ruling, officials with the center were still weighing its options with regard to an appeal.

The center is also involved in another lawsuit against the Trump administration.

The center sued the Trump administration in February, after President Trump announced an emergency declaration that would divert billions from the Department of Defense for border wall construction in his efforts to have sections of the wall built before the 2020 election.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, argues that the president is violating the U.S. Constitution by declaring the emergency, overstepping his executive authority and sidestepping Congress to appropriate more than $6 billion to construct walls along the southern border, where he said drugs and criminals are pouring into the U.S.

The 39-page filing goes on to state that the president also “illegally invoked the National Emergencies Act and abused the authority given to him by Congress by re-allocating money in a non-emergency situation to fund a policy goal,” court records show.

Recently, at the end of July, the Supreme Court ruled Trump could divert the aforementioned funds for border wall construction. That lawsuit remains pending, records show.

lzazueta@themonitor.com