On Tuesday, DHS issued a waiver to bypass some environmental laws in order to “ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads” along the US border near Calexico, California.
The waiver will allow DHS to bypass certain federal laws, regulations and other legal requirements in order to speed up construction along a three-mile segment of the border, which stretches west from the Calexico West port of entry. The project also involves the department replacing two miles of the existing fence along the border with a new bollard wall.
The waiver covers border infrastructure projects in the US Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector, which the DHS said is “a critical sector for border security.”
“The El Centro Sector remains an area of high illegal entry, and replacing the existing fencing, which was built in the 1990s and no longer meets the Border Patrol’s operational needs, is a high priority,”the department said in a statement.
The Sierra Club issued a statement that said the waiver would allow the Trump administration to ignore 28 federal laws from the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Dan Millis, the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign coordinator, said the waiver “leaves border communities without the protections that other Americans count on every day.”
“Wiping away decades-old laws along the border achieves nothing more than unnecessarily harming local communities, wildlife, and wild places,” Millis said in a statement. “It is irresponsible for the Trump Administration to ignore this nation’s most effective laws to deliver an extremist agenda.”
DHS claims that in the fiscal year 2016, US Border Patrol apprehended more than 19,400 undocumented immigrants and seized 2,899 pounds of marijuana and 126 pounds of cocaine in the El Centro Sector alone.
In August, the department issued a similar waiver to expedite construction along a 15-mile segment of the border wall near San Diego.
Trump, who made the border wall one of his major campaign issues, issued an executive order in January, directing DHS to begin construction of the wall along the US-Mexico border.
In Tuesday’s announcement, the department said the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) grants the DHS “authority to waive all legal requirements that the Secretary, in his sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure the expeditious construction of the barriers and roads.”
Under federal law, the government is generally required to conduct environmental impact studies when building on public land. The department said the waiver will eliminate their obligation to comply with “a variety of environmental, natural resource, and land management laws.”
However, the department vowed to remain “committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects.”
“DHS has been coordinating and consulting – and intends to continue doing so – with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible,” the agency said.
Between 2005 and 2008, DHS issued a waiver to expedite construction of the border wall under former President George W Bush. The waivers were challenged in court several times, but each time, a federal court upheld the exercise of waiver authority as constitutionally valid. The Supreme Court also declined to review the issue on two separate occasions.