On Wednesday, the Biden administration said it was ignoring 26 federal laws in South Texas to make it possible to build a border wall. This was the first time the administration used a broad executive power that Trump often used.
The Department of Homeland Security posted the news on the U.S. Federal Registry with few details about the construction in Starr County, Texas, which is part of a busy Border Patrol sector with “high illegal entry.” So far this fiscal year, about 245,000 illegal entries have been recorded in the 21 counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
In the notice, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “There is an acute and immediate need to build physical barriers and roads near the U.S. border to prevent illegal entries into the U.S. in the project areas.” Mayorkas said on Thursday that the notice from the day before had been “taken out of context.” He said that it didn’t mean “any change in policy at all.”
Some of the federal laws that DHS didn’t follow were the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. This was done to make room for construction that will use funds from a congressional appropriation in 2019. The waivers keep environmental laws from being broken without having to go through time-consuming reviews and lawsuits.
President Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday that he didn’t want to build the wall, but that he couldn’t do anything else because of a law Congress passed in 2019. Biden said, “They have to use the money that was given to them.” “I can’t stop you from doing that.” When asked if he thinks border walls work, the president said “No.”
The hilly ranchlands of Starr County, Texas, are between the cities of Zapata and McAllen. About 65,000 people live there, but they are spread out over an area of 1,200 square miles that is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Even though there were no maps with the announcement, CBP announced the project in June. In August, when it shared a map of the new construction, which could add up to 20 miles to the existing border barrier system in the area, it started getting feedback from the public. Judge Eloy Vera of Starr County said that it will start south of the Falcon Dam and go through Salineo, Texas.
“The other thing that worries us is that the area is very prone to erosion. Eloy Vera, the county judge, said, “There are a lot of arroyos.” He pointed to the creeks that go through the ranchland and end up in the river. Concern is shared by people who work to protect the environment. They say that structures will go through public lands and the homes of plants and animals that are in danger of going extinct like the spotted wild cat called an ocelot.
“The plan to build a wall will create an impenetrable barrier right in the middle of that habitat. It will completely stop animals from moving. It will take away a lot of land from wildlife refuges. “It’s a terrible step backward for the borderlands,” Laiken Jordahl, a southwest conservationist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday afternoon.
Between 2017 and January 2021, about 450 miles of walls were built along the southwest border while Trump was in office. The Biden administration put a stop to these efforts, but Texas Governor Greg Abbott started them up again when he took office. The DHS’s decision on Wednesday is different from what the Biden administration said in a proclamation to stop building on January 20, 2021, which said, “Building a huge wall along the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution.”
In a statement released on Wednesday, CBP said that the project fits with the 2021 proclamation. “Congress set aside money for fiscal year 2019 to build a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, and DHS is required to use those funds for what they were set aside for,” the statement said. “CBP is still committed to protecting the nation’s cultural and natural resources, and as part of the project covered by this waiver, it will use good environmental practices.”
The announcement sparked political debate in the Democratic administration, which has seen a rise in the number of people entering the U.S. through the southern border in recent months. At the end of September, thousands of people came through Eagle Pass.
“A border wall is a solution from the 1400s to a problem from the 2000s. In a statement, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar said, “It will not make the border in Starr County safer.” “I will continue to stand against wasting taxpayer money on a border wall that doesn’t work.” Political backers of the wall said that the waivers should be used to start a change in policy.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement, “After years of denying that a border wall and other physical barriers work, the DHS announcement represents a sea change in the administration’s thinking: A secure wall is an effective tool for keeping control of our borders.” “Now that they’ve agreed to that, the government needs to start building a wall across the border right away so that illegal traffic doesn’t just move to other parts of the border.”