McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Environmentalists and local leaders in South Texas were furious after learning Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security has waived environmental regulations in three counties in order to expedite construction of 65 new border wall.
DHS on Thursday announced that it had issued a waiver to hasten new border wall construction in the counties of Hidalgo, Starr and Cameron. The waiver was published in the Federal Registry on Thursday, and “will ensure expeditious construction of approximately 65 miles of new border wall system within U.S. Border Patrol’s (USBP) Rio Grande Valley Sector,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release.
“President Trump continues to blatantly misappropriate government funds, ignore the pleas of Texas landowners and seize land like a medieval feudal lord,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat whose district includes Hidalgo County, said in a news release.
Scott Nicol, who is on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club told Border Report that “waiving laws is a clear admission that Trump’s border wall will violate those laws.”
The waivers will allow construction to begin despite environmental regulations that protect endangered species, and laws pertaining to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Nicol, who also is co-chairman of the Borderlands committee, added: “There is no reason to waive the Safe Drinking Water Act unless their plans will threaten our drinking water. They are waiving the Endangered Species Act because they know that border walls will push endangered species closer to extinction.”
Jonathan Salinas of the No Border Wall coalition called the waivers “a hit-list,” to South Texas.
“Today’s waivers are but another reminder that in the name of national security all things are possible, including wholesale disregard for the human and environmental rights of border residents. These waivers virtually cover the whole of the Lower Río Grande Valley not yet waived, including wildlife refuge tracts which are intended to protect and preserve that which the government is now intending to destroy,” said Salinas, who also serves on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.
Some areas will be exempt from border wall construction in South Texas, including: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, or the National Butterfly Center, DHS said. This is because Congress refused to fund border wall construction if those areas were included.
At question is still whether a one-third mile section of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, in Alamo, Texas, will be exempt from construction. This section had been purchased by Santa Ana from private landowners and appears to be on border wall construction plans released by CBP.
This is not the first time the Trump Administration has waived environmental regulations in order to build new border wall miles on the Southwest border. And as the 2020 presidential election nears, President Donald Trump has increasingly boasted on Twitter with regularity about the number of border wall miles already built, under construction and about to begin.
CBP said the waivers were needed to quickly fill in gaps in the existing border wall because the Rio Grande Sector accounts for 40 percent of all migrant apprehensions in the nation, and ranks No. 1 for seizure of cocaine and marijuana on the Southwest border.
Said Rep. Gonzalez: “We do need to secure our border and crack down on criminal activities. But that is done best by engaging with our Mexican and Central American neighbors to address the violence and economic opportunity in their countries and investing in technology and human capital — not building a frivolous border wall.”
The cost for the 65 miles of new border wall in the three counties could total $811 million, CBP has said.
The waivers come just as 300 National Guard troops have arrived in the region to help patrol the existing border wall and new construction areas, U.S. Border Patrol told Border Report. The National Guard troops will relieve U.S. Army soldiers.
Many residents in South Texas are angry by what they call a “militarized” presence. Read a previous Border Report story on the ‘militarization’ of the region.
“We call on the U.S. Congress to repeal this waiver authority which allows the executive branch to legally commit crimes against humanity,” Salinas said.
Trending Now on We Build the Wall News
This Former Undocumented Immigrant Is Running For Congress — and She’s All For Trump’s Wall
A young Republican with almost zero political experience is running for Congress in Michigan — and she’s using her status as a former undocumented immigrant to argue in favor of Donald Trump’s immigration agenda.
“I was brought to America from Taiwan as a 10-year-old girl without knowing a word of English,” Whittney Williams says in a campaign ad, as she aims to unseat a Democrat who flipped the district in last fall’s midterms. “My family overstayed their visas, and as a result, I spent the next 16 years living in the shadows as an illegal immigrant.”
Williams’ stance on immigration may seem unusual given her background: Her family entered the U.S. using tourist visas in 1992 and stayed after their visas expired. Williams managed to obtain citizenship in 2013, four years after getting married.
In an interview with MLive, Williams said she grew up afraid that any minor infraction could lead to her deportation: “If someone knew (about your immigration status), if you told somebody, they could take advantage of you. It’s a constant fear. And you’re constantly told, ‘Oh, you’re an illegal immigrant,’ not, you know, human. That takes a toll on you as you hear that constantly.”
Despite this, Williams, 36, said she supports Trump’s immigration policies and said building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would help “stop the flow” of migrants.
“When you look at a problem, of course, you want to stop it first, so you can resolve what’s in here, because if you keep having this flow … this number here is just going to get bigger and bigger,” she told MLive.
In her campaign ad, Williams claims Democrats don’t care about immigrants like her. “Politicians knew of us: They called us ‘Dreamers,’ and quite frankly, used us as political props for their own personal gain,” she says.
Williams, who currently serves as the director of diversity of the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee, is hoping to unseat Haley Stevens, a Democrat who flipped the district during last year’s midterms.
Why some say Mexico already built Trump’s wall — and paid for it
Mexico City (CNN) The commander paces in front of a line of troops, preparing them for the day’s mission.
Mexico City (CNN)The commander paces in front of a line of troops, preparing them for the day’s mission.