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DHS Issues Waiver of Environmental Laws to Expand Border Fencing

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security

With a caravan of Central American migrants very slowly approaching the U.S.-Mexico border, some other issues impacting U.S. border security have been overlooked in the past few weeks. The Trump administration continues to push for the expansion of existing physical barriers along the border. As such, on Oct. 11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued another waiver to bypass a variety of environmental laws in order to expand border fencing in Texas. While DHS says the expanded fencing is necessary to prevent unlawful entry into the United States, local residents are concerned this will divide private property and affect local lands and wildlife.

DHS: ‘Ensure The Expeditious Construction Of The Barriers’

In a press release, DHS cited section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 as justification for the waiver. In that section, “Congress granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all legal requirements that the Secretary, in the Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure the expeditious construction of the barriers and roads authorized by section 102.” According to the release, DHS exercised this waiver authority on five occasions between 2005 and 2008, and on two occasions in 2017. This authority is also granted through the Real ID act of 2005, buried in the middle of complex legislation that is almost 700 pages long.

Rio Grande Border Fence Problem

This specific waiver applies a 14 mile-long border wall project located in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. This has historically been an extremely difficult area for placement of border fence sections. The Rio Grande winds like a snake and it is impossible for the border fence to follow the banks of the river. Because of the environmental characteristics of the area, fence sections are usually built on top of levies, which leaves large portions of “no man’s land” in between the border fence and the U.S.-Mexico border demarcated by the river. DHS cites a high volume of drug smuggling and illegal immigrant traffic in this sector, and says the new segments will close a substantial amount of border wall gaps.

Texas Residents Sue The Government; Some Lose Homes

According to the Associated Press, one fence segment listed in the waiver would run for 8 miles. The Center for Biological Diversity states it would cut through their butterfly center, as well as Bentsen State Park and an area near a chapel that serves as a local landmark. The nonprofit group that operates the center has sued the U.S. government – trying to stop construction – but the executive director is concerned that the waiver could lead to their lawsuit being dismissed.

Over the past 12 years since border fence construction began in earnest under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, several Texas residents have sued to prevent their land from being seized for fence construction or divided in half. Plaintiffs have learned to ban together in class action lawsuits with the help of an attorney, learning from the experience of neighbors who were forced to sell their property to the government under waivers and eminent domain laws for dollars on the acre.

Also by Sylvia Longmire: US Army Threat Assessment Contradicts Trump’s Caravan Claims

DHS says it remains committed to environmental stewardship, and it “has been coordinating and consulting with federal and state resource agencies to ensure that impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.” While the border fence has proven effective in shifting migrant and smuggling traffic away from more populated areas, it hasn’t caused a significant reduction in the amount of illegal drugs brought across the Southwest border, or a reduction in migrant traffic in certain border sectors.

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