Commentary: For the 12th time since the passage of the Real ID Act in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security has chosen to waive bedrock laws that protect public health, wildlife, and cultural heritage in order to build border walls. The waiver was issued for border wall construction in New Mexico and Arizona, and the news comes in the middle of CBP’s public comment period on these sections.
“The waiving of these laws sends a clear message to our border communities that our rights and our voices do not matter,” said Amanda Munro, field organizer for the Southwest Environmental Center. “These laws are intended to protect people from bad decisions that will negatively impact their environment, health, and history, and yet we border residents are deemed unworthy of even the right to give our opinion on the construction happening in our own backyards.”
All projects using federal funds throughout the country are required to assess their impact to the environment and people, but thanks to a law passed in 2005 the Department of Homeland Security secretary has the authority to waive any and all laws in order to expedite border wall construction. Waivers have been issued eleven times since 2005, and all were issued during the Bush and Trump administrations.
The Southwest Environmental Center still has a lawsuit pending against the waiver to build twenty miles of new wall in Santa Teresa last year. However, that project has already been completed.
The waiver authority issued April 24th for construction of 46 new miles of wall in New Mexico disregards the following laws:
The National Environmental Policy Act
Endangered Species Act
Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act)
National Historic Preservation Act
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Migratory Bird Conservation Act
Clean Air Act
Archeological Resources Protection Act
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act
National Trails System Act
Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988
Safe Drinking Water Act
Noise Control Act
Solid Waste Disposal Act
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act
Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act
Farmland Protection Policy Act
Federal Land Policy and Management Act
National Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
Wild Horse and Burro Act
Administrative Procedure Act
Eagle Protection Act
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
American Indian Religious Freedom Act
Contracts have already been awarded to SLSCO and Barnard construction companies for the newest projects in New Mexico and Arizona. SLSCO Construction of Texas received a contract of $789 million for 46 new miles of 30-foot border walls in New Mexico, costing U.S. taxpayers $17.15 million per mile on average.
Both companies have reaped huge profits from the push for border walls. Barnard construction is the same company that completed the 20 mile section in Santa Teresa, NM last year for around $70 million, and SLSCO has been awarded multiple border wall construction contracts.
The Southwest Environmental Center is a member-supported conservation organization that protects native wildlife and their habitats though grassroots advocacy and on-the-ground restoration projects.