Homeland Security

DHS moves to expedite border wall projects, waives environmental regs

Alex Pappas

The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday it is waiving certain environmental laws to expedite border construction projects, as President Trump keeps pushing for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

The waiver covers 15 miles on the border by San Diego, the department said, in an area where DHS wants to bolster existing barriers. The stretch starts at the Pacific Ocean and extends eastward. 

“The sector remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads,” the department said in a statement. “To begin to meet the need for additional border infrastructure in this area, DHS will implement various border infrastructure projects.”

DHS said the United States Border Patrol apprehended more than 31,000 illegal immigrants and seized 9,167 pounds of marijuana and 1,317 pounds of cocaine in the San Diego area during fiscal 2016. 

Tuesday's announcement represents one border-barrier expansion project going forward, as the administration still seeks funding for the kind of full-fledged wall Trump promised during the campaign. 

The department said it has authority from the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to issue waivers to environmental, natural resource and land management laws. It issued such waivers five times during former President George W. Bush’s administration between 2005 and 2008.

The department said it has been coordinating and consulting with federal and state agencies to “ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.”

“While the waiver eliminates DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, the department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects,” it said Tuesday.

During a rally in Ohio last week, Trump vowed to follow through on building a wall, as he did during the presidential campaign. At one point, the crowd began to chant “build that wall.”

“Don’t even think about it,” he said. “We will build the wall.”

TRUMP VOWS TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON BORDER WALL PROMISE DURING CAMPAIGN RALLY

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that includes $1.6 billion for construction of Trump’s wall. The measure is expected to meet resistance from Democrats in the Senate.

Meanwhile, DHS said it is working to “immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border.”