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June 23, 2009
5:19 PM

CONTACT: Environmental and Religious Groups

Jay Johnson-Castro, Border Ambassadors, 830-734-8636 Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife, 520-623-9653, Ext. 2 Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512-477-2152 John Fanestil, United Methodist Church, 619-823-6223

Faith, Human Rights, Environmental Leaders Applaud Congressional Efforts to Restore Rule of Law in Borderlands

WASHINGTON - June 23 - Today, 27 members of Congress urged Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to comply with all laws if she proceeds with the final approximately 40 miles of border wall construction still slated for environmentally sensitive areas in California and Texas.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 gave the Secretary of Homeland Security -- an unelected official - the authority to waive any law in order to fast-track construction of infrastructure along our shared international border with Mexico. Bush administration Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff used this unprecedented authority five times, waiving more than three dozen cultural protection, religious freedom, public safety, and environmental laws.

"Ignoring laws to build walls has caused needless harm to families, communities, and wildlife," said Michael Degnan, Sierra Club's public lands representative. "We are heartened to hear members of Congress call on the administration to reinstate the rule of law to the borderlands, a simple act that would go a long way toward restoring responsibility to our border policy."

In today's letter, the 27 Representatives recognized the impacts of waiving laws at the federal, state and local levels, writing: "We believe damage that has occurred to community relationships and public lands is attributable, at least in part, to the haste with which construction has proceeded, the lack of compliance with laws and regulations, and the lack of consultation with property owners and land managers."
In asking that the Secretary comply with all laws if additional border wall construction takes place, the members of Congress note that more "careful consideration now could save mitigation dollars later, as well as avoiding the type of impacts that will be difficult to mitigate at any cost."

A diverse group of organizations have applauded Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) and his colleagues for taking a stand and urging action on this critical issue.

"I've seen nothing that even comes close to justify waiving laws in order to fast track border wall construction," said Congressman Bob Filner. "It concerns me that this has taken place in the past and I urge Secretary Napolitano to prevent further damage to our border communities, natural resources, and fragile wildlife habitat."

"We should not sacrifice bedrock democratic principles like ‘consent of the governed' and ‘representative democracy' at the altar of the border wall," said Reverend John Fanestil of the United Methodist Church. "Kudos to legislators working to restore due process and the rule of law on the U.S.-Mexico border."

Jay J. Johnson-Castro, Sr., founder and president of Border Ambassadors and executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, Laredo Community College, said: "For those of us who live here on the border, we feel like our part of the United States is not recognized as equal to the rest of the country. When over three dozen Congressional acts were waived, we lost the legal protections that the rest of the United States enjoys. Some call our borderlands the ‘deconstitutionalized zone.'"

"The controversy over walls and waivers is far from over, despite hundreds of damaging miles of walls already built in disregard of laws meant to safeguard our lands and resources," said Matt Clark, southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "This is the time for President Obama and Secretary Napolitano to make a clear departure from the mistakes of the last administration and comply with the important laws enacted to prevent or minimize negative impacts to our wildlife and environment."

Learn more about Defenders' work on the border.



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