The signers of a letter to the U.S. president "underscore the profound and irreparable harms border walls have inflicted on border communities and wildlife."
More than 100 advocacy groups on Monday urged the Biden administration to rescind its waiver of more than two dozen environmental laws in order fast-track construction of the separation wall along the U.S.-Mexico border championed by former President Donald Trump.
In a letter to President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the groups—which include the Center for Biological Diversity, the ACLU, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Wilderness Society, GreenLatinos, Defenders of Wildlife, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, United We Dream, and others—implore the administration to heed "our call to restore legal protections for clean air, clean water, Indigenous graves, and endangered species" by rescinding waivers to 26 environmental laws.
"Border communities, wildlife, and Indigenous nations deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else in America."
On October 5, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a "notice of determination" under Section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, a law signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996. According to the DHS filing, Mayorkas has determined that "it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations, and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border in Starr County, Texas."
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, the 26 laws include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
"Secretary Mayorkas' decision to cast aside these critical protections to rush the construction of a wall that you admit 'does not work,' but that you are undertaking because the administration claims it is compelled to uphold appropriations law, suggests either serious confusion or troubling hypocrisy," the groups' letter states. "We would like to believe that you are sincere in wanting to uphold the rule of all laws for all people in the United States, including the millions who call the border region home."
The letters' signers "underscore the profound and irreparable harms border walls have inflicted on border communities and wildlife."
"Just last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a damning report detailing the severe damage border wall construction caused to wildlife, public lands, and Indigenous sacred sites and burial grounds along the U.S.-Mexico border, aided and enabled by the waivers of dozens of laws to rush construction," the letter notes.
Laiken Jordahl, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that "border communities, wildlife, and Indigenous nations deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else in America."
"It's baffling and cruel that the administration plans to ignore these vital laws to build a destructive wall that the president admits is useless," he continued.
"Federal officials have falsely claimed they had no choice but to waive protections for border communities and wildlife, but this terrible decision was theirs alone and they have the power to undo it," Jordahl added. "They can stop bulldozers from descending on Starr County and protect some of the best wildlife habitat left in south Texas."