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Waivers sought for border wall

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA TERESA — The Trump administration is asking for a waiver of about 30 environmental and other laws to build a barrier along a stretch of border near the bustling Santa Teresa port of entry.

The Department of Homeland security wants a “bollard wall” to replace vehicle barriers along about a 20-mile stretch of border just west of the Santa Teresa crossing, according to a notice published on Monday in the Federal Register, the government’s “daily journal” of proposed and final rules, public notices and presidential actions.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in the notice that the new wall is needed in “an area of high illegal entry” in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector which includes all of New Mexico.

“To begin to meet the need for enhanced border infrastructure in the El Paso Sector, DHS will take immediate action to replace existing vehicle barrier with bollard wall,” said Nielsen.

It’s not clear what the government’s next step is. Homeland Security officials were not available for comment Monday because of the government shutdown.

Bollard fencing, made of thick, vertical steel posts that are hard to climb but allow visibility, already exists along stretches of border in southern New Mexico, including Sunland Park.

To speed up construction, the federal government needs a waiver covering a variety of laws that involve water, public land and wildlife.

“The Trump administration is stopping at nothing to ram through this destructive border wall,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release from the organization. “Trump’s divisive border wall is a humanitarian and environmental disaster, and it won’t do anything to stop illegal drug or human smuggling,” Segee said.

The center is considering whether to legally challenge the New Mexico waiver request. It filed a lawsuit last year over the Trump administration’s use of the waiver for replacement walls south of San Diego. The lawsuit argues that the waiver authority expired years ago, that it is an unconstitutional delegation of power, and that the wall violates the Endangered Species Act.

“Even though they’re different waivers, the issues are going to be the same,” Segee said in a phone interview.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a press release about its request for a waiver in the San Diego area last August, “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.”

The Center for Biological Diversity argues that the sweeping powers granted the Bush administration to build 625 miles of border fence were for a specific project and locations on the border. “The Trump administration’s interpretation would provide a perpetuity and roving authority,” Segee said.

A hearing on the case is scheduled February 9 in U.S. District Court in San Diego.