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Lawsuit seeks to block new NM border fence

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A bollard-style border fence in Sunland Park is proposed for the Santa Teresa area. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

SUNLAND PARK — Conservation groups are suing the Trump administration for seeking a waiver of laws that protect the environment and wildlife to speed up construction of a border wall in New Mexico.

“Our wildlife and communities deserve the same legal protections as every other community in America,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center based in Las Cruces. The nonprofit works to protect and restore native wildlife and habitats in southern New Mexico.

The Southwest Environmental Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Thursday challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s request for a waiver of 25 laws.

Homeland Security wants the waiver to replace 20 miles of vehicle barriers with bollard-style fencing in the area west of the Santa Teresa border crossing.

“It’s fairly easy for animals to get through vehicle barriers,” said Bixby. But he said the new 18-foot structure would be “impenetrable to most animals.”

Conservation groups argue the waiver threatens a region with rich biodiversity.

“Dozens of rare wildlife species, including the Aplomado falcon and Mexican gray wolf, make their homes in this region of New Mexico, as do kit foxes, bighorn sheep and ringtail cats. The area is also within historic jaguar habitat, according to the statement announcing the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also argues the waiver granted in 2006 to build a border fence is no longer valid.

“This waiver has expired, and Trump’s sweeping delegation of authority to Homeland Security is unconstitutional,” said Jean Su, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It’s also an enormous waste of money, since border walls don’t stop illegal drug or human smuggling,” Su said.

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday said it does not comment on pending litigation.

The federal government awarded a $73 million contract to Montana-based Barnard Construction Co. to erect the additional barrier in New Mexico.

A federal judge in California last month rejected arguments from the state of California and a coalition of environmental groups that sued the Department of Homeland Security over the constitutionality of a waiver request for that stretch of border. Judge Gonzalo Curiel found the federal government had wide discretion when it came to border security but declined to rule on claims that did not involve the Constitution.