President Joe Biden Waives 26 Federal Laws to Allow South Texas Border Wall Construction

The Biden administration announced it waived 26 federal laws in Southern Texas to allow border wall construction on Wednesday, marking the administration’s first use of a wide-reaching executive power used often during the Trump presidency.

The Department of Homeland Security posted the announcement on the U.S. Federal Registry with minimal details outlining the construction in Starr County, Texas’s busy Border Patrol sector. The sector is seeing “high illegal entry.”

According to data from the government, around 245,000 illegal entries have been recorded so far this fiscal year in the 21-county Rio Grande Valley Sector.

“There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the notice.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act were some federal laws waived by the DHS to make a path for construction that will use funds from a 2019 congressional appropriation for border wall construction. The waivers avoid time-consuming lawsuits and reviews challenging possible environmental laws.

Starr County is made up of hilly ranchlands between McAllen and Zapata, Texas, and is home to around 65,000 residents that sparsely populate about 1,200 square miles that form a portion of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Although no maps were provided in the announcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced the project in June. They started gathering public comments in August when it shared a map of the added construction that can add as many as 20 miles to the existing border barrier system in the area. Eloy Vera, Starr County Judge, said it would begin south of the Falcon Dam and go past Salineño, Texas.

“The other concern that we have is that the area is highly erosive. There’s a lot of arroyos,” said Vera, pointing out the creeks that cut through the ranchland and lead to the river.

Environmental advocates have expressed concern over the wall

Concern is also shared with environmental advocates who say the structures will cross through habitats of endangered species and plants, including the ocelot, a spotted wild cat, and public lands.

“A plan to build a wall through will bulldoze an impermeable barrier straight through the heart of that habitat. It will stop wildlife migrations dead in their tracks. It will destroy a huge amount of wildlife refuge land. And it’s a horrific step backward for the borderlands,” said southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, Laiken Jordahl, on Wednesday afternoon.

During the Trump administration, around 450 miles of barriers were constructed along the southwest border between 2017 and January 2021. Texas Governor Greg Abbott renewed the efforts after the Biden administration stopped them at the beginning of the presidency.

The decision by the DHS Wednesday contrasts the Biden administration’s posturing when an announcement to end the construction on January 20, 2021, said, “Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy. solution.”

In a Wednesday statement, CBP said the project is consistent with the 2021 proclamation. “Congress appropriated fiscal year 2019 funds for construction of border barrier in the Rio Grande Valley, and DHS is required to use those funds for their appropriated purpose,” said the statement. “CBP remains committed to protecting the nation’s cultural and natural resources and will implement sound environmental practices as part of the project covered by this waiver.”

The announcement prompted immediate political debate by the Democratic administration, which has faced a substantial increase of migrants crossing the southern border recently, including thousands who entered the United States through Eagle Pass at the end of September.

“A border wall is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. It will not bolster border security in Starr County,” said Henry Cuellar, U.S. Representative, in a statement. “I continue to stand against the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall.”

Political proponents of the border wall said the waivers should be utilized as a launching pad to shift policy.

“After years of denying that a border wall and other physical barriers are effective, the DHS announcement represents a sea change in the administration’s thinking: A secure wall is an effective tool for maintaining control of our borders,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a released statement.

“Having made that concession, the administration needs to immediately begin construction of a wall across the border to prevent the illegal traffic from simply moving to other areas of the border,” said Stein.