The Biden administration has made the decision to waive 26 federal laws, allowing the construction of the border wall in South Texas. This marks a notable shift in policy and echoes actions taken during the previous Trump administration.
New Wall Construction
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced the waiver of federal laws to enable border wall construction in Starr County, Texas, an area with a high rate of illegal entry.
This move comes in response to an urgent need to establish physical barriers and roads along the border to prevent unlawful entries into the United States.
An Immediate Need
According to Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS Secretary, “There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States.”
The decision to waive these federal laws is based on this need for enhanced border security.
One key aspect of this decision is the waivers issued for laws such as the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.
These waivers expedite the construction process by sidestepping lengthy reviews and potential lawsuits related to environmental regulations.
The Country in Question
Starr County, nestled between Zapata and McAllen, Texas, is home to approximately 65,000 residents.
The planned construction will impact approximately 1,200 square miles of land, which is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
A 20 Mile Extension
While specific maps were not provided in the announcement, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shared a map earlier that outlined plans to extend the existing border barrier system by up to 20 miles.
This extension is expected to begin south of Falcon Dam and continue past Salineño, Texas.
Worries and Concerns
One of the concerns raised by County Judge Eloy Vera is the erosive nature of the area, with numerous arroyos and creeks cutting through the ranchland and leading to the river.
Environmental advocates share this concern, as the construction may disrupt public lands and habitats of endangered plants and animals, such as the Ocelot, a spotted wild cat.
A Horrific Step Backward
Laiken Jordahl, a southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed concern, stating, “A plan to build a wall 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.”
During the Trump administration, approximately 450 miles of barriers were constructed along the southwest border between 2017 and January 2021 after a campaigning promise to increase border security.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott sought to continue these efforts when the Biden administration initially halted them.
Going Back on a Stance
The DHS decision appears to contrast the earlier stance of the Biden administration, which had proclaimed that “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution.”
However, CBP maintains that the project aligns with the 2021 proclamation and is necessary due to the fiscal year 2019 appropriations for border barrier construction.
Sparking a Debate
This announcement has sparked political debate, particularly as the Democratic administration grapples with a surge in migrants entering through the southern border in recent months.
A Shift in Policy
Political proponents of the border wall argue that these waivers should pave the way for a broader shift in policy.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, noted, “A secure wall is an effective tool for maintaining control of our borders.”
On the other hand, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the border wall, stating, “A border wall is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. It will not bolster border security in Starr County.”
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