The Biden administration announced it waived 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow border wall construction on Wednesday, marking the administration’s first use of a sweeping executive power employed often during the Trump presidency.
The Department of Homeland Security posted the announcement on the U.S. Federal Registry with few details outlining the construction in Starr County, Texas, which is part of a busy Border Patrol sector seeing “high illegal entry.” According to government data, about 245,000 illegal entries have been recorded so far this fiscal year in the Rio Grande Valley Sector which contains 21 counties.
“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,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS secretary, stated in the notice.
The Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and Endangered Species Act were some of the federal laws waived by DHS to make way for construction that will use funds from a congressional appropriation in 2019 for border wall construction. The waivers avoid time-consuming reviews and lawsuits challenging violation of environmental laws.
Starr County’s hilly ranchlands, sitting between Zapata and McAllen, Texas, is home to about 65,000 residents sparsely populating about 1,200 square miles (3,108 square kilometers) that form part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Although no maps were provided in the announcement, CBP announced the project in June and began gathering public comments in August when it shared a map of the additional construction that can add up to 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the existing border barrier system in the area. Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said it will start south of the Falcon Dam and go past Salineño, Texas.
“The other concern that we have is that area is highly erosive. There’s a lot of arroyos,” Eloy Vera, the county judge said, pointing out the creeks cutting through the ranchland and leading into the river.
Concern is shared with environmental advocates who say structures will run through public lands, habitats of endangered plants and species like the Ocelot, a spotted wild cat.
“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 backwards for the borderlands,” Laiken Jordahl, a southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday afternoon.