Biden Waives 26 Laws for South Texas Wall Build

The Biden administration revealed on Wednesday that it has exempted 26 federal laws in South Texas to facilitate the construction of a border wall. This move marks the administration’s inaugural exercise of an extensive executive authority, a tool frequently used during Trump’s tenure.

The Homeland Security Department made the announcement public on the U.S. Federal Registry, mentioning planned construction activities in Starr County, Texas, an area known for a significant number of unauthorized entries. As per official statistics, the Rio Grande Valley Sector, encompassing 21 counties, has witnessed around 245,000 illegal entries in the current fiscal year.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS Secretary, mentioned in the notice, “The urgent need for physical barriers and access roads near the U.S. border aims to deter unauthorized entries in the specified regions.”

Several federal laws, including the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, were set aside by the DHS to hasten construction. This will be financed by a 2019 congressional allotment intended for border wall construction. The waivers sidestep lengthy evaluations and potential legal confrontations over environmental law infringements.

Starr County, spanning 1,200 square miles and sheltering around 65,000 residents, is nestled between Zapata and McAllen, Texas. It’s a part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. While the announcement lacked specific maps, CBP had previously disclosed project details, suggesting possible extensions of up to 20 miles to the existing border defenses. According to Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, construction is expected to commence south of the Falcon Dam and extend beyond SalineƱo, Texas.

Environmentalists and county officials have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the wall. They highlight the potential damage to public lands and endangered species, including the Ocelot, a rare wild cat. Laiken Jordahl from the Center for Biological Diversity commented that the wall would seriously hamper wildlife migrations and result in significant loss of refuge land.

Between 2017 and January 2021, the Trump administration erected barriers spanning approximately 450 miles along the southwest frontier. Although halted initially by President Biden, Texas Governor Greg Abbott resumed these efforts.

Despite a proclamation on Jan. 20, 2021, which critiqued the entire southern border wall idea, the CBP reaffirmed the current project’s alignment with that proclamation. They emphasized that the 2019 funds must be used as designated. Furthermore, the CBP vowed to adopt eco-friendly measures during the construction process.

The declaration has ignited a political debate. The Democratic administration is grappling with increased migrant inflows, notably at Eagle Pass in late September.

U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar criticized the border wall approach, stating it’s an outdated solution to a modern problem. Conversely, Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform interpreted the waivers as an endorsement of the border wall’s efficacy, urging comprehensive construction across the border.