DHS to bypass environmental laws to speed up border wall building in San Diego

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The Department of Homeland Security will be allowed to bypass environmental regulations to speed up the process of building a wall on the international border in the San Diego area, the agency announced Tuesday. 

The DHS gained the authorization to bypass "a variety of environmental, natural resource and land management laws" thanks to a waiver the agency issued Tuesday. 

"This waiver is pursuant to authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security by Congress," the agency said. "The waiver will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days."

The waiver covers certain border infrastructure projects — including the border wall that President Donald Trump called for in an executive order earlier this year — in the U.S. Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector.

"The sector remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads," the agency said, adding that more than 31,000 people trying to cross the border illegally were detained in the sector during the 2016 fiscal year.

"To begin to meet the need for additional border infrastructure in this area, DHS will implement various border infrastructure projects," the agency said. "These projects will focus on an approximately 15-mile segment of the border within the San Diego Sector that starts at the Pacific Ocean and extends eastward, to approximately one mile east of what is known as Border Monument 251."

Authorization to issue such waivers that bypass environmental regulations comes from Section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which Congress amended five times from 2005 to 2008. 

DHS said the waiver is meant to help the agency "take steps to immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border" in keeping with Trump’s executive order calling for the construction of a border wall.

The agency said it "remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects" despite having no obligation to comply with the laws.

"DHS has been coordinating and consulting — and intends to continue doing so — with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible,” the agency said. 

The waiver comes just a day before the San Diego City Council’s Budget Committee will consider a proposed resolution in opposition to the border wall. 

That resolution, proposed by Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, calls the border area "among the most unique, diverse and beautiful regions in the world," and terms the wall plans "offensive and damaging symbols of fear and division that will increase tensions with Mexico." The document also says the wall would damage the economy and disrupt joint tourism promotions between San Diego and Tijuana. 

Gomez’s proposal calls for opposition to Trump’s executive order on the border wall and for the council to express its intent to identify companies involved with designing, building, or financing the structure, and its intent to divest from those companies. 

The state Senate is considering a similar bill that beginning next year would bar state agencies from awarding or renewing contracts with any companies involved in building the wall. 

Categories: Local San Diego News