Trump administration fast-tracks construction of 2 miles of border wall in California

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The Trump administration is waiving a list of laws and regulations to speed up construction of a two-mile segment of

President Donald Trump’s administration is waiving a list of laws and regulations to speed up the construction of a two-mile segment of border wall in Calexico, replacing a stretch of wall that was built in the 1990s. 

The Department of Homeland Security issued the waiver of federal laws on Tuesday, saying it’s an “area of high illegal entry” and that replacing the outdated barrier is a high priority. 

The department said in a notice published in the Federal Register that the existing 14-foot fencing will be replaced with an 18-to-25-foot barrier “that employs a more operationally effective design.”

The Trump administration is waiving 28 federal laws, ranging from the Clean Air Act to the National Environmental Policy Act, to expedite the project. 

That decision prompted criticism from the Sierra Club, which said rolling back safeguards that protect public health and the environment is wrong.

“People in Calexico now are being denied the protections afforded to them by really important laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act,” said Dan Millis, a campaign organizer for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter in Tucson, Ariz. “Somehow it’s OK for the people in Calexico to be excluded from these protections?”

Millis said it’s irresponsible for the Trump administration to “ignore this nation’s most effective laws to deliver an extremist agenda."

The administration has similarly waived 37 laws and regulations to build prototypes of Trump's planned border wall and replace existing infrastructure along a 15-mile stretch of the border near San Diego.

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Local and state officials visit the New River at the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico on June 30, 2017. (Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

In Calexico, the government plans to replace a segment west of the main border crossing, where a new port-of-entry is also under construction. Border Patrol agents say there are practical reasons for upgrading that portion of the wall. 

The solid metal wall in that area runs up to the edges of the New River, where polluted water from Mexicali flows into California – and where people regularly attempt to sneak across the border, sometimes going in the river or alongside it. 

“That location is where we have the most assaults against our agents. It’s one of the most dangerous,” said Border Patrol Agent Juan Gonzalez, a public affairs officer in El Centro. 

“Agents are constantly being assaulted by rock-throwings,” Gonzalez said. “Rocks are being thrown at them while trying to apprehend people who enter illegally.”

He said the problem with the solid metal wall is that agents can’t see those potential threats on the other side. 

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The border wall flanks a neighborhood in Calexico, California. The Trump administration plans to rebuild two miles of the wall in a different area of the border. (Photo: Zoe Meyers/Desert Sun)

The Department of Homeland Security said it plans to replace the fencing with a new “bollard wall.” This type of barrier, which is generally 18 feet tall and built with steel posts spaced several inches apart, already stands along another stretch of the border east of the main Calexico crossing.

The Department of Homeland Security said that last year Border Patrol agents in the area apprehended more than 19,000 people who illegally entered the country. Agents also seized about 2,900 pounds of marijuana and 126 pounds of cocaine.

“While the waiver eliminates DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, the Department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects,” the agency said in a statement.

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A section of the border wall stands next to homes in Calexico, California. The Trump administration plans to a portion of the wall elsewhere in Calexico. (Photo: Zoe Meyers/Desert Sun)

The department said it is coordinating with other federal and state agencies “to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.” 

A contract for the project is scheduled to be awarded in November, and construction is due to start in February, said Roger Maier, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He said in an email that the agency will take measures to prevent erosion, control dust and manage storm water, among other things. 

While the new section of wall will be about two miles long, the agency is waiving laws and regulations in a three-mile segment to allow space for construction materials and vehicles.

 

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing in an attempt to block the border wall and the Trump administration’s prototypes. Last week the environmental group expanded its lawsuit to challenge the federal government’s authority to waive environmental laws.

“The Trump administration is willing to ignore the law and destroy the environment in its rush to build a destructive, divisive wall that no one else wants,” Brian Segee, a senior attorney with the group, said in a statement. 

The group argues that casting aside federal laws to build the wall is illegal and unconstitutional.

The Department of Homeland Security disagrees, saying a 1996 law gives it the authority to waive legal requirements if necessary to expedite the construction of barriers along the border.

Reporter Ian James can be reached at ian.james@desertsun.com, 760-778-4693 or on Twitter at @TDSIanJames.

 

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