Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security passed H.R. 1232, the Rescinding DHS’ Waiver Authority for Border Wall Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), will amend broad authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security to unilaterally waive “all legal requirements” to construct barriers along the border.
This markup comes days after President Trump announced his proposed budget for FY2020, which includes $5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security for 200 miles of new wall construction.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“We applaud the House committee for advancing this legislation to restore the rule of law along our nation’s borders. This sweeping waiver authority has allowed irreversible damage to wildlife, wildlands and communities along our Southwest border for far too long and it is long past time to end it.
“Americans rely upon federal laws to protect their environment, their health, their civil rights and their businesses. Allowing an Executive Branch official to waive those laws at will, as the Real ID Act now does, flouts the rule of law that is the basis for our democracy. The wall that is being driven through the heart of our national wildlife refuges in Texas shows just how dangerous it is to exempt the government itself from complying with the law. We urge Congress to speedily enact this needed reform.”
- Section 102 of the 2005 REAL ID Act gave the Secretary of Homeland Security unprecedented power to waive any federal, state, or local law to construct roads and barriers along the border. This waiver has already been invoked eleven times under both the Trump and George W. Bush administrations to exempt the department from nearly 50 environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, to construct roads and barriers.
- Concrete levee wall is already being constructed, in reliance upon a waiver, in one parcel of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) National Wildlife Refuge with funds provided in FY 2018 appropriations legislation. Construction of the wall through the refuge would otherwise violate federal laws governing the National Wildlife Refuge System.
- Already, 115 miles of the Texas-Mexico border are walled off with concrete or steel. The Trump administration has issued legal waivers to build an additional 35 miles of the wall and issued contracts for construction of 14 miles of proposed wall using 2018 appropriations. Congress has appropriated enough funds in 2018 and 2019 to build 88 miles of new concrete and steel walls in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
- Wall construction would effectively sever and wall off parcels of the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge. Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, the National Butterfly Center and the La Lomita chapel in Mission, Texas have also been targeted for wall construction, although funding for construction in those areas has been withheld by the recent appropriations bill.
- The LRGV is home to more than 700 vertebrate species, 300 species of butterfly, more than 500 bird species and at least 18 threatened or endangered species, including the highly-endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.
- Defenders of Wildlife created an interactive story map which details how border wall construction would impact the people, places and wildlife of the LRGV. The map allows users take a highly detailed virtual tour of the LRGV and interact with different areas along the border to see how a wall would threaten this valuable ecosystem.