The Department of Homeland Security has given its U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency permission to ignore environmental and land regulations so it can speed up the process of improving the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
The Federal Register published on Wednesday said a waiver from these rules would take effect immediately so 11 gates can be built as quickly as possible in an area of southern Texas that has a high level of illegal crossings. In fiscal year 2017, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 137,000 people in the region, almost half of the 310,000 taken into custody nationwide.
The border agency will add the gates to fill in parts of the wall that are open for people to pass through and have to be watched by Border Patrol agents. DHS vowed not to touch land inside the two-mile-wide Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge west of the county.
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DHS did not say when the project will start or how long construction is expected to last.
"Once installed, the gates will serve as a persistent impediment to illegal entry while still allowing access to the riverside of the gates for the USBP, certain private citizens and other local/state/federal officials, and local emergency responders," the department said in a statement.
The decision may irk environmental groups and residents living in the vicinity of the project. DHS said Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has the authority to make the exception under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which states a chief has the ability to waive all legal requirements if a wall, road, or other infrastructure is immediately needed.
This exception marks the ninth time a secretary has issued such a waiver.
"While the waiver eliminates DHS’ obligation to comply with various laws in carrying out the project, DHS remains committed to environmental stewardship. DHS has been consulting, and intends to continue doing so, with stakeholders including federal and state resource agencies and affected landowners," the department added. "Such consultation facilitates DHS’s assessment of potential impacts and informs its efforts to minimize, to the extent possible, potential impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic resources."
President Trump campaigned in 2016 to build a "beautiful" wall between the U.S. and Mexico. When he took office in January 2017, the barrier between both countries 1,954-mile border covered approximately one-third of that space.
In April, CBP announced several projects that would replace and build new barriers on 100 miles.