Environmental groups sued President Donald Trump's administration Thursday for waiving more than two dozen laws meant to protect air, water, land and wildlife to speed up construction of a border wall with Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waved 25 environmental regulations in January covering a 20-mile stretch of land along the New Mexico/Mexico border. Environmentalists, with the Center for Biological Diversity in lead, say the action is "unconstitutional."
"By waiving these laws in the name of bringing law and order to the region, DHS is literally making the border lawless," Southwest Environmental Center, one of the groups involved in the suit, Executive Director Kevin Bixby said in a statement. "Our wildlife and communities deserve the same legal protections as every other community in America."
"Construction of the border wall would cause permanent and irreparable damage to over a hundred endangered and threatened species that call the border area their home," Animal Legal Defense Fund, another of the environmental groups, Executive Director Stephen Wells added.
The DHS suspended environmental regulations in order to build the wall, while the finished product could save critical habitat illegal immigration damages.
The New Mexico borderland is "an area of high illegal entry," DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen said in the January announcement. Border Patrol agents in the El Paso border sector, which includes the 20-mile stretch, "apprehended over 25,000 illegal aliens" and confiscated about 67,000 pounds of marijuana and 157 pounds of cocaine in 2016.
Illegal immigration has significant impacts on the environment, especially in high traffic areas. Arizona's Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (CPNWR) borders Mexico for 56 miles. In 2011, the Department of the Interior (DOI) studied impacts of illegal immigrants traveling through CPNWR.
The report found nearly 8,000 miles of vehicle tracks crisscrossing the refuge designated to keep most mechanized travel out.
"These illegal crossing include the smuggling of undocumented aliens of various nationalities and drugs," the DOI report states. "Smuggling and interdiction activities have resulted in significant impacts to wilderness character and put other trust resources such as the federally endangered Sonoran pronghorn at risk."
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