HOUSTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security has issued another waiver of environmental laws to build new border barriers in South Texas, this time for roughly 17 miles (27 kilometers) cutting through the National Butterfly Center and other sensitive areas.
DHS posted a waiver Wednesday that lists six sections where it plans to build "physical barriers and roads" in the Rio Grande Valley at the southernmost point of Texas. It follows another waiver posted Tuesday to build new gates to seal gaps in existing fencing, as the government moves forward with plans to fulfill President Donald Trump's signature campaign pledge to build a border wall.
DHS has the authority under existing laws to waive reviews and regulations under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other laws that might otherwise delay or prevent wall construction.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in the waiver that there was an "acute and immediate need" for construction "to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project area."
Congress has already funded construction of about 33 miles (53 kilometers) in the Rio Grande Valley.
Thousands of people enter the U.S. without legal permission monthly in the Valley, more than anywhere else on the southwest border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials argue more border barriers would help deter and detect people trying to cross the Rio Grande.
But environmental advocates and area residents who oppose a border wall say new construction would unnecessarily cut off many people's land and cause environmental damage. They also argue a wall would do little to stop illegal immigration.
One segment listed in the waiver would run 8 miles (13 kilometers). According to the Center for Biological Diversity, it would cut through the butterfly center as well as Bentsen State Park and the area near La Lomita chapel, a local landmark.
The nonprofit group that operates the center has sued the U.S. government to try to stop construction, a lawsuit that is still pending. Marianna Trevino Wright, the center's executive director, said Wednesday that the waiver could lead to their lawsuit being dismissed.
Wright on Wednesday called the proposed border wall a "multibillion-dollar fleecing of America."
"It is a huge scam that has nothing to do with national security," she said.