NM Senators Udall and Heinrich introduce legislation that will protect border wildlife and communities from border wall construction.

Man walking next to border wall in Santa Teresa, NM
New border wall constructed west of Santa Teresa, NM in 2018.

The Southwest Environmental Center applauds New Mexico U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich for taking leadership to protect our wildlife and border communities from from harmful border wall construction.

Using a decades-old waiver authority, the Department of Homeland Security has disregarded over 50 environmental, cultural, and public health laws like the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in order to build border barriers. As a result, the DHS constructed twenty miles of border wall in Santa Teresa, NM  last year without consulting the public or appropriately assessing the impacts it would have on wildlife and border communities. This week, Senators Heinrich and Udall introduced legislation that would put a stop to this blatant abuse of power.

Statement from Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center:

“We strongly support legislation introduced today by Senators Udall and Heinrich to protect our border communities, wildlife, public lands and environment from Trump’s harmful border wall. The bill to rescind the outdated authority granted by Congress to the Secretary of Homeland Security in 2005 to waive ANY law—federal, state or local—to expedite construction of border barriers is a huge step towards restoring the rule of law to the border region, and ensuring that border residents can once again enjoy the same bedrock environmental, safety, health, and other protections granted to residents everywhere else in the United States.

The waiver authority, granted in the climate of heightened fear following 9/11, has long outlived whatever usefulness it may have had and yet has been invoked at least three times under the Trump administration to construct costly and unnecessary new border walls, including a 20-mile segment in New Mexico west of Santa Teresa in 2018 built with complete disregard for potential impacts on wildlife, native American graves, and the environment. It is the height of irony that in the name of bringing law and order to the border, by using this waiver authority the administration is literally making the border lawless.

The bill to prevent construction of new border walls in federal wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, wildlife corridors or on state lands without state permission is a recognition of what biologists and wildlife advocates have long known, that the U.S./Mexico border is a place of exception biological diversity and importance for wildlife, including species such as endangered jaguars, Mexican wolves, Sonoran pronghorn, ocelots and many others. This legislation will ensure that important wildlife corridors will remain open, habitats will remain unfragmented, and wildlife will continue to be able to move freely across the landscape to access the food, water, mates and other resources they need to survive and thrive in the border region and beyond."

The Repealing the Vast Legal Waiver Authority for Construction of a Wall or Barriers along the Southern Border would remove unprecedented authority to waive any and all federal laws for construction of border barriers and ensure that impacts to the environment, wildlife, religious sites, Tribal interests, and cultural artifacts are analyzed and minimized.

The Limitation on Border Infrastructure in Wildlife Areas would prohibit the construction of certain elements of the physical barrier along the southern border in national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and related areas.