Laws to be waived for border fence

In an April 1 statement, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the federal government plans to speed up completion of 470 miles of border fence in the southwestern US by the end of 2008 by using two waivers to bypass some three dozen federal and state environmental and land-management laws. The move is permitted under an exemption granted by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005.

One waiver will be used to complete a 22-mile combined river levee-fence project in Hidalgo County, Texas. The second waiver covers an additional 470 miles of fencing–through 2008 and future years—in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said the administration’s use of the waivers exceeds what Congress intended when it approved the measure. “Today’s waiver represents an extreme abuse of authority,” Thompson said in a statement. “Waiver authority should only be used as a last resort, not simply because the Department has failed to get the job done through the normal process.”

The waiver allows the agency to skip carrying out detailed reviews of how the fence will affect wildlife, water quality and vegetation in the ecologically sensitive affected border areas. Two environmental advocacy organizations, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, filed a petition in March asking the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the waiver provision. (Los Angeles Times, April 2; Washington Post, April 2; Houston Chronicle, April 1)

From Immigration News Briefs, April 6

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle for the border.