DHS Clears Hurdles for Border Wall

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a waiver around environmental, natural resource and land management laws to pursue “expeditious construction of barriers and roads” in the high undocumented crossing areas of New Mexico’s southern border. The federal government’s move, which affects a 20-mile segment in U.S. Custom and Border Patrol’s (CBP) El Paso Sector, doubles down on President Trump’s promises to toughen border security at a time when both federal and local lawmakers wrangle around other urgent immigration issues.

“DHS continues to implement President Trump’s Executive Order 13767– also known as Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements– and continues to take steps to immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border,” according to a January 23 DHS release.

DHS cites the Congressional granting of authority within the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 to “take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical barriers…to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States.” During the fiscal year 2016, CBP agents apprehended 25,000 undocumented immigrants in the El Paso Sector and seized approximately 67,000 pounds of marijuana and 157 pounds of cocaine.

Currently, DHS plans involve the replacement of legacy vehicle barriers with a new bollard wall.

While Trump Administration officials push their agenda forward as much as possible within the framework of existing law, politicians both in Washington D.C. and locally push back in their efforts to gain maximum benefit for Dreamers– beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program– and also to protect jurisdictional sovereignty in areas adopting sanctuary city policies.

As the current stopgap budget measures adopted by Congress involves a GOP leadership promise to address the limbo status of some 800,000 immigrants who’ve grown up as Americans but hold another birth nationality, Democratic leaders face the task of navigating an approach that delivers on promises to protect Dreamers within a framework deemed acceptable by Congressional Republicans.

The difficulty of the situation came to the fore with reports that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered Democratic concession around President Trump’s requested $25 billion in border wall funding, but then reneged shortly after. Presumably, Sen. Schumer withdrew the offer based on the widespread negative response.  

While Washington D.C.-based lawmakers remain at odds in finding the balance between legal requirements and compassion, some local officials around the country remain unphased in their commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants. In late January, mayors from cities around the country planned to meet with the president to discuss infrastructure needs, another key element in the White House agenda. However, many of the Democratic mayors canceled the engagement after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, through the Department of Justice (DOJ,) issued a request to 23 jurisdictions “to furnish documents proving that they had not kept information from federal immigration authorities,” according to a New York Times report.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is also president of the United States Conference of Mayors, called the DOJ request an “attack.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel likewise called out the timing of the jurisdictional requests. “President Trump shouldn’t invite us to the White House for a meeting on infrastructure and 3 hours before issuing the equivalent of what are arrest warrants for standing up for what we believe in and, by the way, what America believes in.”

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