August 30, 2019
By Stefanie Herweck
The acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan used his power to waive laws in order to build the border wall to dismiss 29 federal laws in the Rio Grande Valley on Friday afternoon. The waivers apply to planned border wall segments in Starr County near Rio Grande City and La Grulla as well as much of the unwalled portion of Hidalgo County, totaling approximately 17 miles.
The laws that no longer apply to these areas include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Farmland Protection Policy Act. Along with the 29 laws listed, McAleenan waived “all federal, state, or other laws, regulations, and legal requirements of, deriving from, or related to the subject of” the stated laws.
There is, of course, no reason for the Trump administration to waive these laws unless they intend to break them. In the process of border wall construction, they will pollute our air, fill in critical wetland areas, harm endangered species, encroach on our precious farmland and all manner of other destructive acts in order to build border walls.
This extraordinary power to simply dismiss laws that Congress voted on and presidents signed, as well as state and local laws, was granted to an unelected member of the White House cabinet in the Real ID Act of 2005. Its authors were set on pushing through 14 miles of border wall in California that had been held up by legal challenges since the mid-1990s because of the massive environmental destruction they would cause. The Real ID legislation would not have passed on its own and so was inserted into a bill that funded Indonesian tsunami relief, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now it is being used to wage war on border communities. The laws that protect people in other parts of the country do not apply to us.
Preliminary map of where laws were waived today in the Rio Grande Valley by Center for Biological Diversity
The historic Jackson-Ramirez Cemetery near San Juan is included in the areas where laws are waived, even though Customs and Border Protection claimed they would avoid desecrating it with border wall construction. Members of the Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe are occupying the cemetery in an effort to protect the land and the graves there and to draw attention to the indigenous history of the Borderlands. However, the laws waived include both the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The Real ID waiver authority, meant originally to overcome legal challenges in a specific area, has created a perfect storm in the borderlands since Trump took office, leaving border communities defenseless against the almost unthinkable destruction that border walls will cause.