WASHINGTON— Conservation groups today asked a federal court to block construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall through protected wilderness in Arizona until a judge rules on a pending lawsuit.
Today’s motion for a preliminary injunction, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., involves the groups’ July lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s waiver of dozens of environmental and public health laws to speed border-wall construction in Arizona.
“It’s senseless to let bulldozers rip a permanent scar through our borderlands’ wildlife refuges and national monuments before the court decides whether the waiver is legal,” said Jean Su, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s ignoring laws and diverting funds to build this destructive border wall. His grotesque barrier would destroy some of the border’s most spectacular and biologically diverse places. We’ll do everything in our power to stop that.”
If the preliminary injunction is granted, wall construction would be blocked until U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rules on the merits of the underlying lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s waiver authority.
A recent Supreme Court ruling lifted an injunction in a separate case involving Trump’s use of military funds to build the border wall, allowing construction to proceed in Arizona, Texas and California. Without action from Judge Jackson, wall construction in Arizona could begin later this month.
“Every American should be outraged that the border wall in Arizona will be built across some of our most iconic national wildlife refuges and national park lands,” said Bryan Bird, southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “If the wall is constructed through these spectacular landscapes it will disrupt migration for animals like the Mexican gray wolf, the jaguar, the Sonoran pronghorn and the bighorn sheep. It will tear through lands so precious that Congress chose to protect them for all American’s posterity and enjoyment. Defenders will continue to fight to stop this abuse.”
The lawsuit says the Department of Homeland Security lacks authority to waive the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and other laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and wildlife in the borderlands.
The department wants to sweep aside these laws to speed construction of border walls through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, Coronado National Memorial and numerous designated wilderness areas. The bollard-style barriers will block wildlife migration, damage ecosystems and harm border communities.
“These most recent waivers of vital environmental and animal-protection laws demonstrate the administration’s continued disregard for wildlife, including the most fragile species that could be pushed to extinction by these projects,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Building a wall that cuts through the heart of vital federally protected forests, wildlife refuges and conservation areas will have devastating effects on these critical areas and the wildlife that calls these areas their home, which is why we are asking the court to immediately enjoin these border wall-related projects.”
The Center and allies have sued to challenge Trump’s emergency declaration, which would fund this border-wall construction. The Center’s first border-related lawsuit ― filed in 2017 in U.S. District Court in Tucson with U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva ― seeks to require the Trump administration to do a detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of its border-enforcement program. All of these suits are pending.
A 2017 study by the Center identified more than 90 endangered or threatened species that would be threatened by wall construction along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.