For Immediate Release, August 23, 2021

Contact:

Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity, (805) 750-8852, bsegee@biologicaldiversity.org
Adam Sarvana, House Natural Resources Committee, (202) 225-6065, Adam.Sarvana@mail.house.gov

Judge Rules Homeland Security Failed to Consider Environmental Harm of Ramping Up Border Militarization

WASHINGTON— A federal judge ruled today that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection violated federal law by failing to analyze potential environmental harms from escalating militarization along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Today’s ruling says federal officials broke the law by failing to prepare an updated in-depth environmental impact statement for the U.S.-Mexico border enforcement program. The ruling follows a 2017 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

“This is a win for wildlife and communities along the border, where the government has behaved as if the laws don’t apply,” said Brian Segee, endangered species legal director at the Center. “This victory follows years of federal officials neglecting the environment and the health and wellbeing of borderland communities. We’re disappointed the court stopped short of ordering a new environmental impact statement, but we hope the Biden administration takes a long overdue look at the wanton environmental destruction from border militarization.”

The border enforcement program includes off-road vehicle patrols, installation of high-intensity lighting, construction of base camps and checkpoints, wall construction and other activities. The Trump administration ramped up wall construction by waiving dozens of laws protecting the environment, public health and safety.

“The Trump administration built its unpopular border wall by ignoring dozens of federal laws, destroying public lands, attacking Native American history and wasting billions of dollars of public money," said Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. "The Biden administration has the chance to start undoing the damage done by this monument to destruction and oppression. The good news here is that hateful anti-immigrant politics is losing both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.”

Federal officials argued that there had been no changes in the border enforcement program. But the judge wrote that the record “is replete with examples of expanding federal action in the form of border-enforcement activity.”

The judge added that there were “undisputed statements of fact which demonstrate that there was a large number of new or revised critical habitat designations for threatened or endangered species within the southern border enforcement corridor since 2001.”

Those designations, the judge wrote, “constitute triggering events for which Defendants should have contemporaneously considered and evaluated the need for supplemental environmental analysis.”

Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, ongoing border militarization damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. Border militarization and the border wall impede the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.

Background
The National Environmental Policy Act requires that federal agencies conduct an environmental review of a major federal action or program that significantly affects the quality of the human environment.

The programmatic environmental impact statement for the U.S.-Mexico border enforcement program was last updated in 2001. That review identified potential harm from border wall construction and other enforcement operations to wildlife and endangered species across four states from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The 2001 analysis was supposed to be updated every five years, but never has been.

Since the 2001 analysis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act within 50 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border for more than 25 species. Also since 2001, scientific understanding has advanced significantly regarding the potential harm from border walls and other border enforcement activities on wildlife and endangered species, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and cactus ferruginous pygmy owls.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.