Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 21, 2021


Paulo Lopes, (202) 849-8398,

Lawsuit Launched Against Biden Administration’s Texas Border Levee Wall Construction

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for failing to protect endangered ocelots during construction of border levees along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

More than 13 miles of new levee walls will cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, family farms and other private property in Hidalgo County, Texas.

“The Biden administration is following Trump’s border wall playbook by casting aside bedrock environmental protections with no regard for human health, wildlife or the law,” said Paulo Lopes, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s hypocritical to use safety as an excuse for repairing levees and then ignore federal laws that protect people and wildlife. These so-called repairs look more like an excuse to rush border wall construction.”

When President Biden took office, he issued a proclamation pausing wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border for 60 days, in part to determine how to spend money appropriated for the border wall but not yet spent. In April the Department of Homeland Security said it would use some of that money to repair the flood barrier system along the Rio Grande and noted “[t]his work will not involve expanding the border barrier.”

The new levee walls are shorter, but otherwise identical to the border levee walls constructed under the Trump administration. The Trump administration’s levees were topped with 18-foot-tall steel bollards, while the new walls use 6-foot-tall bollards atop the concrete river levees.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed ocelots as endangered in 1982 and estimates that fewer than 50 animals are left in the United States — all in South Texas. Habitat restoration, including creating wildlife corridors, is a priority for the Rio Grande wildlife refuge. The levee project threatens what little remains of the ocelot’s habitat.

Today’s notice says the Biden administration is building the levees without any environmental review or attempt to avoid harm to the ocelots and other wildlife, violating the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.

Homeland Security claims the levee project falls under its authority to waive dozens of laws to rush construction. But the 2005 REAL ID waiver authority, which Trump used dozens of times to fast-track border wall construction, refers only to the “construction of the barriers and roads” and makes no reference to levees or flood control.

Like Trump’s wall, the new levee project includes a 150-foot-wide enforcement zone next to the river that will be cleared of vegetation. This area will include new roads for law enforcement and private property owners, 24-7 stadium-style lighting, cameras and sensors.

“This border wall project will turn wildlife habitat into an industrial zone, without any community input,” said Lopes. “These agencies should be considering alternatives, such as repairing the FEMA-approved earthen levees. Instead, this is becoming another gift to border wall contractors and a threat to some of the region’s rarest and most beautiful animals.”

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.

Photo by Tom Symlie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image is available for media use.

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.

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