WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today for failing to release public records about construction of new border walls on levees along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
More than 13 miles of new border walls will cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, family farms and other private property in Hidalgo County, Texas. Before he was elected, President Biden promised there would be no additional border-wall construction under his administration.
“The borderlands were plundered under Trump and now the Biden administration refuses to release important public documents that could show if the levees were damaged,” said Paulo Lopes, an attorney at the Center. “It’s deeply disappointing to see the Biden administration following in Trump’s footsteps. These so-called repairs look a lot like Trump’s border wall.”
In January 2021 President Biden paused wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border for 60 days to determine how to spend remaining funds from the previous year’s budget allocated for border-wall construction. 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 that was damaged by Trump’s wall construction and noted “[t]his work will not involve expanding the border barrier.”
However, instead of repairing the existing FEMA-approved earthen levees, Homeland Security is replacing the levees with vertical concrete slabs topped by steel bollards, and installing 24-7 stadium-style, high-intensity lighting, cameras, sensors and new roads for law enforcement. The new levee project also includes a 150-foot-wide enforcement zone next to the river that will be cleared of vegetation.
In October the Center requested public records under the Freedom of Information Act, including the analysis for the current construction plan. The records should show whether the Biden administration did its own analysis or relied on Trump’s border-wall plan. However, the Army Corps has failed to provide any records.
“The Biden administration needs to come clean. Are they using Trump’s analysis as an excuse to build more walls or is all this construction truly necessary for public safety?” said Lopes. “It looks like they’re moving full steam ahead to finish Trump’s border wall at the expense of borderland communities, wildlife and wild places. This lack of transparency is troubling.”
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 levees.
In December the Center filed a formal notice of intent 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. The notice said the Biden administration was building the levees without any environmental review or attempt to avoid harm to ocelots and other wildlife — a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.
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.