U.S. eases environment laws for Mexico border wall near San Diego

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will waive environmental rules so additional barriers can be built to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the border with Mexico near San Diego, the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday.

The projects, on about 15 miles (24 km) of the frontier extending east from the Pacific Ocean, are part of President Donald Trump’s planned wall between the United States and Mexico.

The planned border wall was a centerpiece of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign but Democrats and many Republicans have questioned its effectiveness. Immigration advocacy groups argue it would not stem illegal border crossings. Government estimates put the cost of the wall at about $21 billion and Trump has said that Mexico will eventually pay for it.

The DHS said the area near San Diego is one of the busiest U.S. border sections with a high volume of illegal entries and that there was an immediate need to improve the infrastructure.

Environmental impact studies generally are required under federal law for building on public lands. While the waiver will eliminate a study, the department said it will remain mindful of cultural and environmental impacts.

The border fence between the United States and Mexico reaches its most westerly point an ends into the Pacific Ocean at Border Field State Park near San Diego, California, U.S., April 30, 2017.Mike Blake

Roads, lights, cameras and sensors will be installed in addition to extra barriers, the department said. The project’s start date was not immediately known and the DHS statement did not mention the cost.

The DHS statement said Border Patrol agents arrested more than 31,000 “illegal aliens” and seized more than 9,000 pounds (4,082 kg) of marijuana and 1,317 pounds (597 kg) of cocaine in the San Diego area last year.

According to a memo published by the Congressional Research Service in January and seen by Reuters, a 2005 law gives Homeland Security broad authority to waive any law that could impede expeditious construction of barriers and roads.

The memo was sent to members of Congress who questioned the feasibility of building a southern border wall.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a $68 billion increase in military spending next year with legislation that also provided funds for the border wall.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal also calls for 32 miles (51 km) of new wall in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where the 2,000-acre Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is located. That…

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