SAN DIEGO (CN) – The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday it has waived environmental and land-management laws in order to expedite building a 15-mile segment of the border wall in San Diego.
The department exercised its waiver authority under the Congressional Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to avoid potential delays in building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border per President Donald Trump’s executive order on border security and immigration enforcement.
The waiver will allow construction of a 15-mile stretch of border barriers and roads in the San Diego area which will extend from the Pacific Ocean eastward, according to the department.
Homeland Security did not say when construction of the border wall and other infrastructure in San Diego will break ground, but reiterated the project remains a top priority.
“The sector remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads,” the department said in a statement.
In 2016, Customs and Border Protection agents apprehended more than 31,000 undocumented immigrants and seized over 9,000 pounds of marijuana and 1,300 pounds of cocaine at San Diego ports of entry, according to Homeland Security.
While the department maintains securing the two border crossings in San Diego is a top priority to deter unauthorized entries and drug smuggling, a binational coalition of leaders recently gathered to pledge their support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and for improving infrastructure along the southern border so as to more efficiently move people and goods.
The mayors who gathered in San Diego last week heard from experts who advised the negative impact long border wait times and inefficient border infrastructure has on the economies in the border region. A study from the San Diego Association of Governments found the region misses out on $7 billion, or 60,000 jobs annually, because of long wait times to cross the border.
San Diego Community Justice nonprofit Alliance San Diego issued a statement following the waiver announcement Tuesday, saying a new border wall is “wasteful” given that border apprehensions are at a 17-year low and border agents in San Diego are apprehending an average of seven people per agent per year.
“The fact is we do not need more walls: We already have a barrier in that 15-mile stretch, in fact, we have a double or triple barrier in much of it,” the group’s executive director Andrea Guerrero said in a statement.
“Instead of investing billions of dollars in more walls and more agents that we don’t need, we should invest the money in upgrading our overburdened ports of entry and hiring more inspectors to reduce wait times. Border residents should not be waiting for hours to cross into the United States. This depresses economic activity and results in lost economic benefits for everybody, including heartland states that depend on our ports for their jobs.”
The Sierra Club’s Dan Millis said previous Homeland Security waivers for portions of the border wall that have already been built has damaged communities and wildlife.
“Brushing aside key public health safeguards to impose a boondoggle of a border wall is absurd,” Millis said in a statement. “A decade of waiving environmental, historic and cultural protections for sections of the wall already built has shown that doing so only causes harm to local communities, wildlife and wild places.”
Calling Trump’s plan for a border wall that stretches from California to Texas “a terrible and unpopular idea,” Millis said Congress should step in “to prevent unnecessary harm to the borderlands and its people by opposing any financing for Trump’s lawless border wall and mass deportation agenda.”