Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 14, 2023

Biden Waiving 26 Laws to Rush Border Wall through Texas Wildlife Refuge

Ocelot. Photo by Robin Silver

Biden Administration Waives Laws to Rush Border Wall Construction Through Texas Wildlife Refuge

October 4, 2023
Laiken Jordahl,
Center for Biological Diversity

STARR COUNTY, Texas — The Biden administration announced today that for the first time it will waive environmental, public health and cultural resource protection laws to fast-track construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Texas. The administration says it will take “immediate action to construct barriers and roads” along the border, including through the fragile Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and neighboring lands.

“It’s disheartening to see President Biden stoop to this level, casting aside our nation’s bedrock environmental laws to build ineffective wildlife-killing border walls,” said Laiken Jordahl, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.“Starr County is home to some of the most spectacular and biologically important habitat left in Texas and now bulldozers are preparing to rip right through it. This is a horrific step backward for the borderlands.”

The waiver sweeps aside 26 laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands, endangered wildlife and Indigenous grave sites. The announcement marks the first time the Biden administration has used the REAL ID Act waiver authority.

“Every acre of habitat left in the Rio Grande Valley is irreplaceable,” said Jordahl. “We can’t afford to lose more of it to a useless, medieval wall that won’t do a thing to stop immigration or smuggling. President Biden’s cynical decision to destroy a wildlife refuge and seal the beautiful Rio Grande behind a grotesque border wall must be stopped.”

Wall construction in Starr County will harm recovery plans for endangered ocelots, which depend on contiguous wildlife corridors of protected habitat along the Rio Grande. Two endangered plants, the Zapata bladderpod and prostrate milkweed, are endemic to the area and will likely also be threatened by wall construction with their protections stripped by the waiver.

Last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a damning report detailing the severe damage the border wall has caused to wildlife, public lands, and Indigenous sacred sites and burial grounds along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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 and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.

Today’s action seeks to waive the following laws:

National Environmental Policy Act
Endangered Species Act
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
American Indian Religious Freedom Act
Federal Water Pollution Control Act
National Historic Preservation Act
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Migratory Bird Conservation Act
Clean Air Act
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act
Eagle Protection Act
National Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
Archeological Resources Protection Act
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act
Safe Drinking Water Act
Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act
Noise Control Act
Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
Antiquities Act
Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act
Farmland Protection Policy Act
National Trails System Act
Administrative Procedure Act
Federal Land Policy and Management Act

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