On October 4, 2023, the Biden administration caved to pressure and waived 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow for the construction of the border wall. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the waiver notice stated that “there is an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas.”
This move comes on the heels of reports of an increase in illegal immigration in the region, as well as a congressional appropriation from 2019 that has yet to be utilized for the construction. The waiver allows the Department of Homeland Security to evade time-consuming reviews and lawsuits that would otherwise challenge the violation of environmental laws.
The project extends 20 miles from the Falcon Dam to Salineño, Texas, and covers areas of Starr County, home to an estimated 65,000 residents. This area contains parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which has environmentalists up in arms worrying that the construction would bulldoze through wildlife habitats, destroy public lands, and interfere with the migratory routes of endangered species like the Ocelot, a spotted wildcat.
In a statement, the CBP said that the waiver will result in the “sound environmental practices” of the border wall project, but critics of the decision are not convinced. “A border wall is a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem,” U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar said. “It will not bolster border security in Starr County.”
At the very least, the announcement is a stark shift in the Biden administration’s policy. Early declarations deemed the building of a “massive wall that spans the entire southern border” as “not a serious policy solution.” Nevertheless, some advocates of the border wall argue that the waiver should be considered as a launching pad for greater efforts to stop illegal immigration.