The Interior Department transferred more than 500 acres of land to the Army in order to build about 70 miles of the Trump administration’s bollard fencing across parts of Arizona, California and New Mexico.
Interior said today that the transfer of administrative jurisdiction “comes in response to a series of applications for Emergency Withdrawal as submitted by the Army for construction or augmentation of barriers along the southern border.”
The department said no Native American tribal lands or national parks were included in the transfer, which includes areas next to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona and Otay Mountain Wilderness in California.
“Absent this action, national security and natural resource values will be lost. The impacts of this crisis are vast and must be aggressively addressed with extraordinary measures,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement. “The damages to natural resource values are a byproduct of the serious national security, drug enforcement, and other immigration challenges facing our dedicated staff along the border. Construction of border barriers will help us maintain the character of the lands and resources under our care and fulfill our mission to protect them.”
The Defense Department announced earlier this month that it was taking $3.6 billion from military construction, which would have been used for base projects and needed improvements at installations across the country, and redirecting it to border fencing construction. The three-year Interior land transfer to the Army is technically classified as a military project.
The border projects falling under the lands transfer are replacement of an existing vehicle barrier with a fence on 170 acres in Luna and Hidalgo counties, N.M.; new fencing construction on 43 acres in Hidalgo County, N.M.; new bollard fencing on 43.77 acres in San Diego County, Calif.; replacement of the existing vehicle barrier adjacent to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge with bollard fencing on 228 acres in Yuma County, Ariz.; and new fencing construction on 73.3 acres in Yuma County, Ariz.
The Sierra Club, American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Border Communities Coalition have challenged President Trump’s emergency declaration expediting border construction and transferring military funds. Those arguments are scheduled to be heard Nov. 18 at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Trump continues to completely disregard our system of checks and balances, critical environmental laws and protections for communities to build his destructive, deeply unpopular wall,” Dan Millis, Borderlands Program Manager at the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said in a statement. “Illegally transferring billions of dollars from the military and now handing over our public lands for more border militarization is an abuse of power — one that will have ripple effects and ruinous harm long after his presidency.”
“It is time for the courts to immediately reject Trump’s fake national emergency that is destroying our homes, public lands, archaeological sites and communities,” he added.
Trump visited the construction of new bollard fencing to replace old fencing Wednesday in Otay Mesa, Calif., along with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. He signed one steel post with a Sharpie.
“Anything that we can do to give the Border Patrol agent event a few more seconds, a few more minutes to respond, that’s a game-changer,” Morgan said of the new fencing design, which Trump called “virtually impenetrable.”
“When the wall is built, it will be virtually impossible to come over illegally, and then we’re able to take Border Patrol and put them at your points of entry where you need some extra help and extra protection,” Trump said. “And we’re able to do a lot of things. But the numbers now are way down and as the wall goes up, and literally as the wall goes up, the numbers go down, but also, the Mexican soldiers have been incredible. They really done a great job.”
“When they want to come over legally, we make it absolutely — in my opinion, it will be easier,” he said. “They’ll have passes, they’ll have whatever we’re going to sign, it’s being worked on right now, and the farmers won’t be hurt at all when we have, you know, as you know, we have many people coming over from Mexico and from certain other countries and they’re coming through legally or they’re coming through with a work pass.”
McAleenan explained that “border crossing cards for daily commerce, the longer-term visas for employment, those are going to continue to be issues for people who follow the lawful process.”