SAN DIEGO – Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel issued a ruling Tuesday that will allow the government to continue waiving environmental laws in order to proceed with construction of the border barriers.
The state of California and a coalition of other groups had sued the federal government challenging the Trump administration’s plans to waive environmental laws to speed up construction of a new border wall.
Curiel’s 100-page order does not mean construction of the wall will begin immediately. Congress has yet to authorize or provide funding for the project. Thus far, the Department of Homeland Security has built several prototypes in San Diego.
Curiel was famously the target of Trump’s ire when he presided over a lawsuit against Trump University, which was ultimately settled after Trump won the White House.
In his ruling Tuesday, Curiel noted that the border wall is a highly contentious issue under this administration but said he did not factor that into his decision.
“The court is aware that the subject of these lawsuits, border barriers, is currently the subject of heated political debate in and between the United States and the Republic of Mexico as to the need, efficacy and the source of funding for such barriers,” Curiel wrote. “In its review of this case, the Court cannot and does not consider whether underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent.”
The Justice Department hailed the ruling.
“Border security is paramount to stemming the flow of illegal immigration that contributes to rising violent crime and to the drug crisis, and undermines national security,” said spokesman Devin O’Malley. ” … We are pleased DHS can continue this important work vital to our nation’s interests.”
One of the groups challenging the wall said it intended to appeal the decision.
“We intend to appeal this disappointing ruling, which would allow Trump to shrug off crucial environmental laws that protect people and wildlife,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration has completely overreached its authority in its rush to build this destructive, senseless wall.”
The waiver authority to build barriers along the border has been used a number of times dating back to the George W. Bush administration, and it has been upheld by the courts every time it has been challenged.
Trump is scheduled to visit the border wall prototypes next month.