Judge Clears Legal Roadblock for Administration to Build Border Wall

By Ayana Byrd Feb 28, 2018

The Trump administration was handed a judicial victory when a federal judge ruled in its favor in a lawsuit, allowing plans to move forward to build a wall on the United States-Mexico border.

In a 101-page opinion issued Tuesday (February 27), U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel wrote that the government had the authority to waive environmental laws and build the border wall, according to an article in The Washington Post.

The decision was in response to a lawsuit brought by environmental advocacy groups and the state of California who argued that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was using an old immigration law to justify bypassing proper procedures to ensure that the wall met environmental standards.

The Trump administration invoked a 2005 anti-terror law, the REAL ID Act, to avoid conducting an environmental review of the impact the wall will have on sites along the intended route. Per NBC News:

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called for a waiver of the environmental reviews last August and the plaintiffs—California, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Animal Legal Defense Fund all sued, saying the Kelly had overstepped his authority.

Experts provided declarations for California and the environmental groups, suggesting that the construction—on 15 miles of border in San Diego and another three miles near El Centro—could harm the Tijuana Estuary, along with rare, threatened and endangered species.

“Judge Curiel rejected the lawsuit, adding that ‘the court cannot and does not consider whether underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent,’” reported the BBC.

“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, in a statement posted on Twitter.  

Today (February 28), Trump took to Twitter to express that he is in no rush to build the wall, which was a central tenet of his campaign during the presidential election.  “I have decided that sections of the wall that California wants built now will not be built until the whole wall is approved. Big victory yesterday with ruling from the courts that allows us to proceed. Our country must have border security!” he tweeted. Meanwhile, Congress has still not approved the $18 billion he requested to fund the wall.

This is not Judge Curiel’s first time working on a case connected to Donald Trump. In 2016, he was the judge in an unrelated lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University. His assignment to the case led the then-presidential candidate to say, in an 11-minute monologue while on the campaign trail, that Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” could make the judge biased against him. Curiel was born in Indiana; his parents are immigrants from Mexico.