09:13 PM

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups Challenge Border Wall Construction in San Diego, Imperial Valley

Media contacts:

Catalina Tresky, Defenders of Wildlife, ctresky@defenders.org, (202) 772-0253

Courtney Bourgoin, Sierra Club, courtney.bourgoin@sierraclub.org, (202) 495-3022

Animal Legal Defense Fund, media@aldf.org


WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2017) – A coalition of national conservation groups including Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today challenging border wall construction activities that threaten wildlife and public lands in San Diego and Imperial Valley, California.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“An impenetrable border wall would divide wildlife and their habitat as well as families and communities across the border. It would bisect and isolate important Southwestern landscapes, pushing borderland wildlife like Peninsular bighorn sheep, jaguars and ocelots to the brink of extinction.

“The border wall serves as a negative symbol of exclusion and fear and sends the wrong message to those pursuing the American Dream. It threatens our shared natural heritage with Mexico, an important partner in bi-national wildlife conservation efforts along the border. Yet, the Trump administration has waived a host of environmental laws to expedite the expansion of such a destructive, arbitrary boundary.

“Nobody is above the law. Environmental laws were enacted to protect imperiled wildlife, delicate landscapes and the American public. And if the Department decides to waive laws to expedite border wall construction in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, in Texas, Defenders of Wildlife will absolutely challenge DHS in court on that decision as well.”

Dan Millis, director of Sierra Club’s Borderlands Program, issued the following statement:

“These waivers greatly endanger communities in the borderlands: our safety, environment and health. This blatant disregard for effective and well-established safeguards harms hard-working families, threatened and endangered wildlife, and critical natural resources – all of which are essential to the region.”

Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, issued the following statement:

“The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s unilateral decision to waive vital laws including the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act to build an unnecessary border wall is not only misguided, but unlawful and beyond the authority provided by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005. These environmental laws were designed to protect the lives and interests of endangered and threatened species such as jaguars and dozens of other species who could be rendered extinct by the construction of the wall.”

“Construction of the border wall would cause permanent and irreparable damage to over a hundred endangered and threatened species that call the border area their home. The wall would literally divide animal families, interfere with breeding and migratory patterns and ultimately may result in the extinction of many of these species. These are the very irreparable harms meant to be prevented by the environmental laws the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has unilaterally waived.”


Wildlife along the Border 

More than 600 miles of border walls and barriers have been constructed in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In California, border barriers affect more than a dozen rare species, including the endangered Arroyo toad and Quino checkerspot butterfly. Any extension of the border wall would bisect the Tijuana River that meanders through the locally protected Marron Valley and the federally protected Jacumba Wilderness Area, cutting off important migration routes for the highly endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, devastating recovery efforts. In Texas, walls and barriers block people and animals from access to the Rio Grande River, an important water source for communities and wildlife alike.

Border Wall Activity in the Trump administration

On Jan. 25, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order, calling for the expansion of the border wall. In August, DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) issued waivers to construct 14 miles of border fencing near San Diego and 60 miles of new border and levee walls in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. In San Diego, DHS has waived 37 laws for its plans to extend and replace the existing border wall and to construct prototype wall configurations nearby.


Section 102 of the 2005 REAL ID Act gave the Secretary of Homeland Security unprecedented power to waive any federal, state, or local law to construct roads and barriers along the border. This waiver has now been invoked six times to construct roads and barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. In our case today, Defenders of Wildlife and our partners are challenging the constitutionality of Section 102 of the REAL ID Act as well as its application towards replacing existing border wall construction and building prototypes. Border wall prototypes are set to be constructed this fall in San Diego.

In October 2007, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of DHS and Bureau of Land Management’s approval of border wall construction within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in district court. The U.S. Supreme Court declined review. While a federal judge in the District of Columbia issued an injunction blocking further construction of the wall, then-Secretary Michael Chertoff waived 19 laws to move forward with construction, and the injunction was dismissed.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.