U.S. Customs and Border Protection just announced it will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump’s border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it’s already received from Congress, several news outlets reported.
The agency will build a 3-mile segment of wall amid one of the nation’s most cherished bird-watching locales, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a non-profit group that supports two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, ProPublica reports.
“I was alarmed,” said Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. “It was not good news.”
For the past six months, according to The Texas Observer, CBP has been quietly preparing a site to build a nearly 3-mile border barrier through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, according to The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has reportedly begun drilling and soil testing in California and New Mexico.
“This should be public information,” the official told the Observer. “There shouldn’t be government officials meeting in secret just so they don’t have to deal with the backlash. The public has the right to know about these plans,” he added.
While Congress has yet to approve CBP’s budget, officials at the agency recently told a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official in Texas that the agency would shift funds to pay for the new segment out of its current budget.
A wall cutting through the refuge could do serious environmental damage, Chapman said, undermining the reason Congress appropriated money to buy the land in the first place. But under a 2005 law, the Department of Homeland Security can waive any environmental regulations that would normally impede construction in a sensitive wildlife area.
Chapman said his group is now counting on Democrats to halt expansion of the project.
“The Democrats in Congress up to now have been very unified as far as not appropriating money for the wall,” Chapman said.
As reported by the Texas Tribune, “Trump made construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico the signature promise of his political campaign and told supporters it would be solid concrete, 30 feet high and would stretch the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The erratic president estimated the wall would cost perhaps $10 billion to $12 billion — and he vowed the Mexican government would pay the bill. Five days after his inauguration, he signed an executive order to begin the process. Mexican officials, however, have vigorously rejected any proposition of financing construction.
“Mexico will not pay for the wall,” Mexican President Enrique Peñanieto told Trump during a leaked phone conversation.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have opposed paying for the wall, which the Department of Homeland Security estimates would cost around $20 billion.
Trump, however, has already taken credit for beginning to fulfill his campaign promise.
“In a true sense, we’ve already started the wall,” he told the reporters recently.