But Wolf said his agency’s primary concern is national security, not environmental damage, to respond to the national emergency declared by the president. “The president did issue a national emergency to build a new border wall system, so we’re appropriate. We are waiving regulations to make sure that that work does not slow down and is not delayed,” Wolf told Sinema. The exchange came during a wide-ranging hearing that touched on everything from the actions of DHS officers during protests this summer in Portland, Oregon, to threats posed by states like Russia, China and Iran. Republican lawmakers on the committee generally lauded the direction of the agency under Wolf. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent most of his time praising Wolf and defending his choices as acting secretary while Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. and the committee chairman, ceded his time to let Wolf address scandals affecting DHS. But most Democrats on the committee grilled Wolf on his decision to send DHS officers to cities like Portland and his focus on left-wing anarchists over white supremacists. They also questioned the legitimacy of decisions made by a secretary who has served in an acting capacity for so long. The border wall was just one of the immigration issues that was touched on. Lawmakers also asked about the care of migrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and reports that trafficking victims have been returned to their home countries where they could face further danger.
The Department of Homeland Security is blowing up mountains in Guadalupe Canyon, southeastern Arizona. This is federally protected jaguar critical habitat. But all relevant laws have been waived by the Trump Administration. pic.twitter.com/R2H62s41yp— Russ McSpadden (@PeccaryNotPig) September 22, 2020
Complaints about the wall are hardly new. After Congress refused to meet his demands for border wall funding, President Donald Trump in February 2019 declared a national emergency at the border that he said allowed him to shift funding from other departments and let DHS waive environment and other regulations as necessary. That has led to repeated run-ins with local communities. In February of this year, the Tohono O’Odham Nation said that “dynamiting these sacred sites and burial grounds” where the wall is going up “is the same as bulldozing Arlington National Cemetery or any other cemetery. Our history as a people is being obliterated and our ancestors’ remains are being desecrated.” “The National Park Service has acknowledged these areas are sacred to the Nation,” the statement said. “Yet in the rush to build the wall, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has waived cultural preservation and environmental laws.” Earlier this month, Border Patrol agents assisted the National Park Service with the arrest of two O’odham women for “interfering with agency functions” and “violating a closure” by trying to block construction equipment at Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis near the border. Environmental groups have charged that DHS’ use of groundwater to make cement for the wall has caused the spring’s water level to fall in recent months.
EARLIER: “You have an obligation to protect sacred sites and sacred areas. You have failed”: Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr blasts Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney for letting Trump administration desecrate sacred places for wall along US border. pic.twitter.com/yrEzEgetBJ— indianz.com (@indianz) February 11, 2020
Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News. It is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
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