Democrats have already cast doubt the budget proposal will be approved, describing it as unrealistic.
Civil rights and environmental groups called the proposal outrageous, noting the department already has nearly unlimited authority to waive federal regulations governing land use. Among the laws that the Homeland Security secretary can waive are the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Eagle Protection Act.
“They already have the broadest authority given to an agency by Congress and they want to expand it?” said Efrén C. Olivares, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project in Alamo, Texas. The group has represented landowners opposed to a border wall. “This should set off all kinds of red flags.”
Environmental groups said the border walls would not only militarize the southern border and violate the civil liberties of communities there, but also jeopardize wildlife and endangered species in the region.
“The administration will stop at nothing to fulfill a political promise to build a border wall that won’t stop drugs or migration,” said Brian Segee, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the Trump administration in April over border wall prototypes in San Diego.
Previous Homeland Security secretaries have repeatedly used the department’s existing authorities to waive regulations, including to build border barriers.
Michael Chertoff, who served that role under President George W. Bush, exempted the department five times between 2005 and 2008, waiving at least 36 federal laws to build most of the nearly 700 miles of border walls that are still in use.
More recently, John F. Kelly, who was Mr. Trump’s Homeland Security secretary before becoming the White House chief of staff, waived environmental and other laws last year to build prototype border walls, access roads and replacement fencing in the San Diego area.
In its lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in San Diego, the Center for Biological Diversity argued that the Trump administration had failed to study the environmental impact of wall prototypes before gearing up for their construction.
The lawsuit challenges Homeland Security’s authority to waive more than 30 environmental laws. It said the waiver used to build the prototypes is unconstitutional and oversteps the executive branch’s reach.
Authored by Saliqa Khan