President Trump seems to have done for California what a federal judge would not: halt plans for the border wall he has promised with Mexico. At least temporarily.
A day after U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled that the Trump administration had the right to waive environmental laws and other restrictions to move forward on the project, Trump tweeted that he would not do so until the entire wall was approved by Congress.
In his tweet, Trump suggested that Democratic-led California wanted to move forward “NOW” but, in fact, the lawsuit brought by advocacy groups and the state's attorney general had attempted to handcuff the administration. California has opposed many of the Trump administration's immigration policies, including his efforts to force “sanctuary cities” to comply with federal immigration operations.
Congress has not authorized funding for the wall, and the Senate rejected four immigration bills this month that would have provided up to $25 billion in federal funding for the project. The president is planning a visit to San Diego in two weeks to view prototypes for the wall.
It's not clear what Trump meant when he referred to the "whole Wall" in his tweet. During the campaign, he suggested a wall across virtually the entire southwest border, up to 2,200 miles. More recently, his administration, and the president himself, has estimated about 700 miles of walls and barriers would be sufficient.
In a 101-page opinion, Curiel wrote that the government had the authority to waive environmental laws and proceed with its border wall. Curiel, who Trump once suggested would be biased against him because of the judge’s “Mexican” heritage, wrote that he was “aware that the subject of these lawsuits, border barriers, is the subject of heated political debate in and between the United States and the Republic of Mexico as to the need, efficacy and the source of funding for such barriers,” but that he could “not consider whether underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent.” The decision granting summary judgment is an unequivocal win for the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, although those who had sued to slow construction said they would look to a higher court to intervene.
“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 lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups suing. “The Trump administration has completely overreached its authority. . . . They’re giving unprecedented, sweeping power to an unelected agency chief to ignore dozens of laws.”
The Department of Homeland Security said it “looks forward to building the wall where our frontline operators say it is needed and in accordance with all applicable laws.”