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Lawsuit claims Homeland Security fails to assess environmental impact of immigration policies

By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News

A group of nine organizations and individuals filed suit in federal court Monday claiming the Department of Homeland Security has failed to study the effects of immigration on the country’s environment.

According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego against DHS and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, federal agencies are required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to conduct assessments before establishing policies or regulations in order to understand the impact the proposed action may have on the environment. DHS, which was created in 2003, took over responsibilities for managing immigration and border control issues after the Immigration and Naturalization Service was dissolved that same year.

Homeland Security officials finalized its NEPA compliance procedures two years ago, but the plaintiffs claim the agency is choosing to implement those procedures on an arbitrary basis. As a result, there have been at least 33 actions tied to the entry and settlement of immigrants where the agency’s NEPA compliance procedures have not been implemented.

Like INS, “DHS has turned a blind eye regarding the environmental impacts, including the cumulative impacts, of its actions concerning foreign nationals who enter and settle into the United States pursuant to the agency’s discretionary actions,” the complaint stated.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a Washington-based advocacy law firm that supports the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The Institute seeks to defend citizens’ and communities’ rights from what it claims are the harmful effects of both legal and illegal immigration.

In a 20-year span through 2010, the IRLI said the country’s population swelled by more than 60 million people because of the federal government’s approach to handling immigration. The population growth has harmed the environment, the Institute said in a statement on its Website, by increasing water consumption, making traffic worse, decreasing air quality and reducing farmlands and forests.

“The immigration policies implemented by DHS have had an enormous impact on the environment by causing explosive population growth,” said Dale L. Wilcox, IRLI’s executive director. “Yet DHS has ignored NEPA, the bedrock of the nation’s environmental statutory framework, for decades.”

The impact on the environment has been far greater in the southwest corner of the country, institute leaders claim, because illegal immigrants are able to easily to cross into the country from the Mexican border. Several of the plaintiffs involved in the case are based in the southwestern corner of the country, including both the Whitewater Draw and Hereford natural conservation districts in Arizona, the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and Californians for Population Stabilization.

New Mexico rancher Ralph Pope, a former worker with the U.S. Forest Service and a plaintiff in the case, is a Southwestern U.S. native who co-owns 160 acres of lands near the Arizona-New Mexico border. He said he’s seen firsthand the damages, including wildfires, caused by immigrants traversing the remote lands.

“This undeniable presence of many hundreds of thousands of humans who are traveling on foot through, on many occasions very rugged and remote areas of Southeast Arizona and Southwest New Mexico, has caused obvious and undeniable damage to the unique native ecosystems located on hundreds of thousands of acres of once pristine and unspoiled lands, most of which is federally owned,” said Pope in his affidavit.

The plaintiffs seek a judgement compelling the agency to adhere fully to federal law and conduct the assessments.

Homeland Security officials did not respond to an email after business hours seeking comment. However, most government agencies have a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

The case number is: 3:16-CV-0253-L-BLM


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