The Dept. of Homeland Security on Sept. 12 issued a waiver of laws, regulations and other legal requirements to expedite construction of border barriers near Calexico, Calif., similar to a waiver also printed in the Federal Register in August that cleared the way for construction of border-wall prototypes near San Diego.

DHS says Congress granted the agency the right to waive laws and regulations in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 that protect public health, the environment and animals. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a motion to add this waiver to a U.S. district court case it filed earlier this year. The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a separate suit on Sept. 14. Both groups claim the authority of the DHS to waive the laws and regulations expired in 2008. In both cases, hearings are expected to be held and motions filed this fall.

DHS “doesn’t have perpetual power to toss crucial conservation laws for any border project it wants until the end of time,” says Brian Segee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Despite the waiver, the agency says it is committed to environmental stewardship. “DHS has been coordinating and consulting—and intends to continue doing so—with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible,” according to an agency press release.

DHS is seeking to begin construction later this month on 20 border-wall proto­types in the Otay Mesa area of south San Diego.