SAN DIEGO – California sued the Trump administration Wednesday to stop construction of a proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, arguing the federal government is overstepping its authority by waiving environmental reviews and other laws.
Asked about the lawsuit at an appearance in San Diego, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he expects to prevail in legal challenges to the wall – one of the president’s key campaign pledges.
“The United States government has the control of that border and a responsibility to secure it,” he told reporters at a landing dock where he touted a record set by the Coast Guard for cocaine seizures.
The California lawsuit came as private contractors prepare to build eight prototypes for the wall in San Diego.
The administration “has once again ignored laws it doesn’t like in order to resuscitate a campaign talking point to build a wall on our southern border,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said while discussing the case at a news conference in a state park where a fence juts into the Pacific Ocean to separate the U.S. and Mexico.
In a letter to Homeland Security, California Gov. Jerry Brown said construction would “wreak havoc on an important and well-used commercial corridor.”
The lawsuit filed by Becerra, a Democrat, largely mirrors two others by environmental advocacy groups that allege the administration overstepped its authority to speed construction of the wall.
His complaint specifically addresses stretches of 15 miles in San Diego – where the administration will build the prototypes – and three miles in Calexico, California.
Aides to Becerra believe a victory in the lawsuit would apply to the entire border, stretching nearly 2,000 miles through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
At issue is a 2005 law that gave the Homeland Security secretary broad powers to waive dozens of laws for border barriers, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.
The Trump administration has issued two waivers since August, both in California. President George W. Bush’s administration issued the previous five waivers in 2008.
Legal challenges to border barriers have failed over the years amid concerns about national security. The Congressional Research Service said in a report this year for members of Congress that it saw no legal impediment to Trump’s proposed wall if deemed appropriate for controlling the border.
Becerra’s lawsuit – like one filed by the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Legal Defense Fund – contends the government’s power to waive the laws expired in 2008, when it met a congressional requirement for erecting fences on about one-third of the border.
The Center for Biological Diversity argues in its lawsuit that the 2005 law “cannot reasonably be interpreted to exempt compliance with the waived laws in perpetuity.”
Timothy Patterson, a supervising California deputy attorney general, said he expected the three lawsuits to be consolidated under one federal judge, possibly Gonzalo Curiel because he was assigned the earliest one.
Trump criticized Curiel during the campaign for his handling of lawsuits against now-defunct Trump University, suggesting the judge’s Mexican heritage carried a bias.
Becerra’s legal action is the latest in a series of lawsuits he has filed against the administration. He has sued over Trump’s decision to halt a program that protects young immigrants from deportation and has battled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over regulations.
During his appearance in San Diego, Sessions also called attention to Coast Guard seizures of more than 227 tons of cocaine during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
In addition, he reiterated opposition to legalization of marijuana for recreational use – three months before pot sales are expected to begin in California.
Sessions said federal law prohibiting marijuana still applies.
“It doesn’t strike me that the country would be better if it’s being sold at every street corner,” he said.
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