The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will waive environmental, natural resource and land management laws to expedite border construction projects in San Diego, officials announced Tuesday.
The waiver is intended to cover three projects, DHS officials told NBC 7. They include 14 miles of primary fence replacement, secondary fence replacement and a prototype.
In a statement, DHS officials said, "Congress granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all legal requirements that the Secretary, in his sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure the expeditious construction of the barriers and roads authorized by section 102 of IIRIRA."
IIRIRA, or the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, has been used five times between 2005 and 2008, according to the DHS.
Andrea Guerrero, Executive Director of Alliance San Diego, wants Congress to reevaluate the authority granted to the DHS.
"More than two decades of wall-building have subjected border communities like San Diego to government overreach by waiving the very laws that protect our environment and the well-being of our families," Guerrero said.
Instead of building a wall, Guerrero would like to see more money spent on upgrading ports of entry and hiring more inspectors to reduce wait times at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Building a wall on the Mexican border was a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and a flashpoint for his detractors.
The Trump administration had planned to begin construction in San Diego by June.
However, a protest concerning the selection of a design has delayed the start.
DHS officials say prototype construction will likely begin in December with the primary fence replacement construction start set for March 13, 2018.
The Center for Biological Diversity will challenge the San Diego waiver by arguing that the 2005 law does not apply to replacing barriers, said Brian Segee, an attorney for the environmental advocacy group based in Tucson, Arizona.
The group has already sued the administration over replacement of the San Diego wall and plans to build prototypes in San Diego for Trump's effort, which he has called a "big, beautiful wall."
The case is before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a target of Trump's enduring scorn over lawsuits that alleged fraud at the president's now-defunct Trump University and were settled last year shortly before trial. Curiel presided over that case.
"The waiver has already been called the broadest waiver in U.S. history," Segee said. "Any attempt to enlarge it further beyond the scope is something we're going to challenge."
The wall currently covers 654 miles or roughly one-third of the entire border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s unclear when the wall will be extended under a Trump administration.
The House of Representatives has $1.6 billion to start paying for the wall.
Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee have pegged the total cost of a border wall as high as $70 billion. Trump's former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has estimated its price tag at $21 billion, while congressional Republicans have put the cost at $12 billion to $15 billion.