Sierra Club, Southern Border Communities Coalition, and ACLU Reach Settlement with U.S. Government in Border Wall Case Challenging the Illegal Transfer of Military Construction Funds

As part of the settlement in Sierra Club v. Biden (formerly Sierra Club v. Trump), the U.S. government agrees to halt further wall construction and mitigate environmental damage in the sites illegally funded by the Trump administration using stolen Defense Department funding.

July 17, 2023 2:30 pm

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Under a legal settlement filed in federal court today, the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Sierra Club, ACLU of Texas, and ACLU of Northern California, have successfully settled two long-running lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s illegal transfer of military construction and Treasury Department forfeiture funds to build sections of the U.S.-Mexico border wall that Congress explicitly refused to fund.

The 49-page settlement agreement, which also settles related cases brought by California, New Mexico, and several other plaintiff states, includes critical measures to help mitigate the extensive damage done by the illegal border wall construction.

“The Trump border wall construction, done against the will of Congress and held illegal by federal courts, catastrophically harmed natural resources and communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region,” said Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director at ACLU and lead counsel in the Sierra Club v. Biden cases. “This settlement agreement brings a measure of accountability and should serve as a lasting reminder that government policies driven by fear-mongering rather than good policymaking end up harming our national interests.”

The central provisions of the settlement are a commitment by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop further construction of the border wall in areas impacted by Trump’s illegal funds transfers, to mitigate harms to communities and wildlife caused by the construction, and to protect endangered and threatened animal species harmed by this border wall construction. The mitigation activity includes commitments by CBP to engage in formal environmental planning and community consultation processes before taking further actions at the impacted wall sections, such as installing stadium lighting that causes destruction of wildlife species and disturbs people’s enjoyment of wilderness areas. There are also funds set aside for projects to monitor and mitigate the existing harms to wildlife, including threatened and endangered species whose habitat is destroyed or disturbed.

“When the ex-president didn’t get his way, he sidestepped Congress and illegally used funds meant to support servicemembers to build his border wall. From damages to Tribal lands to degraded habitats for wildlife, borderlands communities will be dealing with the consequences of this boondoggle for years to come,” said Erick Meza, borderland coordinator for Sierra Club. “The Sierra Club Borderlands program has been working for over a decade to protect these fragile landscapes, and we are glad to see this settlement not only stop work on this destructive project, but aid in its restoration. The remediations included in today’s settlement will be important to healing the communities, landscapes, and ecosystems affected by the previous administration’s reckless actions.”

When Congress refused to give Trump billions of additional dollars to wall off our communities, he recklessly declared a fake national emergency at the border and raided Department of Defense funds anyway.

“This settlement is not only about holding the U.S. government accountable for abuse of power but also about upholding the human right of all border residents to be equal under the law,” said Ricky Garza, border policy counsel for Southern Border Communities Coalition. “While nothing can undo the permanent harms of years of wall construction across the Southwest, this settlement takes important steps toward remediation that includes a requirement for consultation and an evaluation of environmental impact — a move that could open the door to eliminating blanket DHS waivers that have made border communities a sacrifice zone for decades. Committing to better consulting with our communities is a significant step forward by the U.S. government toward better governance. However, this fight isn’t over and the government has a long way to go before it recognizes the humanity and dignity of all border residents and provides us with the respect we deserve.”

Construction of Trump’s illegal border wall, which proceeded under Supreme Court orders despite multiple lower court orders that blocked construction during this litigation, has caused devastating environmental and ecological damage to the southern border region. Sections of the wall cut through a federal wildlife preserve, Tribal lands, and a sacred Arizona spring, among many other important sites home to endangered species, diverse plant life, and more than 400 species of birds.

Although Congress rejected the former president’s border wall funding requests, Trump claimed emergency authority in 2019 and 2020 to divert billions of dollars that Congress had appropriated to the Defense and Treasury Departments for other purposes to build his wall. The ACLU filed suit on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition days after Trump’s first false claim of “emergency” powers in 2019 and filed a separate lawsuit to challenge his second declaration in 2020.

On Jan. 20, 2021, on his first day in office, President Biden terminated Trump’s national emergency declaration. These cases, which had reached the Supreme Court, were subsequently taken off the court’s argument calendar and returned to the lower courts.

The settlement agreement is here:

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