The Trump administration announced Thursday it transferred 560 acres of land administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to the U.S. Army to pave the way for the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico—including some land in New Mexico.
The land in New Mexico includes a 170 acre parcel that includes parts of Luna and Hidalgo counties for “replacement of existing vehicle barrier with pedestrian barrier.” An additional 43 acres in Hidalgo County is slated for “construction of new primary and secondary pedestrian barriers.”
The announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said the transfer would allow the construction of about 70 miles of border barriers.
The move comes after the Trump administration diverted $3.6 billion in funding for military projects to fund the controversial border wall.
“Absent this action, national security and natural resource values will be lost,” Bernhardt said. “The impacts of this crisis are vast and must be aggressively addressed with extraordinary measures.”
Of the $3.6 billion in diverted military funds, $125 million comes from projects slated for New Mexico, at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range.
Thursday’s move drew immediate condemnation from members of New Mexico’s federal delegation.
“The Interior Secretary is handing over hundreds of acres of public land – including over 200 acres in New Mexico – to the United States Army to move along the president’s political pet project,” U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said in a statement. “The Department of the Interior is supposed to protect our natural resources, not endanger them with a border wall that will destroy habitat connectivity, harm wildlife and divide communities.”
“Once again, President Trump is abusing his power and ignoring the checks and balances that generations of American presidents have respected,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a statement. “He is seizing public land in order to drive a campaign agenda that divides our country rather than uniting us.”
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland also criticized the move in a release.
“This land grab harms communities along the border. What President Trump fails to realize is that our border is not a threat, it is a resource,” she said. “New Mexico relies on our public lands for our way of life and to support jobs in our outdoor recreation economy – putting the Army in charge of public lands to build an unnecessary wall along pristine landscapes and without consulting local communities or listening to environmental impact reports is foolish and wasteful.”
The Interior Department’s release announcing the move claims that it would help with environmental issues.
“Wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, as well as species and vegetation are adversely impacted by land degradation and destruction caused by the creation of trails, the deposition of trash, and unlawful fires, among other things,” the statement said.
Environmental groups and others have criticized the environmental impact of a border wall.