July 17, 2023: Today, Sierra Club and other parties reached a settlement agreement with the Biden Administration, concluding litigation over the construction of an illegal border wall by the government under then-President Trump. Upon approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the settlement will stop further construction of the border wall in areas impacted by Trump's illegal funds transfers, mitigate harms to local communities and wildlife, and protect endangered and threatened species affected by the construction.
Sierra Club attorneys Gloria Smith and Sanjay Narayan co-counseled this case with ACLU attorneys, who represented the Sierra Club along with Southern Border Communities Coalition. We filed the suit in 2019, just days after Trump’s first false claim of “emergency” powers to divert billions of dollars to build his wall—after Congress directly refused his request to fund the border wall. We later filed a separate lawsuit to challenge his second declaration in 2020. In both lawsuits, the U.S. District court for the Northern District of California and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court however, by a 5-4 vote, ruled that the construction of the wall could proceed while the litigation was pending; it did not rule on the legality of diverting the relevant funds to the border wall construction. On January 20, 2021, 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, where settlement negotiations commenced.
The settlement commits the federal government to undertake a menu of activities (on which the government estimates it will spend $1.1 billion) to fix harms to the environment caused by construction of the illegal wall. The agreement also includes an additional $45 million to protect endangered and threatened species harmed by border wall construction. The federal government further agrees to engage in formal environmental planning and community consultation processes before taking further action at the impacted wall sections, such as installing stadium lighting that would cause the destruction of wildlife species and disrupt wilderness areas. Finally, to allow for cross-border migration of animal species, the government agrees to install twenty small wildlife passages and four large wildlife passages, keep certain stormwater gates open full time for at least two years, and not to fill certain gaps in the wall for at least two years.
Sierra Club was represented in this litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and by Sierra Club’s in-house Environmental Law Program. ELP managing attorneys Gloria Smith and Sanjay Narayan and ELP associate attorney Ankit Jain worked with lawyers from the ACLU to develop and brief the case during the Trump Administration. Gloria Smith and Ankit Jain closely engaged in the settlement negotiations with the Biden Administration. Former ELP research analyst Ana Boyd provided important support. The litigation and settlement negotiations were done in coordination with Borderlands Campaign staff on the ground.