Federal judge rules Trump administration can continue building border wall

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who President Donald Trump once asserted could not be fair to him because of Curiel's Mexican heritage, has ruled in favor of the White House in a lawsuit over construction of a border wall.

Ground views of different border wall prototypes as they take shape during the Wall Prototype Construction Project near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry on the U.S./Mexico border south of San Diego, California. Mani Albrecht/CBP Media Relations

The Trump administration will be able to move ahead with building a wall along the country’s southern border after a federal judge ruled the administration could continue waiving environmental regulations for the barrier’s construction.

In an added twist, the decision was handed down by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who President Donald Trump once asserted could not be fair because of his Mexican heritage and the president’s stance on border security and immigration. Those comments came during a separate lawsuit brought against then-candidate Trump and his Trump University. 

Tuesday's ruling, which was first reported by The Hill, was in response to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups that had challenged whether the White House had the authority to circumvent federal regulations in order to build the barrier. The Department of Homeland Security announced in October that it had completed construction of eight wall prototypes that would be tested over time.

In a statement, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson called the decision a victory for a government intent on securing the border. 

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It’s still unclear, however, when construction of the barrier will continue or where it will occur. On the campaign trail, Trump said he envisioned a wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf Coast, but has since backtracked slightly and conceded some areas of the border are not suited for a wall. Some Texas Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep Will Hurd of Helotes, have offered legislation that would employ technology and more boots on the ground instead of a full-length barrier. Texas would be the state most affected by a wall or any other barrier, as it shares 1,254 miles of border with Mexico.

It’s also unclear where the Trump administration will get the money for the wall. Congress has yet to fund the project and the Mexican government, who Trump had promised would pay for the wall, has balked at any suggestion that it finance the barrier. Wall funding was recently included in part of an immigration deal that would have protected millions of undocumented immigrants, called “Dreamers,” from deportation. But the Senate failed to pass any of the immigration proposals that made it to the upper chamber earlier this month.

In some areas of Texas, including El Paso, Hudspeth, Hidalgo and Cameron counties, there already exists a steel fence that was built after the Bush administration passed the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which mandated that hundreds of miles of barrier be built in order to stop the flow of illegal immigration and illicit drugs.

A Texas Tribune investigation of that process found that many border Texans got a raw deal when the federal government seized their private land for the fence’s construction, while others were able to get a better offer if they hired an attorney.