Judge to Preside Over Border Wall Case Two Years After Trump Attacked His Mexican Heritage

Protesters display signs during a demonstration against Donald Trump's attempted Muslim travel ban and proposed border wall on January 29, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Doug Turetsky)Protesters display signs during a demonstration against Donald Trump’s attempted Muslim travel ban and proposed border wall on January 29, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Doug Turetsky)

The fate of President Donald Trump’s signature agenda item, a wall along the southern US border, may be in the hands of a judge who was at the center of a controversy during Trump’s 2016 campaign.

US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel will preside over a case involving three lawsuits that challenge the Trump administration’s construction of the wall.

Two years ago, while campaigning, Trump said Curiel could not act as an impartial judge when ruling on two class action suits regarding Trump University, the president’s for-profit college, because Curiel was of Mexican heritage.

Curiel was born in the US to parents who immigrated from Mexico, and then became naturalized citizens.

The judge will decide whether the Trump administration can use waivers, issued by Congress in 1996 and 2005, that have allowed the government to bypass certain laws, including environmental regulations, in the interest of border security projects. The Department of Homeland Security has already waived 37 environmental laws just for the construction of wall prototypes.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is party to one of the three lawsuits, argues that the waivers are out of date and never took into account a potential border wall. Other plaintiffs, including the state of California and several conservation groups, argue that the construction of a wall would harm wildlife in the area.

“Nobody is above the law. Environmental laws were enacted to protect imperiled wildlife, delicate landscapes, and the American public,” Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups, said when the case was mounted last year.

Curiel has never publicly acknowledged the president’s remarks about his ethnicity, and Gregory Vega, a former colleague, told McClatchy that the incident “will not impact him at all. He will follow the rule of law.”

But on social media, Trump critics relished the news that Curiel will play a role in deciding whether the construction of a wall meant to keep people like his family out of the country, will move forward.