WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security will bypass environmental and land-management laws to build hundreds of miles of border fence between the United States and Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday.
A border fence stands at Juarez, Mexico. More than 360 miles of fence are supposed to be finished by year's end.
"Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," Chertoff said.
"These waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward."
Chertoff cited a congressional requirement that 361 miles of fence be completed by the end of the year. He also pointed out that Congress had given him the authority to bypass laws.
But the executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, said the move "threatens the livelihoods and ecology of the entire U.S.-Mexico border region."
"Secretary Chertoff chose to bypass stakeholders and push through this unpopular project on April Fools' Day. We don't think the destruction of the borderlands region is a laughing matter," said Carl Pope.
The Sierra Club says the waivers will affect a range of federally protected lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, forests and wilderness areas.
The Sierra Club says the waivers themselves are unconstitutional and has asked the Supreme Court to rule on the question.
This is the fourth set of waivers issued by the department, and is the most sweeping.
Chertoff's orders Tuesday affect two areas. First, the department proposes to place fencing, towers, sensors, cameras, detection equipment and roads along a 470-mile stretch of the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Second, it plans to integrate a concrete wall into proposed levee reinforcements along a 22-mile section of the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County, Texas.
The department said it is committed to working in an environmentally sensitive manner and cooperating with resource agencies so it does as little damage as possible. E-mail to a friend
All About Immigration • U.S. Department of Homeland Security • Michael Chertoff