The Biden administration is returning $2 billion set aside for former President Donald Trump’s signature border wall and calling on Congress to cancel other funding, despite a surge in people trying to cross illegally.
President Joe Biden suspended construction when he took power but his new plan falls short of canceling it altogether.
Instead, it ends fast track provisions.
‘Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or responsible use of Federal funds,’ said the White House Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B).
The OMB said Trump’s wall cost as much as $46 million per mile, dismissing it as ‘not a serious policy solution or responsible use of Federal funds’. Instead it will return $2 billion to the Pentagon to spend on its original intended purpose
This chart shows how 2021 border crossings – pictured in blue – rocketed on crossings made in 2020, represented by the brown line (2018 is pictured in gray, with 2019 in orange)
Asylum-seeking migrant families disembark an inflatable raft after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in Roma, Texas
‘There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,’ Biden said during the campaign. However, with money already allocated his administration faced legal difficulties in ending all construction
Trump stunned commentators when he announced plans for a wall on the southern border at his campaign launch in 2015.
But it quickly caught on among supporters, offering a concrete solution to a growing concern about illegal crossings, becoming his signature, populist promise.
In power, his administration built 52 miles of new slatted structures and replaced hundreds of miles of fencing.
But the O.M.B said it cost as much as $46 million per mile.
Even so, the number of arrivals has surged.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said its agents stopped 180,034 people at the border in May.
That was the fourth consecutive monthly rise and represented a 674 percent increase over the 23,237 stopped in May of last year (when COVID-19 depressed numbers).
Conservatives scent blood as the Biden administration struggles to deal with the crisis.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked with leading diplomatic efforts to slow the surge, is under intense pressure to visit the border and see for herself what conditions look.
Her predecessor Mike Pence weighed in on Friday, tweeting images of a visit he made.
‘Here’s what it looks like when a vice president visits the Southern Border…’ he wrote.
Former Vice President Mike Pence taunted his successor Kamala Harris on Twitter, saying it was time for her to visit the southern border and deal with the crisis there
Maribel Rivera, an asylum-seeking migrant woman from Honduras, prays after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in Roma, Texas. In May, CBP said it stopped more than 180,000 people trying to cross illegally into the country
A pair of migrant families from Brazil wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after passing through a gap in the border wall from Mexico in Yuma, Ariz., Thursday, June 10, 2021, to seek asylum. The families are part of an influx of asylum-seekers entering the U.S. in the Yuma area from South America and other continents.
Trump’s border wall idea captivated a segment of voters as soon as he announced it during his campaign launch in 2015. However, he was never able to follow through on his promise to make Mexico foot the bill
A Haitian migrant family looks to emerge from a rocky canal adjacent to a gap in the U.S. border wall in Yuma, Arizona
Biden plans to return more than $2 billion that the Trump administration diverted from the Pentagon to help pay for the wall and use other money appropriated by Congress to address ‘urgent life, safety, and environmental issues’ created by the construction.
It also asks lawmakers not to provide any additional funding for what the Biden team believes is an unnecessary effort.
Trump vowed to build a ‘virtually impenetrable’ wall, insisting it would be paid for by Mexico, which never happened. Instead, his administration set aside about $15 billion through a combination of congressional appropriations and taking the money from the Pentagon and other parts of the government.
Biden’s decision to suspend construction prompted Republican senators to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the administration was violating federal law in not using appropriated money for its intended purpose.
The administration said Friday that it will use funds already set aside by Congress for ‘their appropriated purpose, as required by law’ but is requesting no new money for wall construction in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2022 budget.
Biden is instead seeking money for increased technology at the ports of entry and elsewhere, saying there are more efficient ways to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling at the border.
The administration said it would return $2 billion taken from the Pentagon and use it for the construction projects for which the money was originally intended.
Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this week to discuss the root causes of migration with the countries’ leaders
Migrants cross Rio Bravo from Mexico to the US on May 21, 2021 in Ciudad Juarez Mexico.According to unofficial estimates approximately 200,000 migrants have crossed into the United States along the southern border since February 2021
That includes $79 million for an elementary school for the children of American service members in Germany; $25 million for a fire and rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida; and $10 million to expand defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles at Fort Greely in Alaska.
It plans to use the approximately $1.9 million remaining appropriated by Congress for the wall for drainage and erosion control or other environmental problems caused by wall construction in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and elsewhere.
Dozens of advocacy organizations have called on the Biden administration to pay for the restoration of sensitive wildlife habitat and land considered sacred to Native Americans that was damaged by wall construction.
‘This is a welcome, sensible next step to begin healing the devastation that Trump inflicted on the borderlands,’ said Paulo Lopes, a senior policy land specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The administration doesn’t explicitly say it won’t build any new wall.
But it says that any new construction will be subjected to environmental review and that it will review ongoing efforts to seize land from property owners by eminent domain and will return parcels to the owners if the Department of Homeland Security determines it’s not needed.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said Thursday that the state would build its own new barriers along the border with Mexico but offered no details, including precisely where or what they would look like. He has promised more details next week.
‘We need to recognize that the numbers of people coming across the border are just going to continue to increase unless we change the game plan,’ Abbott said.