Biden’s go-ahead for added border wall draws criticism from Democrats in Congress
White House has defended itself on the border wall, arguing that it’s following the law
The criticism comes after the Biden administration moved to use funds appropriated during the Trump administration to allow for 20 miles of additional border wall along the south of Texas, in the process waiving 26 federal laws. (Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished without a subscription to Getty.)
WASHINGTON — U.S. congressional Democrats are frustrated with the White House’s decision to allow for the construction of additional border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Walls don’t work. It’s that simple,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington state wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “If we really want to take steps to solve the situation at our border, we must invest in real solutions to process migrants and refugees.”
The criticism comes after the Biden administration moved to use funds appropriated during the Trump administration to allow for 20 miles of additional border wall along the South of Texas, in the process waiving 26 federal laws.
In a Federal Register notice, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security noted that the additional construction of the border wall in Starr County, Texas is part of a busy U.S. Border Patrol sector seeing “high illegal entry.”
About 245,000 illegal entries have been recorded in the region for the 2023 fiscal year, according to DHS data.
Some of those federal laws DHS waived include the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The Biden administration has struggled to manage the high number of migrants at the Southern border that has also led Democratic mayors in major cities such as New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago to ask for federal assistance for newly arrived immigrants.
Many of those migrants are awaiting their asylum hearings, and the immigration courts already have a 2.6 million case backlog, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The administration has tried to help those cities by expanding protected status to nearly half a million Venezuelan nationals, allowing them to live and work in the United States. Due to federal law, migrants have to wait six months to apply for permission to work after they file their asylum applications.
The strain on those cities has come after Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent buses of migrants to those cities, often without warning local officials.
The U.S. Border Patrol encountered more than 300,000 migrants nationwide as of August during this fiscal year, compared to more than 251,000 for the previous fiscal year for the same month, according to CBP data.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán, Democrat of California, said in a statement that the decision to continue with construction along the border was disappointing. She argued that the decision “is not in line with the current Administration’s commitments to end border wall construction.”
“Republicans remain committed to building border walls that are ineffective, a poor use of taxpayer funds, and a strain on the local environment, endangering families and children who are fleeing from dangerous conditions and that seek legal asylum in the United States,” Barragán said. “There are better methods to address our immigration system in America, and we encourage the Biden Administration to pursue practical solutions.”
Biden immigration policies
One of Biden’s first priorities when he came into office was halting the national emergency at the Southern border and halting funds to build the wall. The U.S.-Mexico border runs about 2,000 miles across four states – California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
In a Jan. 20, 2021 proclamation, Biden said that “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution. It is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”
Biden also repeatedly criticized building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border while he was campaigning in the 2020 presidential election.
On top of the announcement for construction of the border wall, the Biden administration also announced it would resume deportation flights for Venezuelans, sparking anger among pro-immigration Democrats.
“That is simply unacceptable,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said in a statement. “I will not remain silent as Venezuelan nationals who deserve our humanitarian protection remain in limbo while we wring our hands over semantics. These are human beings who deserve refuge in the United States.”
The White House has defended itself on the border wall, arguing that it’s following the law.
“These funds were appropriated in fiscal year 2019 under Republican leadership, and DHS is required by law to use the funds for … appropriated purpose,” White House secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a White House press briefing on Oct. 5.
“This is something that we were required by law, and we are complying,” she continued. “This is an administration that does believe in the rule of law.”
According to a White House pool report, President Joe Biden on Oct. 5 said that he “had no choice.”
“I can’t say I don’t like, it, I’m not going to do it.” Biden said, according to the pool report.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement that the “notice is being taken out of context and it does not signify any change in policy whatsoever.”
Mayorkas also argued that “the law requires the government to use these funds for this purpose, which we announced earlier this year.”
“We have repeatedly asked Congress to rescind this money but it has not done so and we are compelled to follow the law,” he said. “This Administration believes that effective border security requires a smarter and more comprehensive approach, including state-of the-art border surveillance technology and modernized ports of entry. We need Congress to give us the funds to implement these proven tools.”
‘Sticking our heads in the sand’
Florida Democratic Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a freshman, said in a statement that building “a border wall is equivalent to sticking our heads in the sand.”
Frost, a member of the CHC and vice chair of the Progressive Caucus, said that a border wall will not deter migrants from making the journey, “it just makes their treacherous journey in search of freedom even more painful and dangerous.”
“To expand the border wall would be to continue the harmful, despicable immigration practices of the previous administration,” he said. “The answer to the crisis at the southern border cannot be to renege on our promise of pursuing a compassionate, comprehensive immigration system.”
Environmental groups and immigration advocacy organizations also shared their disappointment.
Laiken Jordahl, the southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that Starr County provides a vital habitat for wildlife in the area “and now bulldozers are preparing to rip right through it.”
“It’s disheartening to see President Biden stoop to this level, casting aside our nation’s bedrock environmental laws to build ineffective wildlife-killing border walls,” Jordahl said. “This is a horrific step backwards for the borderlands.”
Immigrant Legal Resource Center Policy Director Sameera Hafiz said in a statement that the allowing for additional construction of the border wall is going back to Trump-era immigration policies.
The Trump administration built 52 miles of new border wall, according to PolitiFact.
“The Biden administration has shown a lack of courage and true leadership and that its only immigration stance is to turn its back on immigrants,” Hafiz said. “Biden must stop giving into hateful rhetoric and anti-immigrant lawmakers who don’t want you to hear the truth about vibrant border communities.”
Correction: The state represented by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair was misstated in an earlier version of this report. Nanette Barragán is a Democrat from California.
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