WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday defended his administration’s decision to waive 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow construction of about 20 miles of additional border wall, saying he had no choice but to spend the funds to use the Trump-era barrier to curb illegal migration from Mexico.
When asked if he thought such walls worked, he replied flatly: “No.”
However, the new building was announced in June The funds were approved in 2019, before the Democratic president took office. Biden said he tried to get lawmakers to redirect the money, but Congress refused, and the law requires the funds to be used as approved and construction to be completed in 2023.
“The money was used for the border wall,” Biden said. “I can’t stop that.”
Still, waiving federal regulations for construction — which also happened when Republican Donald Trump was president — raised questions, particularly because Biden condemned border wall spending when he was running for the White House. One of Biden’s first decisions as president was to halt emergency use Money to build the wall along the southern border and end the national emergency there.
The decision comes as the Biden administration struggles to manage the growing number of migrants at the border and the spread in larger U.S. states. Democratic leaders in New York, Chicago and Washington are asking for federal help to deal with the growing number of migrants in their cities. Administration officials made the announcement on Thursday They would resume deporting migrants to Venezuela to slow arrivals.
Republicans, for their part, say the president is ineffective on border policy and some say they won’t fund further efforts in Ukraine without substantive approval Increase funding for border security.
The decision drew immediate criticism from immigration advocates and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, calling it a “setback.”
“It’s a setback because it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said Thursday. López Obrador has often praised Biden in the past because “he is the first US president in a long time who has not built walls.”
The Department of Homeland Security released the Announcement of the last wall action in the Federal Register with few details about the construction in Starr County, Texas, part of a busy Border Patrol sector with “high illegal entry.” According to government data, about 245,000 illegal border crossings have been recorded in the Rio Grande Valley sector so far this fiscal year. It is one of the busiest border crossings in the country.
“I want to address today’s coverage of a border wall and be absolutely clear. “There is no new administration policy regarding border walls,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “From day one, this administration has made it clear that a border wall is not the solution. That remains our position and our position has never wavered.”
Much of the land along the Rio Grande is subject to erosion and is part of federally protected habitats for plants and animals. A federal project along the river would normally require a series of environmental reviews. Congress gave U.S. immigration authorities the ability to waive these checks in order to erect such barriers more quickly.
“The Biden administration’s decision to rush construction of a border wall represents a profound failure,” said Jonathan Blazer, director of border strategies at the American Civil Liberties Union. “On the campaign trail, President Biden said it best when he said the border wall was not a serious policy solution — and we couldn’t agree more. Instead of keeping that promise, the Biden administration is doubling down on failed policies of the past that have proven wasteful and ineffective.”
This is not the first time a border wall has been built under the Biden administration. Homeland Security has also been working on about 13 miles in the Rio Grande Valley and another small project to close “small gaps left open by previous construction activities” in the border wall.
But the border wall is synonymous with Trump’s restrictive immigration policy. He said he wanted to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, then declared a national emergency to finance construction when Congress wouldn’t provide funding for it.
Trump’s allies said the move only shows he is right. Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also spoke out, saying the administration’s actions showed he was on the safe side.
“As I have often said, over the millennia there are only two things that have worked consistently: wheels and walls!” Trump wrote on his social media platform. “Will Joe Biden apologize to me and America for taking so long to get moving… I will wait for his apology!”
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.