In a notable change, the Biden administration is waiving 26 laws in South Texas to speed up border wall construction. This mirrors Trump’s approach, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) highlights about 245,000 illegal crossings this year in the area. The central focus of this new construction is Starr County, located in the Rio Grande Valley, a key region for border crossings.
Why the Biden Administration is Continuing the Border Wall
The Biden administration is constructing a 20-mile stretch of the border wall in Starr County due to “pre-existing obligations”.
The construction is funded through a 2019 appropriations bill dedicated to border wall construction. If these funds remain unused by the end of the fiscal year 2023, they will be forfeited.
Biden stated, “I tried to get to them to reappropriate it, to redirect that money. They didn’t. They wouldn’t. And in the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated. I can’t stop that.”
When asked if he believes the border wall works, he answered, “No.”1
Department of Homeland Security
Contrary to Biden’s beliefs, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stressed the immediate need for barriers to counter the influx of unauthorized border crossings.
Here is a recent statement from Mayorkas:
“It is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas.”
“This [Biden] 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.”2
The waived laws, which include environmental protections such as the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, allow the administration to circumvent lengthy reviews and possible legal confrontations arising from environmental law breaches.
Environmental advocates have sounded the alarm that the proposed infrastructure might threaten public lands and critical habitats.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s earlier plans for Starr County included the creation of a comprehensive border system. This would incorporate lighting, gates, and surveillance technology.3
However, this new construction may disrupt the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Refuge, an essential habitat corridor. Endangered species, like the ocelots, may find their recovery plans jeopardized due to this construction.
One endangered species at potential risk is the ocelot.
Laiken Jordahl from the Center for Biological Diversity has been vocal about the harmful impacts this might have on the area’s wildlife habitats.4
All in all, the decision has not gone without its critics among environmental and humanitarian organizations. The overriding sentiment is a push for policies that strike a balance between border security and environmental conservation, all while respecting the rights and dignity of border communities.
Historical Context of the Border Wall in Texas
From 2017 to January 2021, the Trump administration constructed about 450 miles of barriers along the southwest border.
While the Biden administration initially halted the Trump-era project, Texas Governor Greg Abbott took the initiative to resume wall construction.
Abbott recently highlighted progress in the Del Rio sector, in line with his 2021 pledge to finance the wall’s continuation.
While the Biden administration sees the wall as a costly and ineffective measure, conservatives emphasize its importance in managing the migration crisis. Additionally, Abbott has criticized a potential Biden policy that would require migrants to remain in Texas during their asylum proceedings.5
Reaction to Policy Change
President Biden’s recent decision to continue border wall construction is a marked departure from his earlier views. A proclamation from January 20, 2021, highlighted his disapproval of an extensive wall on the southern border.
This pivot has reignited debates, especially in light of the surging migrant arrivals. Biden, during his 2020 campaign, had assured no further expansion of the wall.
However, current pressures, even from within the Democratic party, seem to have influenced a change in policy direction.
Political Divides Deepen:
- U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar sees the decision as a return to outdated strategies. This perspective aligns with the idea that a smarter, technology-driven approach to border security is preferable to traditional physical barriers.
- Dan Stein, from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, considers it a testament to the border walls’ effectiveness. This viewpoint reflects a belief that physical barriers can play a crucial role in deterring illegal crossings and maintaining border security.
- Former President Trump weighed in, suggesting Biden’s decision aligns with his own administration’s approach. This perspective implies that Trump sees continuity in border wall construction as a validation of his previous policies.
- U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) lamented the environmental implications of the decision, while U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) championed the need for modern border solutions rather than an extensive wall. Her viewpoint underscores the concern for environmental conservation and its potential conflicts with border security measures.
- From the Republican camp, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston) perceived the construction as more of a symbolic gesture than a genuine attempt at addressing the issue. This viewpoint suggests skepticism about the effectiveness of the wall and questions whether it is primarily a political move.
State Appeals Amidst Rising Migrant Pressures:
- Both Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have called on the federal administration to address escalating migrant concerns in their respective regions.
- Starr County Judge Eloy Vera has raised alarms over the land’s vulnerability to erosion, emphasizing the many arroyos (creeks) that flow towards the river. Starr County, with a population of around 65,000, encompasses a mix of ranchland and a segment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador labeled the decision to extend the wall as “regressive.” He stressed the need to address the fundamental causes of migration rather than resorting to superficial fixes like a wall.
During his 2020 campaign, Biden stated that no additional wall would be constructed under his administration. Biden is building up to 20 miles of border wall because he has to Biden administration has mentioned that the funds for the wall had been appropriated in 2019, prior to Biden taking office. Thus, his administration has expressed that they felt obligated to use the funds for their appropriated purpose, which was for border wall construction.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported over 2.2 million encounters along the border in the 11 months leading up to August. This includes a mix of individuals seeking asylum, undocumented migrants attempting to cross into the United States, and unaccompanied minors arriving at the border. This surge in migration has put a strain on border facilities and resources, leading to challenges in processing and accommodating the growing number of individuals arriving at the border.
The Trump administration spent around $15 billion across various departments for border wall construction.
The Biden administration has given the nod for an additional 20-mile stretch of barriers in the Rio Grande Valley, situated at the southernmost part of Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The construction may disrupt sensitive ecosystems, potentially impacting endangered species like the ocelot and the region’s native habitat.
- https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/06/us/border-wall-biden.html ↩︎
- https://www.texastribune.org/2023/10/05/biden-border-wall-texas-starr-county/ ↩︎
- https://www.cbp.gov/about/environmental-management/border-barrier-environmental-planning-starr-county-texas-august-2023 ↩︎
- https://apnews.com/article/border-wall-biden-immigration-texas-rio-grande-147d7ab497e6991e9ea929242f21ceb2 ↩︎
- https://www.foxnews.com/politics/texas-gov-abbott-touts-new-border-wall-construction-amid-biden-challenges-over-buoy-barrier ↩︎