President Joe Biden said he does not believe border walls are effective as his administration waived more than two dozen federal laws to build more barriers approved under Donald Trump.
The Department of Homeland Security announced the move on Thursday, which paves the way to proceed with constructing a section of wall along a 20-mile section of the US-Mexico border in Texas, making use of authority granted to DHS in an effort to reduce the growing number of asylum seekers entering the country between legal ports of entry.
In a public notice released on Thursday, the department said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had determined that waiving the myriad environmental and other laws was necessary “to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border in Starr County, Texas”.
The notice said Mr Mayorkas was employing authority granted to him by Congress in a series of laws dating back to 1996 which provide the department with the ability to “take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical barriers and roads (including the removal of obstacles to detection of illegal entrants) in the vicinity of the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of ‘high illegal entry’ into the United States”.
“As of early August 2023, Border Patrol had encountered over 245,000 such entrants attempting to enter the United States between ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Fiscal Year 2023,” Mr Mayorkas said in the waiver announcement.
“Therefore, I must use my authority under section 102 of IIRIRA to install additional physical barriers and roads in the Rio Grande Valley Sector. Therefore, DHS will take immediate action to construct barriers and roads”.
Mr Mayorkas added that the funds for the barrier — the first new border wall construction during Mr Biden’s term — will come from monies appropriated by Congress in 2019, not long after the end of the longest government shutdown in US history.
He also noted that the project is necessary because of 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”.
The announcement of the Biden administration’s decision to construct a border wall marks a significant reversal from positions taken during Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign against then-president Donald Trump, and comes as the increasing number of asylum seekers crossing the border has become a political problem for the president and for Democrats across the country.
As a candidate, Mr Biden frequently condemned Mr Trump’s immigration policies — including his decision to build or upgrade roughly 450 miles of barriers along the US-Mexico border. And shortly after taking office, he signed a proclamation stating that a wall across the US-Mexico border “is not a serious policy solution” and pledged to build “not another foot” during his time in office.
A White House official said the plan to build this section has been known since it was first approved in June, and stressed that the construction is necessary because Congress appropriated the funds for the project.
Federal law does not allow the president to refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress, and Mr Biden himself reiterated this to reporters when asked about the decision in the Oval Office on Thursday.
“The money was appropriated for the border wall, I tried to get them to redirect it. They didn’t. They wouldn’t,” he said. “In the meantime ... they have to use the money for what it was appropriated. I can’t stop that”.
Asked if he believes that a border wall would be effective at preventing illegal immigration, Mr Biden replied: “No”.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies