President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Thursday its intention to extend sections of the border wall to address the surge in migrant crossings from Mexico, a move reminiscent of former President Donald Trump’s signature policy.
Donald Trump, currently the leading contender for the Republican Party’s nomination in the 2024 presidential race against Democrat Joe Biden, had prominently featured the construction of border barriers as a central component of his initial presidential campaign, often rallying his supporters with the chant, “Build That Wall.”
One of President Biden’s initial actions upon assuming office in January 2021 was the issuance of a proclamation vowing to cease diverting American taxpayer funds for border wall construction, while also initiating a review of all previously allocated resources.
The administration clarified that its recent decision aligns with Biden’s proclamation because it involves utilizing funds allocated during the Trump administration in 2019, which must be spent according to the law.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated in a release that there was no change in the administration’s stance on border walls, emphasizing that a border wall is not the ultimate solution to border-related challenges.
Mayorkas explained that the construction project was appropriated during the previous administration, and federal law mandates the utilization of these funds, with a prior announcement earlier in the year. He added, “We have repeatedly asked Congress to rescind this money, but it has not done so, and we are compelled to follow the law.”
In response, Donald Trump swiftly claimed victory and demanded an apology. He took to social media, asserting, “As I have stated often, over thousands of years, there are only two things that have consistently worked, wheels, and walls! Will Joe Biden apologize to me and America for taking so long to get moving…”
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador characterized the move as “a step backwards.”
IMMIGRATION AS A POLITICAL ISSUE
Immigration is expected to remain a central theme in the upcoming U.S. presidential race, with 54% of Americans, according to a September Reuters/Ipsos poll, agreeing that “immigration is making life harder for native-born Americans.” Notably, 73% of Republicans and 37% of Democrats surveyed concurred with this statement.
President Biden’s decision to proceed with border barriers will likely draw criticism from his left-leaning base, including immigration advocates and environmentalists who oppose further construction.
In an announcement published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security cited the necessity to waive several laws, regulations, and legal requirements to construct barriers in Starr County, Texas.
Starr County is situated within the Rio Grande Valley Sector, where Border Patrol agents have encountered over 245,000 individuals entering the United States in this fiscal year, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Environmentalists expressed their dismay, with Laiken Jordahl, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, stating, “Starr County is home to some of the most spectacular and biologically important habitat left in Texas,” adding, “and now bulldozers are preparing to rip right through it.”
The White House, in a statement, noted that it has adopted a different approach to address the “broken immigration system” inherited by President Biden, including expanding legal pathways for migrants and investing in border security technology.
STRUGGLE WITH RECORD MIGRANT CROSSINGS
The administration has faced operational and political challenges related to a record number of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border during Biden’s presidency, with September marking new highs.
Initially, Biden had pledged to reverse many of Trump’s immigration policies but retained the COVID-era public health order known as Title 42, allowing border agents to expel migrants to Mexico without the opportunity to seek asylum.
After Title 42 expired on May 11, the Biden administration implemented a stringent new rule requiring migrants to schedule appointments using a government-run smartphone app before approaching a legal port of entry or facing tougher asylum requirements if crossing the border illegally.
While migrant numbers initially decreased following the rule change, recent weeks have seen a resurgence, partly due to the arrival of thousands of migrants from Venezuela.
In another significant enforcement action announced on Thursday, the Biden administration confirmed the resumption of deportation flights to Venezuela, which had been suspended due to strained relations between the two nations. Many Venezuelans, escaping economic and political turmoil, have journeyed through the perilous Darien Gap region between Colombia and Panama to reach the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.
The surge in migrants has strained U.S. cities near the border and beyond, with over 2 million pending immigration court cases, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which often take years to resolve.
Republican governors in border states, arguing that Biden has not done enough to curb illegal crossings, have transported arriving migrants to Democratic-controlled cities like New York and Chicago, leading some Democratic leaders to criticize the Biden administration.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams embarked on a trip to Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador to convey that his city cannot accommodate additional migrants, as local shelter systems have become overwhelmed.
An estimated 11 million immigrants are residing in the U.S. without legal documentation, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, with many having lived and worked in the country for extended periods.
Early in his presidency, Biden attempted to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in Congress but faced opposition from Republicans, hindering progress on this front.