Washington – The border wall project pushed by former President Donald Trump could lose much of its funding, as well as the priority status that allowed it to circumvent environmental regulations, according to a Joe Biden administration plan announced Friday.
Biden suspended construction of the wall when he became president while his government reviewed the project. That upset Republicans in Congress who wanted it to continue at a time when migrant apprehensions along the southern border were on the rise.
The new plan does not completely cancel the wall project, but it will likely meet opposition in Congress, where many Republicans are eager to promote a project that is closely related to the former president.RELATED
Biden plans to return more than $ 2 billion that the Trump administration took from the Pentagon to use in the construction of the wall, and also use other funds allocated by Congress to address “urgent life, security and environmental problems” created by the border project. It also asks lawmakers not to provide additional funding for what Biden’s team believes is an unnecessary effort.
“Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs US taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious solution or a responsible use of federal funds,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement describing the plan.
For decades, the government has built walls and other barriers along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border between Mexico and the United States to eliminate some of the easier routes by which migrants and others avoid checkpoints. Trump made the issue a centerpiece of his political identity.
Trump promised to build a “virtually impenetrable” wall and insisted that Mexico would pay for it, something that never happened. Instead, his administration allocated about $ 15 billion through a combination of budget lines approved by Congress and funds from the Pentagon and other parts of the government.
The Trump administration built approximately 450 miles (725 kilometers) of wall quickly by waiving requirements such as environmental reviews and mediation, although only about 52 miles (84 kilometers) were in areas where there were no previous barriers.
Biden’s decision to suspend construction prompted Republican senators to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether federal law was being violated by not using allocated money for its intended purpose.
The administration said Friday that it will use funds already set aside by Congress for “its assigned purpose, as required by law,” but does not call for new funding for the construction of the wall in the 2022 budget from the Department of Homeland Security.
Instead, Biden has called for funds to increase the use of technology at ports of entry and elsewhere, arguing that there are more efficient ways to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking at the border.
The government said it would return $ 2 billion taken from the Pentagon and use it for construction projects, the original intention of the money. That includes $ 79 million for an elementary school for children of US military members in Germany; $ 25 million for a fire and rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida; and $ 10 million to expand North Korean ballistic missile defenses at Fort Greely, Alaska.
It plans to use the remaining approximately $ 1.9 million appropriated by Congress for the wall on drainage and erosion control, or other environmental problems caused by the construction of the wall in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and elsewhere.
Dozens of advocacy organizations have asked the Biden administration to pay for the restoration of wildlife habitat and land considered sacred by Native Americans that were damaged by the construction of the wall. “It is a welcome and sensible next step to begin to heal the devastation that Trump has caused in the border areas,” said Paulo Lopes, a land policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The government does not explicitly say that it will not build a new wall. But it asserts that any new construction will be subject to an environmental review and that it will analyze current attempts to expropriate land from its owners and that it will return parcels to the owners if the Department of Homeland Security determines that they are not necessary.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said Thursday that the state will build its own barriers along the border with Mexico, but did not provide details such as where they would be located or what they would look like. He promised to give more information next week.
“We have to recognize that the number of people crossing the border will only continue to increase unless we change strategy,” Abbott said.