Stop : A Scene One Sheriff Calls ‘foolish’
“About January the 24th everything stopped. … To me, it’s just — just crazy.”
Joe Frank Martinez, Val Verde County sheriff
“I just think it’s foolish to leave this project as it is. My understanding is that they’re going to continue in the near future, but that’s yet to be seen.”
Joe Frank Martinez, Val Verde County sheriff
“If that happens, then we’re going to go back 20-30 years, where you’re going to get masses of people coming through here. Crime rate in my community will go up, because there’s no structure here.”
Joe Frank Martinez, Val Verde County sheriff
Border Fences Have Been Terrible For Wildlife And Plants
Since 1994, the US government has been erecting barriers to keep people and drugs from Mexico and beyond out. By 2010, about one-third of the border had been fenced with materials ranging from barbed wire to steel, bollard to wire mesh, and chain link. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has built hundreds of miles of roads to allow the Border Patrol to access remote regions, both fenced and unfenced.
All of this construction has sliced and diced a lot of protected land along the border. And ever since the passage of the Real ID Act of 2005, DHS has had the power to waive most environmental reviews in the name of national security.
So, unlike most federal infrastructure projects, these fences have received little or no input from the public, land managers, conservation groups, or other agencies. Experts had no chance to assess beforehand what impact the fence might have on wildlife, plants, and rivers. Only after the fact have researchers documented instances where fences have interrupted wildlife corridors, and caused erosion and other damage to fragile ecosystems, as well as flooding.
But what evidence we do have is alarming. For instance, Lasky and his co-authors found that the biggest risk comes when fences bisect the range of a small population of a species with a specialized habitat, leaving the majority of the population on one side and the others adrift. His paper found 45 species and three subspecies that the current fence has affected this way.
How It’s Being Paid For Remains Controversial
Despite Mr Trump’s pledge on the campaign trail in 2016 to get Mexico to pay for the wall, it is the US government that has spent billions of dollars to expand and reconstruct it.
Just over $5bn in funding has come via traditional means through the CBP, but Mr Trump has also ordered almost $10bn in Department of Defense funding to be diverted – a move that has sparked legal action.
Back in 2019, after his request for a further $5.7bn for the wall was rejected and Congress allotted only $1.4bn, Mr Trump declared border control a national emergency and used powers under the National Emergencies Act to move cash from DoD budgets.
Some $6.3bn of counter-drugs funding and Â£3.6bn of military construction funding has so far been diverted to the wall project, according to the CBP.
But Mr Trump’s decision to bypass Congress in this way has triggered a number of legal challenges – one from a number of environmental groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the states of California and New Mexico.
Two lower US courts have ruled in favour of these groups, concluding that the diversion of an amount of $2.5bn from DoD to construct barriers in California, New Mexico and Arizona was unlawful.
However, the Supreme Court – the highest federal court in the US – has allowed barrier construction using the funds to continue pending the appeals process. It will hear a challenge by President Trump’s administration against the lower courts’ decision next year.
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Biden Taps Harris To Stem Migration Flow From Central America
White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently distanced the president from the project but did not affirm Biden’s campaign trail promise.
“There are some components of the wall that had already been allocated, the funding, to continue building by Congress. So we are working within what is allowable, but our focus is not — we do not believe the wall is in answer,” Psaki told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega.
“There is some limited construction that has been funded and allocated for, but it is otherwise paused,” Psaki said.
Biden’s first budget proposal to Congress requested “no additional funding” for the wall and asked lawmakers to cancel any unspent funds at the end of 2021.
How Much Was Actually Built
As of Jan. 8, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the Trump administration had completed 453 miles of border barrier overall.
Much of it replaces barriers that had been put in place by previous administrations, with only 80 miles of primary and secondary barrier in areas where there were previously no structures, according to CBP.
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What Will Happen Under Biden
Even before his election victory, Biden had pledged that “there will not be another foot” of border wall built during his administration. Though he has not released more details, his supporters expect him to stop ongoing construction and cancel contracts for future projects.
Critics of construction want him to go a step further and consider taking down portions of the newly installed bollard fencing in certain environmentally and culturally sensitive areas.
Morgan criticized any effort to stop construction, claiming it would cost taxpayers even more money to cancel the contracts. He also warned it would draw even more migrants and smugglers to the border.
“If the Biden team implements the immigration policies that they have campaigned on, that they promised the American people on Day One, they will create an unmitigated crisis in the first few weeks,” he said.
However, contracting experts said Biden will have various legal options to stop construction, including the termination for convenience clauses built into federal contracts that allows the government to cancel them any time and provide adequate compensation to contractors.
“So any thought that there’s going to be a mess at the border, if he stops these contracts, would be misguided,” he added. “That wouldn’t have to happen by any means.”
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How Many Barriers Have Been Built
Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees wall construction efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border, said crews completed 452 miles of new barriers by the end of 2020.
In a call with reporters last week, Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said federal contractors are averaging between 1.5 and two miles of new barriers per day, with the scheduled completion of about 475 miles by the time President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.
“This historic accomplishment, it doesn’t just stand tall as a simple reminder of promises made to the American people and promises kept,” Morgan said. “But it stands as a reminder of our unwavering commitment to do everything that we can to ensure that we have the tools to protect our national and economic security.”
Construction mainly has focused on lands the federal government already owns in Arizona, California and New Mexico. According to a breakdown provided by Customs and Border Protection last week, construction crews have built:
Most of the construction has replaced outdated or aging fencing, such as four-foot permanent vehicle barriers, with 30-foot bollard fencing. Construction includes new roads, lighting and sensors to help agents better patrol the areas of new fencing.
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Did Mexico Pay For The Wall
In 2016, President Trump repeatedly claimed Mexico would pay for the wall. This didn’t happen.
The US government has paid for the wall, and there’ve been arguments over how to fund it between the Trump administration and Congress.
In January 2018, Mr Trump asked Congress to pay $18bn over the next decade for an initial phase of construction, but the bill ultimately failed.
Some money was allocated by Congress in 2018 for projects at the border.
However, in 2019 Mr Trump used national emergency powers to divert funds from the Department of Defense after Congress rejected more money for the wall.
There has been around $15bn spent for the construction of the barrier coming from various US government departments, including the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense and Treasury Departments.
It was originally estimated a cross-border wall could cost anything from $12bn to $40bn.
Despite this, in the run-up to the 3 November 2020 election, President Trump continued to say that “Mexico is paying for it”.
In the past, he’s implied that a new trade agreement involving Mexico and Canada would indirectly save the US money, which could be spent on the wall.
However, it’s not clear how exactly this would work.
President Trump also pledged to reduce illegal movement across the border.
The number of people detained at the border increased significantly between 2018 and 2019, but dropped off in 2020.
A Key Migrant Camp Is Emptying
Thousands who have made the journey to the southern US border have found refuge in temporary border communities – often in shanty towns with little infrastructure or resources and vulnerable to pressure from violent organised-crime gangs.
According to Human Rights Watch, these migrants are under threat from criminal organisations which kidnap them on the assumption that they have relatives in the US who could be extorted for money.
In the town of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, hundreds of people set up one such camp in 2018 near the entry point, in the scrubland on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Charities such as the World Food Kitchen, the Dignity Village collective and Global Response Management provide food, tents, clothing and medical care to those living in the camp, where around 50% of residents are under the age of 15.
But Andrea Leiner, director of strategic planning for GRM, says coronavirus and July’s Hurricane Hanna have had dire consequences.
Coronavirus restrictions have meant the border has been closed for all but essential travel and immigration hearings have been postponed.
Hurricane Hanna not only brought floods to the camp but also caused an infestation of rats, snakes and mosquitoes, forcing many residents to flee.
Ms Leiner says the repeated blows of plague, famine, and hurricane, on top of the legal restrictions, have drained people of hope.
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Will Biden Continue To Build The Wall
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to halt construction and focus more on technology to secure the border. He said in August that not another foot of wall would be built under his administration and that he would drop lawsuits to seize land for border construction.
It is not entirely clear what Bidens administration will do with contracts for wall construction that have already been awarded but have yet to be completed, or how it will deal with land that has already been condemned.
The Trump administration has filed dozens of lawsuits to seize land in Texas since Election Day as it scrambles to move forward with wall construction. It has also sped up construction on public lands where opponents say mountainous rough natural terrain already acted as an effective barrier.
Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who sits on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, is among those pushing for remediation for environmental damage caused by wall construction. He also wants potential reparations for people whose land was condemned for wall construction under Trump.
Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles, additional reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington, editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis
Promise: 1000 Miles Of Wall Status: Not Kept
On Tuesday, the president falsely claimed hed promised and delivered 450 miles of border wall.
In fact, that amounts to less than half of his initial promise. And just 47 miles of the 450 miles amounts new structures where none existed before.
In 2015 and 2016, Trump said he expected the border wall would be around 1,000 miles long, with mountains and rivers creating natural barriers, too. More recently, in his 2020 State of the Union address, Trump said that substantially more than 500 miles of border wall would be done by early 2021.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman told NBC News that the Trump administration has built 453 miles of new border wall system, which includes barriers as well as patrol roads for patrol cars and other surveillance efforts.
The vast majority of it replaces pedestrian and vehicle barriers erected during previous administrations with much taller steel bollard fencing. Trump falsely claimed he was building a completely new border wall throughout much of his administration when in fact he was replacing older fences.
As of January 8, the Trump administration has built just 47 miles of border wall where none existed before. President Barack Obama left office with 654 miles of border fencing in existence, according to a Government Accountability Office report from early 2017 Trump will leave with 701 miles of border fencing, according to CBP. The half-mile section that Trump visited today was completely new, the spokesman said.
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