Advocacy groups and politicians on Friday welcomed the Pentagon's announcement that the Biden administration is canceling all barrier construction projects along the U.S.-Mexico border for which former President Donald Trump used emergency powers to divert billions of dollars in military funds.
"It's time for Biden to work with Congress to rescind funding for all border wall construction and help border communities, Indigenous tribes, and land managers begin healing what's been destroyed."
—Laiken Jordahl, Center for Biological Diversity
The move comes after President Joe Biden, the day he took office, delivered on his campaign promise to suspend work on his predecessor's infamous project; the president, in February, also terminated Trump's emergency declaration and halted the flow of funding toward wall construction.
Deputy Pentagon spokesperson Jamal Brown said in a statement Friday that "consistent with the president's proclamation, the Department of Defense is proceeding with canceling all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds originally intended for other military missions and functions such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account."
"DOD has begun taking all necessary actions to cancel border barrier projects and to coordinate with interagency partners," Brown said. "Today's action reflects this administration's continued commitment to defending our nation and supporting our service members and their families."
Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, welcomed the announcement and urged the Biden administration to go even further.
"This long overdue reprieve is a huge step toward justice for people and wildlife in the borderlands. We're grateful that the Biden administration has stopped this senseless destruction," Jordahl said. "Now they must commit to restoring protected public lands and sacred sites, and tearing down sections of wall."
"It's time for Biden to work with Congress to rescind funding for all border wall construction and help border communities, Indigenous tribes, and land managers begin healing what's been destroyed," he added.
Critical to note here that while this announcement stops wall construction in AZ, people & wildlife in South Texas and San Diego are still very much in danger. Biden must direct DOJ to halt land takings & work with Congress to rescind *all* wall funding.https://t.co/Tfm8PgXmBs
— Laiken Jordahl (@LaikenJordahl) April 30, 2021
"Trump built 450 miles of new barriers during his term, much of it across the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona where his administration built along national forest land, wildlife preserves, and other federal property already under government control," according to the Washington Post—which noted that his administration "built far less in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the busiest area for border crossings and the epicenter to a major migration influx."
As VICE reported in January, before Biden took office:
Several Indigenous nations who live along the U.S.-Mexico border have spoken out against wall construction and the resulting desecration of sacred sites, including graves. They also say the physical wall further separates them from their families and ancestral sites on opposite sides of the border.
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"We know Border Patrol people are finding arrowheads and selling them to collectors," said Juan Mancias, tribal chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, or Esto'k Gna. "We had an ex-Border Patrol agent return things he had found while he was in the field."
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) on Friday accused Trump of "stealing money from the military for his border wall," adding that "this reversal is a victory for Texas and the rule of law."
I led the charge in Congress against President Trump’s unconstitutional order stealing money from the military for his border wall.
This reversal is a victory for Texas and the rule of law.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) April 30, 2021
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security announced Friday its "initial steps to protect border communities from physical dangers resulting from the previous administration's approach to border wall construction." According to a DHS statement, the Biden administration will use congressionally appropriated funds to:
- Repair the Rio Grande Valley's Flood Barrier System: Construction under the prior administration blew large holes into the Rio Grande Valley's flood barrier system to make way for a border wall. The flood barrier system had long provided low-lying regions of Hidalgo County, Texas, protection from catastrophic flooding, and these breaches have threatened local communities. DHS will start work to quickly repair the flood barrier system to protect border communities. This work will not involve expanding the border barrier.
- Remediate Dangerous Soil Erosion in San Diego: Improper compaction of soil and construction materials along a wall segment constructed by the prior administration is causing dangerous erosion along a 14-mile stretch in San Diego, California. DHS will begin necessary backfill projects to ensure the safety of nearby border communities. This work will not involve expanding the border barrier.
In a statement to the Post, Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas), whose district includes portions of the river levee, said that "it's imperative that these structures are fixed prior to the hurricane season."
The Hill reports that Rep. Raúl Girjalva (D-Ariz.), who represents a border district and chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, also celebrated the development.
"President Biden promised to not build one more foot of border wall under his watch, and I welcome this step by his administration to begin repairing the damage caused by border wall construction," said Girjalva.
"The border wall has done nothing but militarize border communities, destroy precious environmental habitats, and desecrate Native American sacred sites," he added. "After such abuses of power, canceling the contracts and repairing the environmental damage is the least we can do."