Biden administration to fill in wall gaps and clean up border in three states

The Biden administration has given border officials the green light to fill in some of the gaps in unfinished Trump-era wall projects, as well as resolving environmental issues and cleaning up remaining construction sites nearly a year after activity was halted.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced Monday afternoon that he had granted U.S. Customs and Border Protection permission to move forward with projects in Arizona, California, and Texas. The new sign-offs are in addition to several that were announced in June and July to address “urgent life, safety, environmental, or other remediation required to protect border communities.”

The new construction activity will include closing small gaps of the border wall and gates that allow vehicles through, finishing or installing drainage systems, finishing or installing permanent erosion control and slope stabilization measures, completing access roads that Border Patrol agents use to drive along the border, remediating areas that were used to hold construction materials, and throwing away materials that are no longer needed.

Projects are slated for San Diego and El Centro in California, Yuma and Tucson in Arizona, and El Paso and Del Rio in Texas. Unused funding from the billions made available for the 700 miles of total wall construction during the Trump administration will go toward these new undertakings, though the DHS did not specify a dollar amount. The majority of incomplete projects are in southeastern Arizona.

“Work will be completed within the Tucson, El Paso, and Yuma Sectors to address safety concerns by closing construction access gaps that were left open at the time of the border barrier construction pause, and will also include adding missing gates, addressing incomplete foundations, and connecting power to gates that are already hung but are currently inoperable,” DHS said in a statement. “Rescue gates provide access for Border Patrol agents and first responders to access irrigation canals in emergency situations where the water is fast-moving and extremely dangerous. These emergency rescue gates are currently inoperable due to missing hardware or being welded shut.”

CBP will look at additional fixes needed in the San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, El Paso, and Del Rio regions. The federal agency will focus on finishing “drainage and erosion control measures, safety work on border and access roads, and remediation of temporary use areas used for construction.” The new undertakings are in addition to others undertaken in July in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, as well as El Centro and San Diego.

President Joe Biden suspended wall construction after taking office in late January and ordered his administration to review all $15 billion in wall spending, of which $4 billion came from Congress and $10.5 billion was diverted by former President Donald Trump from the Defense Department. Of the $10.5 billion in money redirected from the Pentagon, just $2 billion was unspent.

The DHS is legally obligated to spend the remainder of the funds appropriated by Congress on border-related construction. For example, the remainder will be spent to install a levee system in 13 miles of low-lying borderland in Hidalgo County, Texas. The need for a levee system arose after border wall construction started and then stopped. Another project announced over the summer dealt with soil erosion where the wall was built in San Diego.

The Trump administration completed 450 miles of slatted steel border fence across all four southern border states, though much of it replaced shorter fences or was secondary fencing that ran parallel with the main wall. Beyond the 450 miles, more than 300 were about to be installed.

In President Barack Obama’s final appropriations year, Congress made available $341 million for 40 miles of replacement wall in San Diego, El Centro, and El Paso, all of which were completed. The three regions are among nine the Border Patrol uses to divide the border.

In 2018, Congress quadrupled its wall funding, providing $1.375 billion for 78 miles for new and replacement wall in the Rio Grande Valley, various regions of California, and Yuma. Trump then asked for $18 billion in late 2018 that was denied, prompting a 35-day government shutdown over his refusal to accept a far lower amount of funding. Unsuccessful, Trump declared a national emergency at the border, allowing him to take more than $10.5 billion in 2019 and 2020 from funding that Congress had appropriated for other departments. He received $1.375 billion from Congress in 2019 and redirected $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund for a new wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

The remaining $9.9 billion was taken from the Pentagon: $6.3 billion in counternarcotics funds and $3.6 billion in military construction funds. The military construction money went toward a 175-mile portion of primary and secondary fence in San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, El Paso, and Laredo, Texas, of which 86 miles were completed.

The counternarcotics money went toward two projects. The first was replacing 129 miles of border wall in El Paso, Tucson, and El Centro, which were completed. The second project went to new and replacement primary and secondary walls in all four border states — 118 miles of the 162-mile project were completed as of January.

Congress gave CBP another $1.375 billion in 2020 for new wall near Laredo. Construction never started and was suspended by the Biden administration this year.

Another $1.4 billion for construction was provided in 2021.

While Biden stopped wall construction following an outcry from his party during the Trump administration, government-funded border wall construction is nothing new. Projects took off in the 1990s when former President Bill Clinton approved a Border Patrol hiring spree and wall projects.