Democrats, environmentalists and immigration advocates expressed anger this week as President Joe Biden’s administration moved forward with plans to build a border wall along parts of Texas’ border with Mexico.
Biden said he had no choice but to continue building the wall, and in a public document that took effect Thursday, his administration gave notice of its intention to waive 26 laws and regulations in order to “take immediate action” to build several miles The Wall’s new barrier in Starr County.
That sparked outrage from border wall opponents, who noted that Biden opposed the wall during his 2020 campaign.
“It’s very disappointing, it’s a terrible step backwards that we didn’t expect to see from this administration,” said Laken Jordahl, Southwest Conservation Advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
But construction of border barriers in Texas and elsewhere has continued since the early days of Biden’s term. Back in 2021, construction crews erected a 15-foot-tall concrete slab topped with 6-foot-tall steel columns in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detailed plans to build 86 miles of border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, including Starr County.
Biden told reporters on Thursday that he is required by law to continue building some of the wall because Congress appropriates funds for it. The funding occurred in 2019, before Biden took office.
“I’m trying to get them to reallocate and reallocate the money,” he said. “They don’t.” They won’t. At the same time, the law says nothing, except that they must use the money for the purpose for which it was appropriated. I can’t stop this. “
Asked if he believed the border wall would be effective, he responded: “No.”
That contrasts with what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in public documents Thursday, writing that “there is an urgent need to build physical presence near the U.S. border.” Barriers and roads to prevent illegal activities”. Enter the U.S. program area. “
Mayorkas said the laws the department would waive include the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Mayorkas stressed in a statement late Thursday that the Biden administration has not changed its border barrier policy and that the notice issued on his behalf was taken out of context.
“My administration believes that effective border security requires a smarter, more comprehensive approach that includes state-of-the-art border surveillance technology and modernized ports of entry,” Mayorkas said. “We need Congress to provide us with the funding to implement these proven tools.”
Still, Texas congressional Democrats condemned the actions this week.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) urged the White House to reconsider the decision to continue building the wall, “especially the disastrous option of abandoning environmental laws.” Meanwhile, Laredo Democracy Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Calif., called the border wall “a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”
“I continue to oppose wasting taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall, and I will continue to push for solutions that our men and women on the front lines really need, like more border technology and personnel at ports of entry and ports. time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been pushing for more border barriers, with Gov. Greg Abbott directing Texas agencies to take steps to use state resources to build the wall.
However, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston said the Biden administration’s actions this week were not cause for celebration. Buoys on the Rio Grande are also necessary, he said, similar to the ones Abbott deployed on a short stretch of river in Eagle Pass.
“If Biden is serious, that’s what’s needed,” Crenshaw wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “Could be deployed immediately, they could actually stop migrants from crossing international barriers. But he doesn’t mean it. It’s a headline-grabbing stunt to make people think he’s not completely ignoring the crisis he’s created.”
Maps included in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection proposal appear to show the wall would cut through a large swath of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Refuge, a wildlife corridor that attempts to connect the last 275 miles of the Rio Grande. Miles of undisturbed habitat along the way.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s Jordahl said the decision was “shocking and disheartening.”
“Wildlife doesn’t care if you call it a wall, a fence or a barrier,” Jordahl said. “They can’t get through.”
Environmental advocates warn that the border barrier could disrupt the region’s sensitive ecosystem and could particularly harm two endangered plants, the zapatta bladder bean and creeping milkweed. Recovery plans for endangered ocelots may also be affected, the center said. Much of the animal’s native habitat in the Rio Grande Valley has been lost to development.
Jordahl said a border barrier would undermine the conservancy’s efforts to create a connected habitat along the border, allowing wildlife access to the river.
“These stretches — this little wildlife refuge — are some of the best remaining wildlife habitat in the county,” Jordahl said. “A direct tearing of the border wall will completely prevent us from achieving the goals of the asylum system itself.”
Even if the Biden administration must spend money on the border, Jordahl said, “there’s nothing that says you have to give up the most important (environmental) law.”
Meanwhile, Ellen Lizarraga, communications coordinator for the Border Human Rights Network, said he was saddened by Biden’s continued implementation of Trump’s policies.
“You know, it’s a failed strategy,” Lizarraga said. “It’s been shown over and over again that building the wall and these deterrent policies don’t help (address) the root causes of migration. They don’t address the reasons why people are coming.” here . “
Naida Alvarez, who owns land in the Rosita community south of Eagle Pass, said the construction will disrupt her life. She said the wall would go through behind her house, on her land.
“There are a lot of streams where we live,” she said. “If they build a wall, all the earth will sink. The land will be unstable and the houses will sink.”
Now, she can go fishing near her home and watch wild animals—foxes, boars, rabbits—run by.
“What happened to Biden’s rhetoric during the campaign?” she said. “He said he was a man of his word, but now he’s changed his word and followed the same policies of our stupid (president).”
Uriel J. García and Matthew Watkins contributed reporting.