U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with border patrol officers as he walks along the border fence during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess border enforcement operations, in El Paso, Texas, on Jan. 8, 2023.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration in a major policy pivot waived more than two dozen federal laws to allow quick construction of about 20 extra miles to the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
During his 2020 Democratic campaign, President Joe Biden had promised that not “another foot of wall” would be built during his administration.
Once in office in January 2021, Biden issued a proclamation to end construction of the wall, which had been a top priority for former President Donald Trump as part of that Republican’s effort to block illegal entries into the United States.
Biden said at that time that “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution.”
On Thursday, when reporters asked Biden why he had reversed his policy, Biden said that Congress had appropriated money to fund additional sections of the wall and had refused his request to redirect that money elsewhere.
“In the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated for,” Biden said. “I can’t stop that.”
Asked if he believed now that a border wall was effective at stemming illegal immigration, Biden replied, “No.”
The change in policy was disclosed Wednesday night by the Department of Homeland Security, which said it would waive laws including the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act to expedite construction of additional sections of the wall.
“There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The change comes amid an influx of migrants along the southern border, which has led even Democratic governors to ask the administration for help.
About 245,000 illegal entries in the Rio Grande Valley have occurred since October 2022, according to the federal government.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the migrant crisis in a letter this week.
Pritzker, a Democrat, called the situation “untenable” and chastised the administration for a “lack of intervention and coordination at the border.”
NBC News released a poll last week that found the majority of Americans say Republicans do a better job addressing border security than Democrats.