The Biden administration is facing criticism from Democrats and environmental organizations over its decision to build nearly 20 miles of border wall in South Texas. The move has sparked outrage, with some accusing the administration of contradicting its stance against border wall construction.
The announcement, posted in the U.S. Federal Register, detailed plans for construction in Starr County within the Rio Grande Valley Sector, an area experiencing what the administration refers to as “high illegal entry.” According to the agency, there have been over 245,000 migrant encounters in this sector during the current fiscal year.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas invoked his authority provided by Congress to waive 26 federal laws, including significant ones like the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. Mayorkas justified this action by citing an “acute and immediate need” to construct physical barriers and roads along the border to prevent unlawful entries, as mandated by existing law.
The decision raised concerns that the administration was abandoning its previous anti-wall stance, especially given its suspension of most border wall construction at the beginning of 2021.
The administration countered by pointing out that the wall project was funded by a congressional appropriation from the Trump era in fiscal year 2019. Mayorkas clarified that they had repeatedly asked Congress to rescind this funding, but Congress had not taken any action, compelling them to follow the law.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson emphasized that the project includes elements like detection technology, lighting, and access roads. They asserted that this construction is not a policy decision but rather a legal obligation to use appropriated funds for their intended purpose.
However, some left-wing Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rejected this explanation. Ocasio-Cortez argued that the Biden administration was not obligated to expand border wall construction or waive environmental laws to expedite the building process. She stressed that walls push migrants into remote and dangerous areas, ultimately increasing the risk to their lives.
Another Democratic representative, Henry Cuellar of Texas, condemned the spending of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall, calling it a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.
In the Senate, Sen. Bob Menendez expressed disappointment that the Biden administration appeared to be adopting policies reminiscent of the Trump administration’s approach to immigration. He criticized the return of immigrants directly to Venezuela, stating that it was unacceptable, and called for humanitarian protection for Venezuelan nationals.
Environmental groups also voiced their opposition to the waiver of federal laws for the project, arguing that it disregards crucial environmental protections.
While DHS officials assured that they would take measures to protect cultural and natural resources, environmental organizations remained concerned about the potential impact on wildlife and habitat. They labeled the move as a step backward for the borderlands.
Despite the controversy, the Biden administration reiterated its commitment to sound environmental practices and flexibility in barrier construction to mitigate environmental impacts.