On Wednesday night, the Biden administration announced that it will waive 26 environmental laws to build additional border barriers in South Texas. A notice posted in the Federal Registry cited “high illegal entry” as the reasoning behind this action. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in the notice that there was an “acute and immediate need” to build a new section of the border wall to prevent unlawful crossings. The new section of the wall will be paid for using money already appropriated by Congress.
To put this in the plainest language possible, Biden is now building the border wall. But he is pursuing a plan that is logistically and politically unsound, and it represents a major reversal from the President, who was once committed to undoing as many of Trump’s immigration measures as possible.
It will not help secure our border in any meaningful way—and could actually endanger the lives of migrants.
There is no doubt that the situation at the southern border has become a crisis. U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 181,059 people along the southern border in August and 132,648 in July, and these numbers are growing. Over 7,500 migrants were stopped on one Sunday in September alone.
But building more walls is not the solution. Just ask candidate Joe Biden. In 2020, he promised that “not another foot” of the wall would be built if he were elected. Shortly after he took office in 2021, Biden released a proclamation that said building a wall on the southern border is “a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.” He was as right then as he is wrong now.
Besides, building a wall at the border won’t stop illegal migration. Donald Trump built 455 miles of border fencing, equipped with cameras and sensors, at a cost of $15 billion. It did not deter unauthorized migrants. In well-documented episodes, people used inexpensive ladders to scale the wall, climb over it, cut through it with power tools, saw through it, and build tunnels underneath it. Why would the Biden administration think that their additional section of the wall would be any different?
The public already gives Biden low marks on immigration. According to Gallup, only 31 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the issue. And this latest move by the President won’t help him on immigration. It will only signal to many Republicans that their calls for the wall were warranted, while potentially alienating Biden’s progressive and immigrant allies.
Consider that Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Latino Democrat from South Texas, has denounced the administration’s plan as “wasteful” and “a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem.”
To build a new section of the wall, the Biden administration is casting aside dozens of environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. By trampling on these laws, the administration is putting one of the most bio-diverse areas in North America at risk. Environmental experts say that Biden’s wall would likely run through a natural wildlife habitat, impede wildlife migration, and destroy a huge amount of wildlife refuge land. That’s a high cost to pay for a barrier that probably won’t make a dent in illegal immigration.
Asked by reporters at the White House about his administration’s plans, Biden said Thursday that he didn’t think that the barriers were effective, but that construction had to move forward because Congress had appropriated the money.
Really? If he doesn’t believe the wall is effective, then don’t build it. Presidents have great discretion on immigration matters, particularly when it comes to setting policy priorities.
It seems incredibly convenient that the administration has decided to go ahead with its wall just as the migrant crisis is escalating and Biden is facing bipartisan criticism regarding the border. And having more miles of wall along the border could drive more migrants to smugglers and to attempt crossings at more dangerous sectors. With record numbers of migrants dying trying to cross the border, Biden’s wall could cost lives.
Building a wall along the border did not work before, and it won’t work now. For Biden to embrace what was once Trump’s signature policy is cynical, hypocritical, and a betrayal of his purported commitment to real immigration solutions.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and contributor to NBC Latino and CNN Opinion. Follow him at Twitter: @RaulAReyes, or on instagram @raulareyes1.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.