- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2020

The government would waste “billions of dollars” in sunk costs with nothing to show for it if the Biden administration were to halt border wall construction, the country’s border chief said Monday.

Already-let contacts would have to be paid out according to cancel clauses, hundreds of thousands of tons of steel would have to be stored or dumped, and ravines that had been dug in preparation for construction could have to be refilled, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters.

“More costs to the taxpayers, for nothing,” Mr. Morgan told reporters as he detailed the latest border numbers. “People need to know that this is what the reality is.”

He said the incoming administration would also have to be careful about how it unwinds the wall, since much of the contracting goes beyond the barrier, to include high-speed roads and other technology that all sides have agreed in the past is helpful.

About 430 miles of barrier have been erected under President Trump, and that’s expected to hit 450 miles by the end of this year. Most of that wall has replaced existing fencing or vehicle blockades — including hundreds of miles that President-elect Joseph R. Biden voted to build in 2006.The Trump administration says it has identified funding, chiefly by siphoning cash from Pentagon projects, to build nearly 300 more miles.

Mr. Biden said during the campaign that will end when he takes office.

“There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” he vowed over the summer — though he said he won’t tear down what’s already been built.

That vow could put him an odd position.

Lawsuits against Mr. Trump’s move to siphon the money from the Pentagon are still pending, with one poised to reach the Supreme Court next year. The immigrant-rights advocates pursuing those cases have said if they prevail, they will ask courts to order that any wall built with the Defense Department cash must come down.

Mr. Biden could then face the choice of having to defend the Trump construction, or else tear down hundreds of miles of barriers along the same footprint he voted for in 2006.The Biden transition team didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Washington Times on Monday.

Mr. Morgan said he would love to talk with the Biden team about the issue, but because of the way transitions are structured, it’s up to them to contact him. He said they haven’t done so.

Mr. Morgan on Monday also detailed the latest numbers from the border, where illegal immigration appears to have held steady in November, after months of increases.

The 67,101 illegal immigrants nabbed by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico line last month was almost the same as the 67,639 arrested in October. And officers at ports of entry encountered 2,951 inadmissible migrants last month, about the same as the 2,900 a month before.

But beneath those broad numbers, officials said they’re seeing worrying trends.

The number of Central Americans is growing, which Mr. Morgan said is likely due to migrants believing they’ll have an easier time burrowing into the country under a Biden administration.

In particular, the number of juveniles showing up at the border without parents — known in government-speak as Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs — is soaring after a recent federal judge’s ruling that gave them special treatment amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The number of UACs arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border have nearly doubled in the past few weeks, reaching a daily average of more than 150,” said Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of CBP.

By contrast, in all of April just 712 UACs were encountered.

Most illegal immigrants right now are being immediately expelled back to Mexico under a public health order amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan recently ruled that UACs can’t be included in that public health order, and must instead follow the pre-COVID rules of being transferred to social workers for the Health and Human Services Department.

Mr. Morgan said word has gotten out, and smugglers are turning to juveniles as new customers.

He said more than 11% of the children test positive when they reach HHS custody, which he said marks a serious danger of virus spread since they’re being sent from border facilities to the HHS shelters across the country.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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