- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Homeland Security has surged new border wall construction along previously unfenced portions of the U.S.-Mexico boundary and is closing in on President Trump’s goal of 450 total miles built by the end of this year.

As of Monday, some 446 miles had been erected and statistics released this week by Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the wall, showed a new mile being completed about every day.

And after years of focus on repairing outdated or dilapidated sections of existing wall, CBP is now making major headway in sealing off new sections of the boundary that didn’t have any barriers.

The agency said it had erected 43 miles of new primary wall where none had been before. That’s a 300% increase in three months, when just nine miles had been built as of mid-September.

CBP says it’s also built 33 miles of new secondary wall, which stands back behind the primary fence and allows agents to catch migrants between the two barriers.

If CBP is able to keep building at about a mile per day through Jan. 20, it will end up with about 470 miles completed when the Biden administration takes over — and President-elect Joseph R. Biden has said he wouldn’t build any new wall.

What that means in practice, though, is tricky.

CBP says it has earmarked money to build a total of 736 miles, so subtracting the 470 that will already be built, that leaves more than 260 miles that are funded.

Of those, 205 are currently under construction, the agency said.

If Mr. Biden were to halt construction in its tracks, it would end up costing the government money, acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters earlier this month.

“More costs to the taxpayers for nothing,” he said,

When Mr. Trump took office, he inherited a 1,954-mile-long southwestern border, of which 354 miles was protected by a fence and another 300 miles by barriers that could deter drive-throughs, but were easily breached on foot.

As of this week, 156 miles of that old fencing and 193 miles of the vehicle barriers have been upgraded to new Trump-style wall.

Critics complain that it’s misleading to call that new fencing, since it doesn’t seal off any new portions of the border. Mr. Morgan, though, says the difference between the old fencing and the new wall system is night and day.

Mr. Morgan also offers an analogy: When someone who owns a 20-year-old car goes to buy a current version, he doesn’t say he bought a replacement car, he says he bought a new car. Same with the wall, Mr. Morgan says.

Critics also complain that Mr. Trump vowed during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the construction. Instead, it’s been taxpayers.

Congress has approved about $3.1 billion over the last three years, and Mr. Trump has claimed emergency powers to siphon another $12 billion from Pentagon and Treasury accounts to fund construction.

The Pentagon transfers are the subject of multiple lawsuits, most of which have gone against the president.

The Supreme Court is slated to take that case next year.

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

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