- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2021

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will restart the construction of President Trump’s border wall, moving to plug “gaps” left in place after President Biden ordered all work to stop on his first day in office.

The department said it will fix gates and build out the access roads that Border Patrol agents use to respond to incursions, moving to stiffen physical defenses as the surge of illegal border crossings from Mexico continues at a record pace.

Homeland Security said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas gave the OK for the construction, which will touch on spots along the border from Del Rio, Texas, to San Diego.

He characterized the work as a matter of safety and environmental upgrades. Others said it will help reduce the incentive to attempt the trip north.

“Today’s announcement of increased border wall infrastructure and gates are a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

He said the administration must close “all the gaps” and finish installing the technology that was supposed to be part of the wall system but was halted by the Biden team.

The announcement marks a backtrack for Mr. Biden, who last year vowed “not another foot” of wall would be built on his watch.

That was always a hard promise to keep.

Early on, Mr. Mayorkas signaled that holes left by Mr. Biden’s Inauguration Day construction halt had become a problem and would need to be filled.

The Washington Times reported exclusively in April that Mr. Mayorkas told employees at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that Mr. Biden’s construction pause left room to fill “gaps,” finish “gates” and install technology in areas where the barrier was built but the lights and sensors were not.

It wasn’t clear Monday how much mileage will be constructed.

Homeland Security made the announcement just two days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, unveiled the first section of border wall built on state land, using state money. The governor said his state was stepping up “while President Biden has sat idly by.”

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The wall was the most visible of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and perhaps the one on which he delivered the most concrete results, with nearly 460 miles of barrier erected. Most of that replaced dilapidated or outdated designs, but 47 miles of border were sealed off for the first time.

Mr. Trump said at the end of his tenure that the wall was almost finished, but his administration had planned another 285 miles. More than 200 of those miles were already plotted out and under contract.

Along with the wall came technology and access roads, which some Border Patrol agents say are even more important than the barrier because they allow agents to respond more quickly to stop incursions.

Mr. Biden’s construction halt threw all of that into disarray.

In southern Arizona, several miles of roads were built, but the wall wasn’t finished. Smugglers barreled through the gaps and used the government’s roads to speed deeper into the U.S., according to local law enforcement officials.

Mr. Portman said he visited a wall construction site in Texas in March and saw building materials on the ground.

The government was paying $3 million a day to guard those kinds of locations across the border, according to a July report from Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican. He said personnel had to be deployed to guard gates left unfinished by Mr. Biden’s halt of construction.

Mr. Lankford concluded that the administration was wasting billions of dollars by refusing to finish the Trump administration’s plan.

Reviving wall construction is just one of several ways the Biden administration has embraced Trump-era get-tough policies.

Homeland Security has resurrected the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which pushes illegal immigrants back across the border into Mexico to wait for their immigration hearings rather than releasing them into the U.S.

The department was under a court order to revive that program, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Mr. Biden also faces legal pressure to use more than $2 billion that Congress approved for the wall system but was left unspent.

The Government Accountability Office, in an opinion this year, said a pause was not illegal but the president could not outright cancel construction. At some point, he had to spend it on the purpose Congress intended, though it could go through additional environmental studies to figure the best way, the GAO ruled.

Homeland Security called on Congress on Monday to rescind the money.

Mr. Biden’s January order to pause work meant worksites were abandoned amid construction. Except for tying down exposed rods or securing other dangerous areas, workers were forbidden from taking any steps.

Homeland Security said it will complete drainage, install erosion control measures and finish access and patrol roads. It also teased the work on the wall by saying it will be “closing small gaps that remain open from prior construction activities and remediating incomplete gates.”

The work plan did not mention technology, which Mr. Portman said is integral to border security.

Mr. Trump’s wall was far more expensive than previous versions because it was taller and was an integrated system of lights and sensors to help detect intrusions.

The Trump team, rushing to meet the president’s mileage goals, pushed to finish as much of the fence as possible in 2020, but it didn’t build out all the technology. A GAO report said more than 450 miles of barrier were erected but just 69 miles had both fencing and technology.

“While the wall panels are typically the most costly part of border barrier construction, the full wall system remains incomplete,” the GAO said.

The wall was relatively unpopular while Mr. Trump was in office, with more people opposing construction than supporting it. Support has risen with Mr. Trump out of office and with the worst year on record for illegal border crossings.

A Washington Times survey of 4,000 voters, taken in late November and early December, found 53% said the wall was “an effective way to stop illegal immigrants,” compared with 40% who disagreed.

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

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