Amid the other curiosities of former President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the border was his peculiar complaint about the border wall: President Biden is refusing to paint it.
Not only did Mr. Biden order a halt to any new construction, but his border wall pause has also blocked maintenance. That includes applying a protective coating that the Trump administration discovered preserves the steel to extend the lifetime of the wall.
“They’ve got to get a coat of paint on the wall,” Mr. Trump said during his border trip with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “Believe it or not, it does rust. Maybe that’s what they like: Let it rust, let it rot.”
Mark Morgan, who served as acting commissioner at Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration, said a coating of an epoxy-type material prolonged the life of the wall.
The black coating also created a better contrast for agents. Left uncoated, fencing takes on a rust-colored patina, which blends in with the countryside along much of the border.
“Painting increased the longevity, and it provided some increase in the operational use by Border Patrol agents by providing that contrast,” Mr. Morgan told The Washington Times. “It wasn’t the highest priority, but it was still something … that could assist with the overall improvement of the wall system.”
Nearly 460 miles of wall panels were erected on Mr. Trump’s watch, though the Government Accountability Office says just 69 of those miles were deemed completed with access roads, lighting and other technology that made up what the Trump team called the “wall system.” Mr. Biden ordered a halt to all wall work on Jan. 20.
CBP told The Times that the Trump team signed contracts to cover 272 miles of wall, funded by the Homeland Security Department, and 134 miles of the wall were to have the black coating applied. Workers had completed just 8 miles of coating.
CBP asked the Defense Department, which was building the wall under an emergency order issued by Mr. Trump, to apply some of the coating. It’s not clear how much of that was completed. CBP referred questions about Pentagon-funded mileage to the Army Corps of Engineers, which directed questions back to CBP.
The coating costs about $2 million per mile of fencing, slightly less than one-tenth of the cost of an average mile.
While Mr. Trump complains about Mr. Biden’s halt of wall construction, immigration rights activists say the new administration hasn’t moved quickly enough.
The Texas Civil Rights Project said Texans have filed hundreds of cases to fight the use of eminent domain to take private land for wall construction. The nonprofit organization representing about a dozen Texas residents said courts could start ordering forfeitures to the government unless the Biden team revokes federal claims to those properties.
“If they take no action in the next few weeks, these cases will just be closed, the compensation will be paid and there will be no case left to dismiss,” Ricky Garza, a staff attorney at the project, told reporters.
Some cases were put on hold in the early weeks of the Biden administration as the litigants awaited a promised plan for more than $2 billion in border wall money that was unspent at the end of the Trump administration.
The plan was due in March but delivered in June, and it didn’t solve much. It suggested a slow approach to spending the money and more environmental reviews. If Congress wants to stop construction altogether, then it will have to claw back the money allocated.
“It ended up being a bunch of nothing when you drill down into the details,” Mr. Garza said.
Mr. Abbott has said Mr. Biden is moving quickly to have Texas step up and build a border wall where it can. It’s not clear what that would look like nor whether the project would include the coating.
The federal government decided to apply the coating in 2019, years after construction began.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said in a Twitter post that the coating was “a disgraceful misuse of taxpayer $$.” He said Congress was told that the “primary purpose is to improve the aesthetic appearance.”
Mr. Morgan suggested it was the other way around. The coating improved the wall’s longevity, and the bonus was that it made the barrier more visible.
“What we were hearing from operators was it did help them with visibility,” Mr. Morgan said.
He compared the decision to add the coating to other improvements in the wall design, such as anti-climb plates at the top of the barrier.
Still, he said, painting isn’t the No. 1 issue derived from Mr. Biden’s order to halt construction.
Mr. Morgan said getting more steel and concrete into the ground and finishing the access roads, lighting and other technology is more critical.
Ken Cuccinelli, a former acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, concurred. “Of everything that has been stopped in terms of The Wall and border enforcement, the painting of The Wall is the least significant of all,” he told The Times in an email.
Still, Mr. Trump seemed irked by Mr. Biden’s neglect of the coating. He mentioned it during both of his public stops at the border with Mr. Abbott late last month.
“They have to paint it because if they don’t paint it, bad things are happening,” Mr. Trump said.
He suggested that the painting could have a deterrent effect. “The best color to paint it is black because if you paint it black, it’s so hot nobody can even try to climb it,” Mr. Trump said.