Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is poised to run out the clock on former President Donald Trump’s border wall, leaving potentially billions of dollars in unspent money and hundreds of miles of fencing unfinished.
Some $200 million in wall money will expire at the end of this fiscal year in September, said House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger, Texas Republican. Another $2.6 billion more will expire in coming years, she said.
“We’re just going to let that happen?” Ms. Granger asked during a hearing with Mr. Mayorkas last month.
The question was repeated over and over, but the secretary wouldn’t give a straight answer.
“I can assure you that we will comply with all our legal obligations,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
Six years after Mr. Trump began his wall project and more than two years after President Biden declared a halt to construction, it remains an acute political problem.
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The Border Patrol’s senior leaders say the wall works and they need more of it.
Mr. Mayorkas, carrying out Mr. Biden’s campaign promise not to build another foot of wall, has largely resisted his own agents’ entreaties and rejected their expertise. He tells them what they really need are more personnel and technology.
The agents got 458 miles of new fencing under Mr. Trump. Of that, 373 miles were upgrades for previous barriers and 85 miles were in unfenced locations.
Congress funded about $4.5 billion, and Mr. Trump, unsatisfied with that total, siphoned $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund and $9.9 billion from Pentagon accounts. Altogether, it was enough to build the 458 completed miles, with another 280 miles in the works.
Mr. Biden’s election upended those plans. He issued orders revoking Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration and returning the Pentagon’s money to the Defense Department. He also halted all wall construction.
That left more than $2 billion in congressionally authorized funding that hadn’t been spent.
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That’s the cash Republicans say Mr. Mayorkas should spend but has been slow-walking.
Mr. Mayorkas said he has approved 129 projects to fill gaps and complete gates in the wall. He acknowledged that the government is paying to store wall construction materials.
“We are indeed,” he told Rep. Michael Cloud, Texas Republican.
The Washington Times asked the Department of Homeland Security about the $200 million that Ms. Granger said would expire.
In a statement, the department pointed to projects put on hold while it conducts environmental studies consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.
Mark Morgan, who ran Customs and Border Protection in the latter part of the Trump administration, rejected that excuse.
“We already did all that. All that was already done,” Mr. Morgan said. “How long does that take? They’ve been in this administration 25 months.”
The projects Mr. Mayorkas has approved are small-bore. Most are problems of Mr. Biden’s own making, Mr. Morgan said — holes left in the wall when the president ordered a halt to construction.
Mr. Morgan, now a fellow at The Heritage Foundation, pointed to one instance in which the Trump administration was going to build a more robust levee wall, so the existing wall was taken down. The Biden halt prevented the new wall from being built. Finishing that is on Mr. Mayorkas’ project list.
“He’s taking credit for that,” Mr. Morgan said. “He has not built any wall. He has installed a couple of gates that agents are begging for, for agent safety reasons.”
All of the Mayorkas-approved projects combined would total less than 1 mile of construction, Mr. Morgan said.
Support for a border wall has had its ups and downs.
Before Mr. Trump took office, the public generally favored the idea. Support soured once Mr. Trump made the wall his marquee campaign promise and used emergency powers to siphon money to the project beyond what Congress had allocated.
With Mr. Trump out of office, polling shows the wall is once again more popular. An October survey by Issues & Insights showed 57% of respondents supported the wall and 33% opposed it. Nearly 40% said they were “strongly” in favor, or twice the 20% strongly opposed.
Party divisions remain strong, with Democrats deeply skeptical.
Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees the Homeland Security Department’s spending, said at the hearing with Mr. Mayorkas that the wall is a poor use of money.
“With all due respect, it’s a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,” Mr. Cuellar said. “I can spend $36 million on a mile of fencing, and all I need is $100 to buy a ladder to take care of that particular fence.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill point to the agents on the ground who say the wall is a winner and it’s time Mr. Biden listens to them.
“Not only is this administration refusing to take action to address the border crisis but they are actively refusing to spend money that Congress appropriated for a specific purpose,” Rep. David Joyce, Ohio Republican, told The Washington Times. “Allowing this money allocated for border wall infrastructure to expire ignores congressional intent and undermines congressional authority.”
Mr. Joyce, who chairs the House subcommittee, said the administration has “stonewalled” efforts to restart construction.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed Mr. Biden’s border wall halt in 2021 and concluded that it was legal because it wasn’t intended to derail the wall but rather to ensure it was being built correctly. GAO indicated that there might come a time when failure to follow through with the construction would become a legal matter.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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