Apr 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Congressional Democrats seek border wall halt during coronavirus

Construction equipment lowers big portions of slatted fence border wall into the ground. Mountains are in the background.

Workers drop pieces of border wall into place in New Mexico. Photo: Jordyn Rozensky, Justin Hamel/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A group of 91 Democratic lawmakers is calling on the Trump administration to halt border wall construction during the coronavirus pandemic.

Driving the news: The lawmakers, led by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), are making their case in letters being sent today to agency heads at the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice and Defense.

The big picture: COVID-19 has appeared in immigrant detention centers, denied entry to thousands of migrants, delayed immigrant hearings and reportedly infected nearly 900 DHS employees.

Details: A total of 66 House members and 25 senators signed the letters — including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, six former presidential candidates in the Senate, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler and three members of "the squad."

  • Signatures include those of several Democrats representing border districts: Reps. Cuellar, Ann Kirkpatrick, Veronica Escobar, and Vicente Gonzalez.
  • Several immigrants rights organizations also endorsed the letters.

What they're saying: Wall construction "defies" CDC social distancing and quarantine policies while money being used on the "ineffective and wasteful border wall" should be invested in fighting the virus, lawmakers wrote.

  • "It's insulting that in the middle of this emergency, instead of having the focus on making sure we got supplies, making sure that we're beating all of this, they're still going with this wall — this campaign promise from the president," Cuellar told Axios.
  • "The last thing we need is to put workers and the surrounding communities at risk when they already lack the health care infrastructure to handle this public health crisis," Heinrich told Axios in a statement.

By the numbers: The Trump administration has allocated $1.375 billion to build roughly 69 miles of border wall in fiscal year 2020, according to CBP's latest border wall data.

  • Since January 2017, the administration has built 158 miles of border wall, mostly replacing dilapidated or outdated barriers with taller, more effective fencing.

Read the letter here.

Go deeper