Updated Oct 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump taunts Biden on border wall reversal amid immigration surge

Contractors weld closed a hole in a fence used by migrants to climb though the border wall along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas on May 1

Contractors weld closed a hole in a fence in the border wall in El Paso, Texas on May 11. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

In a major reversal, the Biden administration on Wednesday cleared the way for new border wall construction in Texas to slow immigration.

Why it matters: The plan conflicts with Biden's promise that his administration would not build "another foot" of the wall that former President Trump erected along the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • One of Biden's first executive actions halted construction of the wall. The White House said at the time that building the barrier was "not a serious policy solution."

The latest: Biden told reporters Thursday that Congress had appropriated the funding for the border wall and the administration was required by law to use it for that purpose, per a White House pool report.

  • "I tried to get them to reappropriate, to redirect that money. They didn't. They wouldn't," he said.

Between the lines: Biden has previously disavowed former President Trump's immigration policies. But under pressure from Republicans and members of his own party, his administration has adopted tougher measures.

  • Trump posted on Truth Social earlier Thursday that Biden's decision proved "that I was right" in building a border wall.
  • "I will await his apology!" Trump wrote.

Driving the news: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would waive 26 laws — including the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act — to allow for new border wall construction, according to a notice on the Federal Registry.

  • "There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated in the announcement.
  • The new 17-mile barrier will rise in Starr County, Texas.
  • A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said Thursday that the project Mayorkas issued the waiver for was first announced in June.
  • "This is not a policy decision ... The Administration repeatedly called on Congress to cancel or reappropriate remaining border barrier funding and instead fund smarter border security measures," a DHS spokesperson said in a separate statement.

The big picture: The Biden administration's decision coincides with a surge in immigration at the southern border.

  • The notice stated that there have been 245,000 illegal border crossings in the Rio Grande Valley area in the 2023 fiscal year.
  • Government data from September showed that illegal crossings of the U.S.-Mexico border by migrant families had reached a record high.

Worth noting: Environmental groups criticized the decision.

  • Laiken Jordahl, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the move "disheartening."
  • "Starr County is home to some of the most spectacular and biologically important habitat left in Texas and now bulldozers are preparing to rip right through it," Jordahl said. "This is a horrific step backwards for the borderlands."
  • The CBP spokesperson added that the agency "committed to protecting the nation's cultural and natural resources and will implement sound environmental practices as part of the project covered by this waiver."

Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from President Biden, former President Trump, a DHS spokesperson and a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson.

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