In a long-expected move, the Biden administration says it has canceled border-wall construction projects which had been funded by the Trump administration using diverted military spending. On Friday, a Pentagon spokesman announced that the Department of Defense was reallocating the funding back to its originally intended purposes, though it’s not clear how much the U.S. will be able to save or recoup of the many billions of dollars the Trump administration seized for the border wall after it was unable to secure the funding from Congress in 2019, following the longest government shutdown in American history. Reports the Washington Post:
Trump diverted about $10 billion from military construction accounts and counternarcotics programs to pay for hundreds of miles of steel barriers along the Mexico border, an effort that Biden has denounced as wasteful and ineffective. … An estimate prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers last fall determined there would be about $3.3 billion in leftover funds if Biden chose not to proceed with Trump’s construction plans for about 285 additional miles of border barriers. The government would save about $2.6 billion after paying demobilization costs to contractors, the estimate found.
It’s also unclear the fate of unfinished border wall segments funded with about $5 billion in congressional appropriations to DHS during Trump’s term. GOP critics of Biden’s decision insist he is legally obligated to spend the funds on barrier construction, but Democrats want leftover [Department of Homeland Security] construction funds to be used on border improvement and security projects.
The DHS announced Friday that it would use congressionally appropriated funds to act to “protect border communities” not by building more wall, but by repairing the damage to flood levees in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as what it called “dangerous” soil erosion, which were both caused by the Trump administration’s wall-construction efforts.
At the same time, CBS News adds, the outcome of federal government efforts to seize property for wall purposes is as of yet unclear:
Despite the Biden administration’s cancellation of border wall construction, the Texas Civil Rights Project notes that some 140 eminent domain cases that could result in the seizure of homes along the southern border are still active. In fact, a federal judge ruled earlier this month that the government could take “immediate possession” of one Texas family’s land along the Southwest border in Hidalgo County, after a years-long court battle.
The Biden administration has said it could stop seeking the land after it finishes its ongoing — and already overdue — review of the border-wall project. President Biden froze funding for border-wall construction and ended Trump’s national-emergency declaration regarding the border soon after taking office, but unwinding the former president’s signature pet project remains no simple task. The cancellation of the DoD–funded projects is a next step in that process, but while there is bipartisan support for repairing the flood levees, GOP lawmakers continue to criticize Biden for halting wall construction. The Biden administration has been attempting to manage a recent surge of migrants at the southern border, though it’s worth noting that much of Trump’s wall efforts were focused on parts of the border which have not typically been used by migrants to cross into the U.S.