Courtesy of The New York Times
On October 5, 2023, the Biden Administration announced plans to initiate the construction of a border wall spanning up to 20 miles in the Rio Grande Valley. This unexpected decision, contrary to earlier promises, has ignited a flurry of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, leaving many to question the administration's stance on immigration.
The abrupt policy change has thrust concerns about border security, environmental protection, and an impending election into the spotlight. The move, while swift, has not gone unchallenged, with critics questioning the administration's commitment to its campaign promises.
President Biden stood by a strong, concise immigration platform on the campaign trail. He openly criticized policies and rhetoric exhumed by President Trump, vowing that his presidency would be different. Immigration advocates were happy to hear that there were plans to expand and protect programs like DACA and create pathways to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people. Biden specifically vowed not to build “another foot” of wall at the southern border, and that land confiscation would end. In an attempt to aid those crossing the border more directly, Biden also promised legislative action to streamline the immigration system and propel the process to legal status.
Biden’s Border Wall
The Biden Administration has since pivoted its stance and is now seeking to waive 26 federal laws for the construction of a border wall in Starr County, Texas. This decision came out of an increase in migrants at the southern border as of September, following a decline earlier this year. The Department of Homeland Security posted a Notice of Determination on the US Federal Registry citing areas of “high illegal entry,” which have created an “acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is undertaking this project through funding from appropriations in 2019 under the Trump presidency— allocated specifically for the use of securing the southern border. Specific points of entry have been established by DHS with the hopes that the construction of a new barrier will alleviate the migrant entrances and close the current gaps in the border wall built between 2016 and 2020.
While funding considerations are pivotal, the ramifications extend beyond the realm of financial dimensions and into environmental consequences. Some of the federal laws being waived to begin construction are the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. Environmentalists and locals have raised concerns over the impact that this will have on the landscape of the area, which is already home to many endangered species, and the potential risk to locals.
President Biden claims that this decision was only made because the money had been allocated by Congress already and could not be redirected. While asserting that he does not believe that walls work in slowing immigration, he said he attempted to redirect the funds but ultimately failed.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, has responded by saying that there are better alternatives for border safety such as surveillance equipment, infrastructure for facilities, and a more comprehensive approach. He claims that the administration’s policy on immigration has not changed.
The Current Border Crisis
Mayorkas has stressed that this expansion was done deliberately and out of desperation. Current government data shows that at least 245,000 illegal entries have been reported in the current fiscal year. Cities and politicians supportive of immigration have begun to publicly ask for help and take matters into their own hands with hopes of improving their conditions and gaining access to resources. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) wrote a letter to President Biden himself demanding help and the Democratic San Diego Board of Supervisors declared the situation a “humanitarian crisis”.
After a sharp decrease in the number of migrants at the border with the rise of COVID-19, there has been a steady climb of those seeking asylum in the US. This new surplus of people has led to decreased resources, transportation of migrants to other cities and states, and harsh rhetoric from Republicans about Biden’s control over the situation. With border crossings jumping 21% in September of this year, it seems like the perfect time to take such a drastic measure.
Criticism and Disapproval
The US-Mexico border has long been a site of tension and disagreement for politicians and advocates alike. President Trump spent his presidency under fire from the left over his harsh policies and promises of closed borders. As President Biden begins to establish his legacy, he has faced consistent disagreement over his handling of immigration across the political spectrum. Many believe that his policies are too lenient and are causing these surges at the border. Others believe that he is being too harsh and has broken his promises to the American people.
With Biden facing re-election in the coming year, the controversy surrounding his immigration policies takes center stage. Despite the emphasis on immigration during his campaign, doubts persist about the effectiveness of the proposed border wall in addressing the complex challenges posed by immigration pressures. As the nation watches, the administration's actions are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the narrative leading up to the upcoming election.