US President Joe Biden defended his administration’s plans to add to the border wall with Mexico Thursday, saying he couldn’t stop the use of funds earmarked under Donald Trump’s signature policy.
Biden said “no” when asked if he thought barriers worked, despite his own Department of Homeland Security saying there was an “acute and immediate need” to tackle a surge in migrants crossing the frontier.
Biden pledged while running for the White House against Trump that he would not build any more border wall, and announced in a proclamation on the day he took office in January 2021 that no more taxpayer funds would be allocated to do so.
The new section of wall will be built in the “high illegal entry” Rio Grande Valley Sector of the US-Mexico border, where there have been more than 245,000 attempted illegal entries this fiscal year.
“The money was appropriated for the border wall. I tried to get them to reappropriate, to redirect that money. They didn’t. They wouldn’t,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office at the White House.
“In the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated for. I can’t stop that,” he said.
Asked if he thought the border wall was effective, Biden replied: “No.”
– ‘Immediate need’ –
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had said in a notice in the Federal Register there was “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.”
Mayorkas said the funding for the “additional physical barriers” would come from an appropriation made by Congress for that purpose in 2019, when Trump was still in office.
The White House said it was “absolutely false” that there had been a reversal by Biden.
Illegal immigration has become a major political headache for Biden, with opposition Republicans accusing him of lax border policies.
Republicans have also pledged to block more funding for Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion until he takes action on the border.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said the Biden administration move showed “I was right when I built 560 miles… of brand new, beautiful border wall.”
“Will Joe Biden appolgize (sic) to me and America for taking so long to get moving, and allowing our country to be flooded with 15 million illegals immigrants, from places unknown,” Trump said on his Truth Social platform.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized the US plan to extend the wall along the frontier, calling it a “setback.”
“It does not solve the problem. We must address the causes” of migration, Lopez Obrador told reporters shortly before meeting visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Mexico City.
– ‘Disheartening’ –
The Department of Homeland Security said some two dozen federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act would be waived to allow for the extension of the border wall.
Laiken Jordahl, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, denounced the plan.
“It’s disheartening to see President Biden stoop to this level, casting aside our nation’s bedrock environmental laws to build ineffective wildlife-killing border walls,” Jordahl said in a statement.
Blinken, Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland are to hold talks in Mexico City on Thursday that are expected to include discussion of migrant flows across the border.
The meetings come after a spike in the number of people — mostly from Central America and Venezuela — seeking to cross from Mexico into the United States.