The Biden administration said Friday it has canceled border wall projects paid for with funds diverted from Defense Department accounts, a widely expected move that follows Biden’s decision to suspend construction activity on President Donald Trump’s signature project.
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.
“The Department of Defense is proceeding with canceling all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds originally intended for other military missions and functions such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account,” Jamal Brown, deputy Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “Today’s action reflects this Administration’s continued commitment to defending our nation and supporting our service members and their families.”
Trump built 450 miles of new barriers during his term, much of it across the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona where his administration built along national forest land, wildlife preserves and other federal property already under government control. It built far less in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the busiest area for border crossings and the epicenter to a major migration influx.
Friday’s joint announcement from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security did not indicate how much money the cancellation will save, nor whether leftover funds would be used to pay demobilization costs to contractors whose bulldozers and excavators were brought to a halt on Jan. 20.
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 DHS construction funds to be used on border improvement and security projects.
In a separate statement Friday, DHS said it would use congressionally appropriated funds to repair flood levees in the lower Rio Grande Valley that were damaged during border wall construction. The effort will not expand the barrier, the department said.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.), whose district includes portions of the river levee, praised the decision to use the funds for repair projects. “It’s imperative that these structures are fixed prior to the hurricane season,” he said in a statement.
Hidalgo County, Tex., Judge Richard Cortez said the breaches put an estimated 250,000 people at risk of severe flooding, especially at the beginning of hurricane season. Cortez is frustrated it took the Biden administration so long to address the problem, and he said that county officials had begun to try to fix the levee themselves.
“This should’ve been done a lot earlier than what it took,” Cortez said. “I understand government bureaucracy but . . . the imminent threat of the hurricane season to an area we know floods, I felt that decision should’ve been made a lot earlier.”
The Biden administration will also remediate a site adjacent to the structure in San Diego damaged by soil erosion, releasing photos that show holes where sediments have been swept away.
“DHS will soon complete a plan that identifies additional measures to address the damage resulting from the prior Administration’s border wall construction,” the statement said.
The announcement said unused military construction funds would be used to pay for previously deferred military construction projects, and the Pentagon is reviewing the deferred project list to determine new priorities.