Thousands of illegal immigrants enter the U.S. daily while much of $2 billion Congress set aside for a wall and technology in the busiest region of the southern border goes unspent, it was reported Friday.
The Washington Examiner said 89 of the project’s 110 miles remains unfinished, along the winding Rio Grande River that divides the U.S. and Mexico.
Although President Joe Biden’s administration shut down wall construction funded through diversions from the Trump administration, the project was approved and funded by the House and Senate.
Most of the southern border’s wall projects that were funded by Congress during the Trump administration have been completed. A senior Border Patrol agent who oversees the region’s wall construction said the project costs about $20 million per mile.
The Examiner said it was unclear why construction on the final 89-mile stretch had been stalled, or who will decide on whether to spend the remaining money.
“We work for the government. We work for the Department of Homeland Security, so the secretary [Alejandro Mayorkas],” said the official, who spoke anonymously during a congressional tour this week. “He gets his orders from Congress and also from the executive branch, right? But ultimately he’s appointed, right? So he’s our boss. We do what he tells us.”
Top Republicans are trying to force the Biden administration to build the portion of the wall that was appropriated by Congress.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., have asked for the Government Accountability Office to intervene and decide whether Biden violated the Impoundment Control Act when he suspended all projects without providing legal justification.
Such a finding could provide a reason to sue.
A total of 10 projects covering 110 miles were planned for the 320-mile stretch of border river.
The Examiner said Congress could repurpose the rest of the $2 billion to fund only technology even though the money originally was intended to cover the cost of the wall, the levee system used to prevent floodwaters from entering town, roads, and lighting along the wall.
Rio Grande Valley wall construction began in the early 2000s after Congress funded 55 miles of the 10-foot high barricade. The wall currently is far less capable of preventing illegal crossings than the 30-foot wall that has become the standard.
After construction of 55 miles was completed on the eastern side of this region in 2010, agents said migrants increasingly opted to swim across on the western side of the Rio Grande Valley, where there was no barrier.
“When we finished the border wall system, there was a traffic discrepancy,” the official said. “Seventy percent of our traffic was on the west side, 30% was on our east side. Well, once we finished that wall, the percentage just started changing. And we started gaining control over that east side because we had that infrastructure.
“In 2019 is when the discrepancy was at its highest […] Ninety-five of all our illegal traffic was now occurring only on our west side, and only 5% was on our east side.”
The official added the remaining construction would offer “operational control.”
“We’ve finished 21 miles over on our west side. And we’re starting to see a shift back,” the official said. “I can tell you this: if we construct the remaining 89 miles, we will gain operational control.”
Even if the Biden administration gives the green light for construction to continue, the Examiner said it would take 6-8 months to screen and vet thousands of workers needed for the projects.
Time also would be needed to get the equipment and supplies back on site, according to the border agent.