Pentagon officials are canceling construction of Donald Trump’s border wall with funds the ex-president diverted form the military and diverting an unspent $14 billion back to the Department of Justice.
A spokesman said Friday: ‘Border wall construction under the previous administration tied up more than $14 billion in taxpayer funds, shortchanged our military, and diverted attention away from genuine security challenges, like human traffickers. Rushed and haphazard wall construction also resulted in serious life, safety, and environmental issues,’ the official said.
Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 in an effort to redirect funding to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.
Biden’s cancellation of his flagship project came weeks after the US announced it had arrested more migrants who crossed the southern border than in any month since 2001. More than 172,000 people were detained after crossing into the country from Mexico during March.
Trump had ordered the diversion of billions of dollars in Pentagon money to pay for the barrier after being denied funding by Congress.
He ultimately bypassed Congress by controversially dipping directly into the Pentagon’s coffers, forcing the Defense Department to allocate billions of dollars for the project.
But all that changed when President Joe Biden issued a proclamation on January 20, his first day in office. Biden ordered a freeze on border wall projects and directed a review of the legality of its funding and contracting methods.
‘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,’ Pentagon spokesman Jamal Brown said in a statement.
Brown said the Defense Department ‘has begun taking all necessary actions to cancel border barrier projects.’
‘Today’s action reflects this administration’s continued commitment to defending our nation and supporting our service members and their families,’ he said.
Brown said the returned funds would be used for deferred military construction projects.
Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and to make Mexico pay for it.
Mexico refused and so did the House of Representatives after Democrats took control of the chamber in 2018.
Trump’s diversion of funds from the Pentagon had been heavily criticized by lawmakers, who said it put national security at risk and circumvented Congress.
In 2019 alone, the military said more than 120 U.S. military construction projects would be adversely affected by Trump’s move.
The Biden administration announced two new projects along the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
One will address soil erosion in a 14-mile stretch of barrier construction by the Trump administration near San Diego, California while another will see holes in the Rio Grande Valley levee system left by the wall construction project filled in.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement late on Friday afternoon that it was acting to ‘protect border communities.’
‘Construction under the prior administration blew large holes into the Rio Grande Valley’s flood barrier system to make way for a border wall. The flood barrier system had long provided low-lying regions of Hidalgo County, Texas, protection from catastrophic flooding, and these breaches have threatened local communities. DHS will start work to quickly repair the flood barrier system to protect border communities. This work will not involve expanding the border barrier,’ the DHS statement said.
A massive influx of migrants, including record numbers of teenagers and children without their parents have been coming across the border.
In March, 172,331 migrants were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The numbers are the highest recorded in 20 years.
A White House official told CNN that the number of migrant children being held in jail-like conditions by US Customs and Border Protection dropped nearly 84% in the span of a month. As of Wednesday, there were 954 children in CBP facilities, down from a peak of 5,767 on March 28.
Additionally, Biden said because the Trump administration waited so long to cooperate with the presidential transition – due to Trump contesting the election results – his transition team was unable to get information it needed from the relevant government agencies.
‘We didn’t find out they had fire a whole lot of people that they were understaffed considerably,’ the president said.
He also said the Trump administration failed to plan for the seasonal upsurge that comes every spring.
‘They didn’t have beds that were available. They didn’t plan for the overflow,’ he said, arguing conditions for the kids, who have been put into overcrowded shelters with some sleeping on the floor, are better now.
‘There’s a significant change right now, significant change in circumstance for children coming to and at the border,’ he said.
According to Customs and Border Patrol data, the number of immigrants apprehended along the southern border jumped from 96,974 in February to 168,195 in March.
The last time single-month apprehensions were that high was in March of 2001. Additionally in March, CBP apprehended 18,656 unaccompanied minors at the southern border, a record since at least October 2009 and double February’s numbers.
Republicans see the issue as one they can use to make in roads with voters in the 2022 midterms and have criticized Biden heavily on it, particularly for refusing to call the situation a ‘crisis.’ Biden used that word earlier this month when talking about the border but the White House quickly walked it back.