THE WHITE HOUSE —
President Joe Biden said Thursday he was unable to legally divert money away from a plan to build several miles of new barriers along the southern border – directly contradicting his campaign vow to build “not another foot of wall” and drawing harsh criticism from Mexico’s president.
A notice to allow construction in Texas was released Wednesday night in the Federal Register, the official U.S. government gazette.
“There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in the notice.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection counted 232,972 encounters on the Southwest border in August, the last month for which figures are available. Most migrants crossing overland come from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Mexico’s president swiftly decried the move.
“This authorization for the construction of the wall is a step backwards,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said during his daily press conference. “That does not solve the problem, that does not solve the problem. We have to address the causes.”
In order to allow construction, the administration had to waive a number of federal regulations relating to environmental, historical and Indigenous issues. Biden also argued that the funds had been appropriated in 2019 by the previous administration.
“The money was appropriated for the border wall,” Biden said Thursday, when asked by reporters about what appeared to be a reversal in the administration’s border policy. “I tried to get them to reappropriate it, to redirect that money. They didn’t. They wouldn’t. And in the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated. I can’t stop that.”
A reporter then asked him, “Do you believe the border wall works?”
“No,” he said.
In a call with reporters, administration officials noted that the structures will be on “moveable foundations.”
Former President Donald Trump was quick to react to the news.
“As I have stated often, over thousands of years, there are only two things that have consistently worked, wheels, and walls!” Trump said on his social media platform, Truth Social. He added that he was awaiting an apology from Biden “for taking so long to get moving, and allowing our country to be flooded” with illegal immigrants.
But in condemning Biden, Lopez Obrador alluded to a backstory.
“It is contrary to what President Biden has said,” he said. “He has been the only president so far who has not built the wall.”
But then he added: “I understand that there are strong pressures.”
Also Thursday, Lopez Obrador hosted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mayorkas in Mexico City for a high-level discussion on security.
Washington is currently in turmoil over a stunning turn of political events. Before being ousted earlier this week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy appeared to tie the legislative body’s approval of Biden’s request for $24 billion in Ukraine funding to a request by Republicans for more border security.
“I support being able to make sure Ukraine has the weapons that they need,” McCarthy said before he was voted out. “But I firmly support the border first.”
The Biden administration was also quick to dispute reports that they are deviating from existing policy. In 2021, a Biden executive order described a border wall “a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security,” while declaring they would not allocate military funds for border-wall construction – only congressional funds.
“There is no new Administration policy with respect to border walls,” Mayorkas said in a statement Thursday. “From day one, this administration has made clear that a border wall is not the answer. That remains our position and our position has never wavered. The language in the Federal Register notice is being taken out of context and it does not signify any change in policy whatsoever.”
Texas-based advocates with Voces Unidas, which promotes immigrant rights, condemned the administration’s move. “We are confused and angered by the decision to further punish the most innocent, most vulnerable people in our communities, people who are already underserved and ignored across regional and state governments, with this increase in border walls.”