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Biden Backs Out On Campaign Promise, Set To Expand US-Mexico Border Wall

Above photo: Migrants detained by US Customs and Border Patrol. Wikimedia.

The US president will waive 26 federal laws to facilitate the construction of 20 additional miles of the border wall.

Angers environmental, immigration, and Indigenous rights activists.

On Thursday, October 5, the Biden administration announced that it would be expanding the South Texas border wall in order to deter migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico. In a sweeping move of executive power, Biden waived 26 federal laws—including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act—to facilitate the construction of 20 additional miles of the border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, an area which has seen 245,000 “illegal” crossings in the current fiscal year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The waiver of these federal laws expedites the planned expansion, allowing the administration to circumvent onerous reviews and time-consuming lawsuits that could challenge the border wall’s construction.

This move comes despite Biden’s own 2020 campaign promise that “there will not be another foot of [border] wall constructed” if elected. And once in office, Biden issued a proclamation in January 2021 pledging that “It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.”

Biden defended the administration’s decision, claiming the funds were already allocated from a 2019 congressional appropriation and that his hands were tied.

“The money was appropriated for the border wall,” Biden said. “I tried to get them to reappropriate, to redirect that money. They didn’t. They wouldn’t. 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.”

According to a 2022 Jama Surgery report, the border wall has directly resulted in an “unprecedented increase” in injuries and deaths as migrants attempt to scale the barrier, with the University of California San Diego trauma center reporting a five-time jump in the number of “high severity injuries” since 2019.

“We’re Being Stabbed In The Back”

Environmental rights activists met Biden’s announcement with quick condemnation.

In an open letter denouncing the move, environmental political action organization Sunrise Movement wrote, “The Biden Admin’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to fast-track their border wall construction will not only create dangerous conditions for migrants seeking refuge in the US, but will also trample protections for clean water, Indigenous graves, and endangered species.”

“Similar border walls have already caused countless deaths as well as irreversible ecological damage across our southern border by impeding the natural migrations of people and wildlife,” the letter continued. “The Biden Administration must take immediate action to reverse this decision and stop any further construction of the border wall.”

The Biden administration’s announcement comes just one month after a report issued by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the construction of the border wall under the Trump administration had wreaked “irreparable” damage to the surrounding environment. This damage included permanently altering migration patterns of wildlife such as the endangered ocelot, putting it at even greater risk of extinction; wiping out native vegetation such as the saguaro cactus; and disrupting important Indigenous cultural sites and burial grounds.

Other migrant rights activists also noted that Biden’s expansion of the border wall was not a departure from the Democrats’ immigration policy, but merely a logical continuation of it.

“Biden militarizing [the] border wall and, in doing so, trampling Indigenous sovereignty, endangering migrants, and hurting ecosystems is not just a ‘Trumpian’ move,” stated Canadian organizer and writer Harsha Walia on X. “It actually follows in [the] legacy of Democrats like Obama and Clinton—who first started [the] push to militarize [the] southern border.”

“Of course, likening it to Trump policies is useful to lay bare the hypocrisy,” Walia continued. “But also recall how key Dems have been to hardened borders: expanded detention and deportation, criminalizing migration, militarizing [the] border, and outsourcing of border enforcement to third countries.”

Still, many couldn’t help but feel betrayed by Biden’s announcement.

Nadya Alvarez, who spent years fighting a lawsuit which sought to seize her family’s property to build the border wall during the Trump administration, told The Guardian, “Biden didn’t keep his promises–what happened to his word? We thought maybe we’d be OK with a Democrat as president, and now Biden did this. We’re being stabbed in the back.”

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