Mayorkas Teases Possible Wall Construction

And likely for good reason — senators and those they represent are not happy about the border

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 8, 2021

The Washington Times reported this week that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently told ICE employees that the Biden administration may restart construction of border infrastructure to close “gaps”, erect “gates”, and supplement areas where “where the wall has been completed but the technology has not been implemented.” If he and his boss follow through, it would be a big, but necessary, about-face for the Biden administration.

Last August, then-candidate Joe Biden told NPR: "There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1 .“ As I noted in an October post, that was an about-face from votes that former Sen. Biden (D-Del.) had taken, and from actions that had been undertaken by the Obama-Biden administration, but consistency is not necessarily a virtue in politics.

Inconsistency between the administration’s current rhetoric and inaction on border barrier construction and its possible resumption of infrastructure work would definitely however — as a practical, legal, and political matter — be the right thing to do.

As I noted in a March 25 post, 40 Republican senators have sent a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting a legal opinion on whether the president’s January 20 proclamation "pausing" construction of barriers along the Southwest border violates the Impoundment Control Act (ICA).

The ICA limits the executive branch’s ability not to spend money for a purpose that the legislative branch has appropriated it. And, in the FY 2020 and FY 2021 appropriations bills (respectively), Congress funded $1.375 billion "for the construction of [a] barrier system along the southwest border".

Some, most, or all of that money remains unspent, and an adverse opinion by the comptroller general would be a black eye for the Biden administration, even if it has no legal effect (yet).

Further, an AP/NORC poll that was released on Monday shows that Biden — who otherwise has majority support — is in trouble as it relates to his handling of immigration generally (56 percent disapproval vs. 42 percent approval), and border security (55 percent disapproval vs. 44 percent approval).

I would not deign to speak for each of those 55 percent who disapprove of the president’s performance at the border, but the unfolding disaster there — with migrants dying and children living in overcrowded shelters, as I noted on April 2 — likely has something to do with it.

Official numbers on apprehensions at the Southwest border for March have not yet been released, but the Washington Post reported on April 2 that more than 171,000 migrants were taken into CBP custody there last month. It is unclear whether those are all Border Patrol apprehensions, or if some were aliens deemed inadmissible at the ports of entry.

It is presumably the latter because the Post headline reads “Border crossings in March jumped to highest level in 15 years, data shows”, and I cannot find a month in which Border Patrol made more than 170,000 apprehensions since March 2001 (that is, before September 11th), and you have to go back 21 years to April 2000 to find apprehensions in excess of 171,000 (180,050).

Assuming that the Post’s numbers are correct, however (and I have great faith in the author and his sources), the “trend lines” on illegal migration are bad, and are only going to get much, much, worse, unless there is some action to change the trajectory of illicit entries.

Not that border barriers (or a “wall”, if you will) are going to make much difference, at least in the short run. Migrants will simply stand on the other side of those barriers and wait until Border Patrol comes to pick them up, if past trends hold and the Biden administration does not take some other action to discourage entries.

But resuming some construction on those barriers will have some dual effect in the short-term, and the long-term, too.

Wall constriction will show the American people that the Biden administration is taking the situation at the border as seriously as the AP-NORC polling shows the majority of the American people are. And it will send a message to would-be migrants that the border is not literally “open”, even if metaphorically it remains that way.