In a surprise to many, the Biden administration has announced it will resume construction of the southwest border wall, essentially picking up where former President Donald Trump left off. It’s just the latest flip-flop by a man who used to be a dogged proponent of such barriers to the free flow of drugs, terrorists and migrants into the United States, but he likely didn’t have much choice.
Few remember the 2006 NBC News profile in which then-Delaware Sen. Biden blamed illegal immigration on Mexico and called for a “tightening” of the border “with fences,” or his 2007 campaign speech in Iowa when he explained “no great nation can be in a position where they can’t control their borders,” while advocating for fencing to prevent cocaine smuggling.
That’s because by 2020 he was arguing that “a wall will do little to deter criminals and cartels seeking to exploit our borders,” a shift that likely had more to do with his hatred for his opponent (for whom walls were a key campaign talking point) than with any principled reassessment.
In one of his first acts as president, that new Joe Biden “paused” border wall construction even though Congress had already appropriated billions for it. In response, 40 Republican senators asked federal Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to find that Biden’s actions ran afoul of the Nixon-era Impoundment Control Act, which bars the president from sitting on appropriated funds.
In June 2021, Dodaro ruled that Biden’s delays in spending those funds were “programmatic” and that he was required to “perform environmental reviews and consult with various stakeholders.”
One major issue with such claims is that Congress has already allowed DHS to waive most environmental restrictions in constructing border barriers, including in a 2005 law then-Sen. Biden voted for.
Dodaro, however, also suggested Congress demand a timeline for such expenditures. By then, the clock was ticking on Biden to use $190 million in unspent wall funding from 2019, which CBP alluded in June when announcing it would “move forward” on 20 miles of fencing in Arizona and California.