On August 1, I reported that the Biden administration would be closing “four gaps located within an incomplete border barrier project near the Morelos Dam in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector” that are collectively known as “the Yuma Gap”. While those plans are still on track, the White House now denies that it is “building a border wall”, apparently ashamed of an effort Joe Biden used to publicly tout — even while admitting it will “save lives”.
The Yuma Gap. The Yuma Gap consists of four stretches of levee along the Colorado River near the Morelos Dam (which runs between the United States and Mexico), a couple of miles outside of the city of Yuma, where 30-foot bollard fencing stops, only to start again a few hundred feet away.
Thousands of aliens have crossed through the gap illegally on a weekly basis ever since January 20, 2021, when newly sworn-in President Biden issued a proclamation “paus[ing] work on each construction project on the southern border wall, to the extent permitted by law, as soon as possible but in no case later than seven days from the date” that proclamation was issued.
When I was there in March, it looked like the bulldozers had stopped in their tracks. Stacks of fencing segments sit, rusting in the desert sun, right across from the fence gaps. If you were a puzzle aficionado, you could picture in your mind’s eye where each piece would go.
While DHS contends that the gap will be filled because the “area presents safety and life hazard risks” for migrants, first responders, and agents, I posited that the real reason for this renewed effort was likely political, to help Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly (Ariz.) in a tough reelection fight in a state where the president’s immigration policies are unpopular.
Biden Flip-Flops on “the Wall”. That earlier post detailed how Joe Biden’s stance on border barriers had “evolved” over time. When he was a senator from Delaware seeking the Democratic nomination for president in the 2008 election, for example, he trumpeted his support for fencing as a response to illegal immigration and drug smuggling, but when seeking the office 12 years later, he became a dogged opponent of physical barriers.
Donald Trump has a unique ability to prod his political enemies away from their prior support for common-sense immigration proposals, and nowhere is that more evident than in Biden’s flip-flops over “the wall”. Support for immigration enforcement generally and barriers in particular were keys to Trump winning the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and as president, Trump was willing to force a government shut-down to secure barrier funding.
He was also willing to issue a proclamation declaring a national emergency at the Southwest border and directing the Department of Defense (DoD) to assist in securing that border, the day that he received a portion of the barrier funding that he had requested from Congress.
Consequently, staunch opposition to “the wall” became a main component of the immigration platform Biden offered in his (successful) attempt to unseat Trump. The candidate vowed to NPR in August 2020 that, “There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1”.
Biden was echoing the contentions of many “progressives” with respect to “the wall”. One of those was Karine Jean-Pierre, then with the liberal group MoveOn, who tweeted in February 2019:
Join @MoveOn & many others on President’s this MONDAY AT NOON LOCAL TIME for nationwide protests against Trump's illegal fake national emergency power grab to build his racist wall. Pledge to attend here: https://t.co/i40aWgRhK3. #FakeTrumpEmergency pic.twitter.com/YDxqpcAyWc
— Karine Jean-Pierre (@K_JeanPierre) February 16, 2019
The July 29 White House Press Briefing. All of this built up to the White House July 29 press briefing, when Jean-Pierre, now the president’s press secretary, was questioned by Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy on DHS’s proposed construction at the Yuma Gap:
Doocy: Why is the Biden administration building a border wall in Arizona?
Jean-Pierre: So, we are not — we’re not finishing the wall. We are cleaning up the mess the prior administration left behind in their — in their failed attempt to build a wall.
And I just want to be very, very clear here: On day one, we returned the money — the $8 billion the prior administration took from our military — we gave that back to the military for military families, for schools, for bases. That’s what that money was being used — that’s what it was taken away from.
And so, again, what we’re doing is cleaning up the mess that the prior administration has done.
Doocy: But President Biden, when he was a candidate, said, “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.” So, what changed?
Jean-Pierre: We are not finishing the wall.
Doocy: If walls work in that part of Arizona, is this — the administration trying to get migrants to cross somewhere else, like in Texas? What — what is the point?
Jean-Pierre: We are not finishing a wall. We are cleaning up the mess that the prior administration made. We are trying to save lives. This is what is — this is what the prior administration left behind that we are now cleaning up.
Doocy: By finishing the wall, is this —
Jean-Pierre: We are not finishing the wall.
Doocy: By filling in, finishing —
Jean-Pierre: We are not finishing the wall.
Doocy: By filling in, is this — is this racist? Because in 2019, when the former guy was proposing a wall, you said that it was his “racist” wall. So how is this any different? I’m just having a hard time understanding how is this any different.
Jean-Pierre: I’m not even sure how you get to your first question to this question that you just asked me. I will say this: A border wall —
Doocy: But what’s the difference —
Jean-Pierre: I’m answering your question. A border wall is ineffective use of taxpayer dollars. So, it’s ineffective of taxpayer dollars — dollars that actually went to the military that the last administration, the prior President, took from the military, which took away from schools, which took away from military bases. That’s what that money that he pulled away from to build this wall that he wanted — that is ineffective, by the way, which I just said.
Just recently, CBP reported that new bollard fencing along the southwest border was breached 3,272 times between fiscal year of 2019 and 2021, requiring $2.6 million in repairs. It’s ineffective. We are not finishing a wall; we are cleaning up the mess that the last administration made.
Unpacking the Spin. There is a lot to unpack in that (admittedly lengthy) exchange, but four points stand out.
First, I used to practice construction law and can tell you that every site is a mess until the project is completed. While the current administration may be “cleaning up the mess” that the prior one left behind, it’s only because the fence in the Yuma Gap was left unfinished — at Biden’s express command.
Second, I have no idea what Jean-Pierre means by 3,272 “breaches” of the barriers at the Southwest border, but most likely she is referring to times that aliens and smugglers made it under, over, and/or through the fencing.
As I explained in my prior post, however, “barriers are an impediment and deterrent to the illegal entry of drugs and migrants, not an impenetrable obstacle”, a fact that even Joe Biden circa 2007 — expressing his support for fencing — admitted. Given the fact that Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 3.128 million illegal migrants at the Southwest border since Biden took office, that means that barriers there have an almost 99.9 percent success rate — exceptional by government standards.
In that vein, while $2.6 million for repairs may seem like a lot (which it is), Congress appropriated $1.375 billion for barrier construction in FY 2021 alone. The repair costs cited by the press secretary thus constitute less than .2 percent of the funds Congress set aside for construction, most of which has gone unspent since Biden took office.
Third, Jean-Pierre and the administration, respectfully, look bad when they deny what is apparent to any objective observer. This is redolent of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ contentions before Congress that the border is “secure” and that his department has “operational control of the southern border”.
None of that is true, and the White House press secretary looks like former Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed “Baghdad Bob” al-Sahaf when she states — five different times — that closing the Yuma Gap is not “finishing the wall” there.
Fourth, and most importantly, if “a border wall is an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars”, why did Jean-Pierre assert that DHS is doing whatever it is doing “to save lives”? Saving lives — migrants’, Americans’, agents’, first responders’ — is the primary reason for DHS’s existence. And if “cleaning up the mess” left by the prior administration “saves lives” in the Yuma Gap, why not in other places where fencing has sat unfinished for 18-plus months?
Trump’s support for many rational and effective immigration policies (such as Title 42 and “Remain in Mexico”) repeatedly has prompted his opponents to espouse the opposite, often to their detriment and the nation’s. It’s well past the point that Joe Biden should admit that fact and act accordingly. The flippant taunt that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” is more mature than denying that self-evident facts are true.