SAN DIEGO — President Joe Biden rescinded a national emergency declaration at the U.S. southern border Thursday. His predecessor, Donald Trump, made the declaration in Feb. 2019 to redirect billions of dollars from the Pentagon to border wall construction.
"I have also announced that it shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall, and that I am directing a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to that end," Biden wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explaining his decision.
The announcement came after Biden asked the U.S. Supreme Court last week to put off arguments in two cases involving the U.S.-Mexico border wall and asylum-seekers because he planned to take steps to change Trump administration policies that had been challenged in court.
In Feb. 2019, Congress approved a bill to allocate about $1.4 billion for the border wall, well short of the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed to build a wall along the Mexican boundary. The funds from Congress would've financed just a quarter of the 200-plus miles Trump wanted. So, then-President Trump issued a national emergency to get more federal dollars for his long-promised wall. The move prompted immediate condemnation from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority.
“We know in San Diego how important are immigrant communities are to our economy and our society, not to mention the fact that Donald Trump's order would have taken funding away from military families and their schools and their housing to build something just to prop up his own ego,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D) Bankers Hill.
Under the Trump Administration, $15 billion was spent on 738 miles of a new border wall system. Much of it replaced an existing wall system.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates 46 miles were completed in the San Diego sector. Last month, on his first day in office, Mr. Biden paused construction on the wall, which placed two miles of the wall under construction and three miles of pre-construction projects in San Diego in limbo.
Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol have argued the new wall system is more cost-efficient because a 12-mile section reduces manpower by 150 hours every 24 hours. It also claims the wall makes the community safer because it pushes smugglers to use ports of entry where contraband is easier to detect. Last fiscal year more illegal drugs were seized at the border than years past.
“We have new smart technologies at our border crossings that have enabled us to do this in a more humane way and that's the kind of thing we should be focusing on,” countered Jacobs. “Walls don't work at. Donald Trump's own supporters showed us on January 6th that walls don't work and instead we should be investing in these new smart technologies and making sure that we're humanely enforcing our laws.”
Mr. Biden has pushed for a more comprehensive immigration reform package that is still in development. The White House said Thursday it is still reviewing all the immigration policies and executive orders that were put in place by Mr. Trump.
“We need to put in place not only a comprehensive immigration approach to immigration by passing a law that will help address the root causes that are in the countries that are leading people to come to try to come to the United States. That puts funds for smart security at the border. That provides a pathway to citizenship. But we also need some time to review all of the detrimental steps that were put in place by the prior administration so that we can put a more humane system in place,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Mr. Biden has not yet resumed accepting asylum applications at the border. The process was halted last year by Mr. Trump during the pandemic because detention facilities did not have the capacity for social distancing.
“I absolutely think that making sure that the United States remains this beacon of hope for people all over the world fleeing really difficult circumstances, as it was for my family when they left Europe because of anti-Semitism, is crucial to not only our economy and our communities now, but really our standing around the world,” said Jacobs. “[President Biden] has already sent us down some instructions to begin working on an immigration bill and I'm excited that that is something that we in Congress will hopefully actually be able to get done this time.”