Unspent Border Funds Will Go to Military
The Pentagon has recently announced that all border wall construction projects funded with money intended for military projects such as schools and training facilities, among others, would be canceled.
“Border wall construction under the previous administration tied up more than $14 billion in taxpayer funds, shortchanged our military, and diverted attention away from genuine security challenges, like human traffickers. Rushed and haphazard wall construction also resulted in serious life, safety, and environmental issues,” an official stated.
In turn, the leftover funds will be returned to the Pentagon and used for projects that had been deferred in 2019.
Border Wall Saga
In September 2017, the first border wall contracts were awarded to four different companies to develop prototypes that would work in conjunction with the border in the San Diego area. At the time, U.S. special forces spent weeks attempting to breach the eight prototype models of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which proved to withstand jackhammers, torches and climbing tools.
From that point on, the government worked to speed up the project. In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that any environmental regulations regarding the construction or repair of a section of the border wall for certain areas in Texas would be waived, drawing ire from environmentalists and private property owners alike. The announcement detailed exemptions in Cameron County; another announcement made the following day detailed similar measures for Hidalgo County.
Through the course of late 2018 and into 2019, construction began on section of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector, with several million in border wall contracts being awarded for work elsewhere.
However, at the beginning of 2019, reports revealed that all eight border wall prototypes were susceptible to breaching. According to NBC News, testing conducted by the Department of Homeland Security showed that all prototypes, including the steel slat design, were vulnerable to damage from easily accessible tools. For example, the steel slat prototype could be cut through with a saw.
In mid-2019, a judge blocked the president’s use of money originally intended for military funding, for work on the border wall. The injunction only accounted for roughly $1 billion in funding for the border wall, money that the Department of Defense had funneled away from Army personnel to the Department of Homeland Security.
In July, over a week after a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from using $2.5 billion in funding for the border wall, CBP and the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $33 million contract for four miles of border wall work in Texas. Environmental regulations for that section of structure were also waived. August also saw the award of another $305 million in contracts.
In September, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper approved $3.6 billion in funding—largely pulled from military construction projects, including housing—to go toward building 175 miles of the border wall. At the end of that same month, Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, reported that roughly a mile of border wall is being built every day.
By December, the project saw additional funding stemming from canceled military projects being assigned to three new contracts for the construction of over 30 miles of replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, totaling $316 million in work.
That same month, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from transferring $3.6 billion in Pentagon funds for new border wall barriers when it attempted to commander funds for the border wall that had already been authorized by Congress for other purposes.
The following month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based out of New Orleans, ruled 2-1 that a certain set of Department of Defense funding could be used for border wall construction and lifted the injunction. The Washington Post reported that due to this ruling, the president and his administration viewed the matter as an invitation to take money again in 2020.
However, it was announced later in January that Trump was gearing up to divert $7.2 billion of military funds to use for barrier construction in the U.S.-Mexico border wall project. To break down where the funds will come from, the President intended to use $3.5 billion from counternarcotic programs and $3.7 billion intended for construction projects.
In June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump wouldn’t be permitted to divert $2.5 billion of military funds to the construction of the wall, as the action was considered an attempt by the president to skirt Congress. Even though the funds were transferred under a declaration of national emergency, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas penned the ruling, proclaiming that the action was a violation of the Appropriations Clause and therefore considered “unlawful.”
Despite the ruling on funding, the July 2019 stay granted by the Supreme Court allows construction to continue on the wall.
And in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court’s dismissal of House of Democrats’ lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s authority to use Defense Department funds for construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. In a 3-0 decision, the appeals court issued a decision permitting Democrats in Congress to challenge Trump’s use of military funds for the construction of the border wall.
Previously, the lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, ruling that the House lacked the authority to sue in April 2019.
The appeals panel—made up of Senior Circuit judges David B. Sentelle, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins—cited that the House had been cut out of its “constitutionally indispensable legislative role” when Trump unilaterally moved roughly $8 billion to border wall construction.
That same month, United States Customs and Border Protection officials reported that the Trump administration was considering having more than 80 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall located in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, Texas, painted black.
One of the last decisions to take place came in December, when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved the Trump administration’s plan in a 2-1 decision to divert $3.6 billion in funding from more than 100 military construction projects for border wall construction.
The decision overturned the lower court’s decision made by U.S. District Judge David Briones in 2019.
Military Funds Reinstated
Over the years, the Pentagon reportedly put $11 billion of its budget into barrier construction at the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of this was deferred in wake of former President Donald Trump’s declaration of emergency at the border, which allowed for the reallocation of counter-drug, military construction and acquisition dollars for building contracts through the Army Corps of Engineers.
On the return of leftover funding, spokesman Jamal Brown said, “DoD has begun taking all necessary actions to cancel border barrier projects and to coordinate with interagency partners.”
However, spokespeople from neither the Pentagon nor USACE have reported how much money would be awarded or whether funds could be recouped for awarded contracts that haven’t been completely fulfilled. Although border wall construction has been paused, roughly 3,500 National Guard from 22 states are still deploying to the area in support of Customs and Border Protection.
They are slated to continue rotations until at least the end of September.
While construction on the wall itself was paused by President Joe Biden following his inauguration in January, his administration has announced the launch of two new projects along the border. One will reportedly fill holes in the Rio Grande Valley levee system left by the wall construction project, and another plans to address soil erosion in a 14-mile stretch of barrier construction by the Trump administration near San Diego, California.
Neither project would involve the construction of border barriers.
"As Federal agencies continue to review the problems created by the prior Administration’s border wall construction and develop their plans, today they will start taking initial steps consistent with the President’s Proclamation to reaffirm our commitment to the military and protect border communities," an official said in a statement.
Fighting for the Wall
In two separate attempts this year, lawmakers are fighting to relaunch construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
In March, Republican Texas House Representative Bryan Slaton presented new legislation regarding the relaunch of construction on the U.S-Mexico border wall and other border security enhancement projects within the state.
The House Bill No. 2862 claims that it would create a fund to pay for the projects—including planning, designing, constructing and maintaining transportation and water infrastructure along the Texas portion of the border wall—and would allocate the earnings on the balance of the fund and reimbursement of related expenditures.
H.B. 2862 also intends to pay for technology and commercial vehicle inspection facilities along ports of entry and prohibits the clearing of indigenous plants, unless overridden by certain state or federal authorities.
However, if passed, reports indicate that the legislation could struggle with receiving those reimbursements following President Joe Biden’s pause on border wall construction following his inauguration.
More recently, Congressman Clay Higgins, a republican from Louisiana and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, also introduced legislation to resume construction of the border wall system.
The Finish the Wall Act is reported to have more than 60 cosponsors and is one of the House Republicans’ five pillars to address what they deem the "President Joe Biden border crisis."
Regarding his legislative plan, Higgins stated, “Through executive decree, President Biden halted work on the border wall system, created large security gaps, ended thousands of construction jobs, violated signed contracts, and left behind huge stockpiles of high-quality steel stacked on private land and unused.
“Biden’s executive action to stop wall system construction, his reversal of deterrent-focused Trump policies, and his endless public statements in 2020 about open borders and easy illegal entry and transforming America into a sanctuary nation are directly responsible for the border crisis, which has indeed become a serious threat to our Republic. The Biden administration cannot continue its policy of weakness. America demands effective border security. Completing the new wall system is critical to that mission, and House Republicans are offering real solutions.”