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President Biden to end work on Trump's border wall

As one of a series of executive actions after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden is set to halt the work on the border wall. 

The president will sign a proclamation declaring an "immediate termination" of the emergency declaration put in place in February 2019 by President Donald Trump, the incoming administration said.

"Bipartisan majorities in Congress refused in 2019 to fund President Trump’s plans for a massive wall along our southern border, even after he shut down the government over this issue," Biden's staff said. "He then wastefully diverted billions of dollars to that construction." 

"By proclamation, President-elect Biden will today declare an immediate termination of the national emergency declaration that was used as a pretext to justify some of the funding diversions for the wall. The proclamation directs an immediate pause in wall construction projects to allow a close review of the legality of the funding and contracting methods used, and to determine the best way to redirect funds that were diverted by the prior administration to fund wall construction," the incoming administration said Wednesday morning, prior to the inauguration ceremony.

The proclamation is one of dozens of moves poised to overturn Trump's policies.

Among Biden's immediate aims are the end of the Muslim ban, a move to "preserve and fortify" protections for Dreamers, ending Trump's policy of targeted interior immigration enforcement, and extending a program that allows Liberians to stay in the country under Deferred Enforced Departure. Trump signed a similar proclamation for Venezuelans on Tuesday. 

On Saturday, Trump renewed his "national emergency," extending his proclamation from Feb. 15, 2019 that there is an "ongoing border security and humanitarian crisis" across two years. In December 2018, Trump demanded $5.7 billion for the border wall from a recalcitrant Congress, but was refused, resulting in a shutdown of the federal government that lasted 34 days. After Congress refused to grant the funding, Trump declared an emergency, and began pulling billions from the U.S. Defense Department, including $6.3 billion on funding meant to combat drug smuggling, and $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction.

In October 2020, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that Trump administration officials unlawfully siphoned $3.6 billion in construction funds from DOD, forcing a halt to 11 border wall projects, including four in Arizona. While federal officials have forged ahead on the border wall projects, the legal fight over the diversion of the funds without congressional approval has ranged from a district court judge in California to the U.S. Supreme Court over the last three years. 

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The judges ruled that not only do groups like the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition have standing to sue over the use of the funds, but that 10 states—including California and New Mexico—should be able to sue because the Secretary of Defense had authorized the diversion of billions in funds from 128 military construction projects, including 17 that are included in those states, worth about $500 million. 

Overall, 452 miles of border wall has been built by Jan. 4, and federal officials have funded 738 miles at a cost of $15 billion, including billions in funds pulled from the Defense Department using a series of maneuvers that have been rife for a half-dozen legal challenges. 

About 372 miles of Trump's wall was built to replace what the agency called "dilapidated and/or outdated designs," which includes screen-mesh panels, waist-high "bollards" and Normandy-style vehicle barriers, and 18-foot-high bollard walls installed near Sasabe, Arizona. Another 80 miles is new wall, built where no previous barriers existed. 

CBP noted that dozens of miles have yet to be completed. One project near the Rio Grande Valley has about 14 miles of 85 complete, and another project is slated to begin "early 2021, assuming real estate is cleared." 

A project in Arizona of 291 miles to replace "dilapidated" barriers has about 245 miles complete. While a project that covers San Diego, El Centro and Yuma has 87 of its 175 miles complete, according to CBP.

"Not another foot of wall'

Earlier this week, a coalition of border residents, members of Indigenous nations, and U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva launched an advocacy group designed to hold President Biden to his campaign promise to "halt the massive destruction wrought by Trump’s ego-driven and wasteful wall." 

"We’ve got a simple and clear message for incoming President Joe Biden: Be a hero for the border, show us that you care and that we matter. Honor your word," said Tricia Cortez, the executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center in Laredo, Texas. "This is your opportunity to keep your promise to our border communities, and to this country, that not another foot of Trump’s disastrous wall will be built during your administration. You yourself could not have been clearer. You said there will not be another foot of wall constructed on your administration. To honor this we ask you to act urgently to halt border construction by issuing an executive order tomorrow on Day 1." 

"This means a stop-work order to halt construction, instruct the DOJ to terminate all cases involved in land confiscation, cancel the contracts and stop the massive flow of money to corrupt contractors, repeal the waivers of the more than 40 federal laws that have been placed on our community, and heal the harm to our communities and the environment that have been caused by the wall," she said. 

During an interview with NPR, Biden said that "not another foot of wall would be constructed," on the border. The former vice-president, and then-presidential candidate demurred on tearing down parts of the wall, but said that he would "make sure we have border protection, but it's going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And, at the ports of entry—that's where all the bad stuff is happening." 

The group argued that the federal government has the right to terminate contracts at any time, or can simply halt construction and put all contracts under review. They also pushed the Biden administration to order Justice Department officials to halt lawsuits launched against private landowners to confiscate the land for the border wall. "Without the land, the wall can’t be built," the group argued.  

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"Every day, an estimated 1.5 to 2 miles of wall is built, equalling between $30-40 million per day," the group said. "Each day, more physical wall is put in place, more ecosystems are destroyed or property taken, making it harder for Biden to undo. The faster Biden acts the less work it will require to stop the wall." 

And, the group estimated that cancelling the contracts would save $13 billion over the next 10 years, including $2.6 billion by cancelling the wall based on a Pentagon estimate, and the rest from maintenance contracts associated to keep up the wall after it's built. 

At least three wall projects have cost overruns. One focused on fencing near Hildago, Texas, and managed by Southwest Valley Constructors—a division of construction giant Kiewit—is 281 percent over budget. 

Another, managed by the company in various locations in Arizona, including the San Pedro River, is 236 percent over budget. This project includes a $3 million to get across the river, and another $6 million for "coating" to the bollards. That project, with an estimated cost of $2.2 billion and is expected to be done by September 2021.

Grijalva said that this was the launch of a "vital national issue," and said that he would seek an end to construction of the border wall, which was a part of an "ugly and divisive" chapter, and a "symbol of racism and division." 

"The damage has been severe, severe to habitats—severe to cultural and historic resources, and severe to the economic vitality of the borderlands," Grijalva said. "And one of the symbols of racism, the symbol of division, is the wall. Biden has said throughout his campaign, and Harris throughout her tenure at the Senate and the campaign, that this is the priority." 

Grijalva also said that DHS should repair or mitigate damage to the borderlands, and in some cases "remove that damage" where there's well-documented harm. 

He said he was "opposed to construction from the get-go" and he wanted to pressure the Biden administration to move forward, consulting with the communities most affected by construction. 

Some places cannot be healed, he said, especially the damage to Indigenous land, including the "desecration" of sacred sites on land once occupied by the Tohono O'odham Nation. 

Last November, CBP and the USACE began building 30-foot-high bollard walls along the southern edge of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, scraping away brush and cactus beyond an easement known as the Roosevelt Reservation, and cutting down or transplanting dozens of individual saguaro cactus. Later, the two agencies demonstrated the use of explosives to shatter rock on s Monument Hill near Lukeville, Ariz. Monument Hill is considered a sacred part of Tohono O'odham culture. This was followed by construction around the sacred oasis of Quitobaquito Springs. 

At the same time, federal officials also began construction in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, and in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, all in Arizona. While Texas was made more difficult for federal officials because much of its was private land, in Arizona, the southern borders of remote wilderness became a prime construction zone.

"How do you heal that spirit?  I think that to me is, you know, very difficult," Grijalva said. "More than just the violation of the landscape, but a violation of a spirit. How you heal that is you stop, and then we go from there." 

"The impact that this border has had on our people has been devastating, our people’s sacred sites, cremation sites have been overrun so that they could put this border wall up," said Dr. Stan Rodriguez, a tribal leader with the Kumeyaay Nation, based in southern California. The wall, he said has become "an edifice of white hegemony and xenophobia."

"This message is for President-elect Biden, you have had to endure many things many incoming presidents have not had to endure," Rodriquez said. "Same thing with us Native Peoples, we have endured three waves of encroachment, we have endured broken promises and broken treaties, laws were made by the federal government and this is an example of them sidestepping these laws for their own agenda." 

"A great person keeps their word; President Biden, keep your word. We are waiting," he said. 

"I called it at the beginning, in 2005," he said. The wall is "political theater and symbolism, and nothing but a destructive force. It's not about security, and not a reassurance," Grijalva said. He called on the Department of Homeland Security to begin the process of undoing the damage, and said that DHS and the Interior Department can "do things immediately" including cancelling active contracts. 

Grijalva has often been at the forefront of challenges against the wall, including attaching himself to a 2017 lawsuit over the wall with the Center for Biological Diversity. 

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This would be followed by remediation efforts, he said. And, he added that in some cases, the wall would be removed, 

Grijalva also moved on Congress, and the incoming Biden administration to use "its legislative and budgetary responsibility," to rescind spending on the wall, and undo the REAL ID Act. 

Grijalva targeted the 2005 act because, along with instituting a nationwide standard for driver's licenses and other IDs, the act also allows the Homeland Security Secretary to "waive in their entirety" dozens of federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the Clean Water Act. 

In March 2020, the acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolfe—whose own tenure remained a consistent legal issue—waived several laws, including 10 procurement regulations to allow the federal government to build 177 miles of border wall more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  As Grijalva noted in a 2019 letter on border wall projects in Arizona, DHS had used its waiver authority 18 times, 13 during the Trump administration. Since that letter, DHS's revolving door of leaders has used the waiver authority another times—totaling 27 waivers, including those under Wolf. 

Among the waived laws, Wolf ignored requirements that would require open competition for bids, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin. The laws allowed the Trump administration to hit a goal of 450 miles of border wall by the end of 2020—though far short of the president's original aim to build a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border. 

Along with Indigenous groups, environmentalists have been sharply critical of the border wall projects. As Dan Millis, borderlands program manager with the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, put it as Trump made his last visit to the border as president: "The border wall has been an unjust, destructive, and corrupt disaster." 

"In his last days as president, Trump's rush to build as much wall as possible is ravaging the borderlands— destroying Indigneous sacred sites, habitat and land, and severely harming communities. This unchecked destruction cannot continue," Millis said. "President-elect Biden must urgently restore protections and safeguards stripped from communities and places along the border, and rescind Trump’s corrupt construction contracts. Though much of the damage will never be undone, the billions of dollars wasted on the wall should be redirected to remediation for communities, habitat, and sacred sites devastated by Trump’s cruel border agenda." 

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