Migrants queue at the border wall to be received by Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande river from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico to El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 21, 2022.

Migrants queue at the border wall to be received by Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande river from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico to El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 21, 2022. (Herika Martinez, AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said he sought to redirect funds to build a border wall but was unsuccessful — as his administration announced plans to add roughly 17 miles of barriers along the Rio Grande in Texas.

“The money was appropriated for the border wall. I tried to get them to reappropriate it, to redirect that money,” Biden said Thursday at the White House. “They didn’t. They wouldn’t.”

Biden suggested the administration’s hands were tied and when asked if he believed the border wall worked responded “no.”

“There’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated,” he added. “I can’t stop that.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden has been asking Congress to reappropriate the funds to no avail.

“He has been — for the past couple of years — and Congress refused, and we have to comply by law to get this done,” she said. “His stance on the border wall has not changed.”

In a public notice filed Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said it would waive environmental and tribal land protections to speed construction of the wall in one of the busiest spots for migrants coming from Mexico.

“There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas,” the notice reads.

The Border Patrol encountered more than 245,000 people attempting to cross the border in the area during the 2023 fiscal year, according to the notice.

Biden said during his 2020 campaign that he would focus on border security at ports of entry and mocked Donald Trump’s attempts to build a border wall as ineffectual, saying “there will not be another foot of wall constructed” if he were elected.

The determination was “necessary” under current law, according to the Federal Register notice.

Congress approved the money for barriers in a 2019 funding package and the Department of Homeland Security is required to use the funds for that purpose, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said.

It is consistent with Biden’s proclamation reversing Trump’s decision to use money appropriated for military projects to build the border wall, while spending funds lawmakers designated for new barriers for that purpose, the spokesperson said.

Some Democrats, including New York Mayor Eric Adams and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, have also said the influx of migrants and asylum-seekers is overwhelming their resources.

The move comes as Republican lawmakers are demanding stricter border security measures as a condition of funding the government.

House Republicans nearly shut down the government last weekend over hardliners’ border security demands — leading to the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy when he avoided the funding lapse by passing a 45-day extension with the support of the chamber’s Democrats.

Representative Jim Jordan, one of two declared candidates to replace McCarthy, said Thursday on Fox News that his top priority would be passing legislation barring any new migrants from being released into the U.S.

Trump, who holds a commanding lead in the Republican primary, has said he would seek to complete the border wall if he’s reelected, along with extending floating barriers put in the Rio Grande by the state of Texas. He’s also proposed dramatic cuts to immigration and more rapid deportations.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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