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Biden to Return Border Wall Money      06/12 09:12

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump's signature border wall 
project would lose much of its funding as well as the fast-track status that 
enabled it to bypass environmental regulations under a Biden administration 
plan announced Friday.

   President Joe Biden suspended construction of the wall upon taking office 
while his administration reviewed the project. That angered Republicans in 
Congress eager to see it go forward amid an increase in apprehensions of 
migrants along the southwest border.

   The new plan does not cancel the wall project outright, but it's still 
likely to face opposition in Congress, where many Republicans are eager to 
promote a project closely associated with the former president.

   Biden plans to return more than $2 billion that the Trump administration 
diverted from the Pentagon to help pay for the wall and use other money 
appropriated by Congress to address "urgent life, safety, and environmental 
issues" created by the construction. It also asks lawmakers not to provide any 
additional funding for what the Biden team believes is an unnecessary effort.

   "Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs 
American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or 
responsible use of federal funds," the Office of Management and Budget said in 
a statement outlining the plan.

   The government has built walls and other barriers along the 2,000-mile 
(3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border for decades to eliminate some of the 
easier routes of avoiding checkpoints. Trump turned the issue into a 
centerpiece of his political identity.

   Trump vowed to build a "virtually impenetrable" wall, insisting it would be 
paid for by Mexico, which never happened. Instead, his administration set aside 
about $15 billion through a combination of congressional appropriations and 
taking the money from the Pentagon and other parts of the government.

   The Trump administration built about 450 miles (725 kilometers) of wall, 
moving quickly and waiving requirements for environmental reviews and 
mediation, though only about 52 miles (84 kilometers) were in areas where no 
barrier previously existed.

   Biden's decision to suspend construction prompted Republican senators to ask 
the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the administration 
was violating federal law in not using appropriated money for its intended 
purpose.

   The administration said Friday that it will use funds already set aside by 
Congress for "their appropriated purpose, as required by law" but is requesting 
no new money for wall construction in the Department of Homeland Security's 
2022 budget.

   Biden is instead seeking money for increased technology at the ports of 
entry and elsewhere, saying there are more efficient ways to stop illegal 
immigration and drug smuggling at the border.

   The administration said it would return $2 billion taken from the Pentagon 
and use it for the construction projects for which the money was originally 
intended. That includes $79 million for an elementary school for the children 
of American service members in Germany; $25 million for a fire and rescue 
station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida; and $10 million to expand 
defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles at Fort Greely in Alaska.

   It plans to use the approximately $1.9 million remaining appropriated by 
Congress for the wall for drainage and erosion control or other environmental 
problems caused by wall construction in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and 
elsewhere.

   Dozens of advocacy organizations have called on the Biden administration to 
pay for the restoration of sensitive wildlife habitat and land considered 
sacred to Native Americans that was damaged by wall construction. "This is a 
welcome, sensible next step to begin healing the devastation that Trump 
inflicted on the borderlands," said Paulo Lopes, a senior policy land 
specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity.

   The administration doesn't explicitly say it won't build any new wall. But 
it says that any new construction will be subjected to environmental review and 
that it will review ongoing efforts to seize land from property owners by 
eminent domain and will return parcels to the owners if the Department of 
Homeland Security determines it's not needed.

   Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said Thursday that the state would 
build its own new barriers along the border with Mexico but offered no details, 
including precisely where or what they would look like. He has promised more 
details next week.

   "We need to recognize that the numbers of people coming across the border 
are just going to continue to increase unless we change the game plan," Abbott 
said.

 
 
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