By COLLEEN LONG
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday defended his administration’s decision to waive 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow for construction of roughly 20 miles of U.S.-Mexico border wall, saying he had no choice but to use the previously approved federal money for the work.
“The money was appropriated for the border wall,” Biden said. “I can’t stop that.”
The funds were appropriated in 2019 before the Democratic president took office. Biden said he tried to get lawmakers to redirect the money but Congress refused, and the law requires the funding to be used as approved and the construction to be completed in 2023.
When Biden was asked whether he thought a border wall worked, he said: “No.”
Still, the waiving of federal laws for the construction — something done routinely when Republican Donald Trump was president — raised questions, particularly because Biden condemned border wall spending when he was running for the White House.
Much of the land along the Rio Grande is subject to erosion and is part of federally protected habitats for plants and animals. A federal project along the river would ordinarily require a series of environmental reviews. Congress gave U.S. immigration authorities the ability to waive those reviews to put up such barriers more quickly.
The Department of Homeland Security posted the announcement on the Federal Registry with few details outlining the construction in Starr County, Texas, which is part of a busy Border Patrol sector seeing “high illegal entry.” According to government data, about 245,000 illegal entries have been recorded so far this budget year in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which includes 21 counties.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.
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