McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — In one of his first official actions as president, Joe Biden halted the construction of the border wall by rescinding an emergency order imposed by Donald Trump along the Southwest border.
Biden’s executive order, which was signed around 5:40 p.m. EST on Wednesday, dissolved a proclamation issued in 2019 by Trump that had declared an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. Proclamation 9844, which Trump issued on Feb. 15, 2019, was “to deal with the border security and humanitarian crisis” at the border, and it allowed the president to access military funds for border security measures.
Just two days before leaving office on Monday, Trump extended the proclamation through Feb. 15, 2022. But with a swipe of his pen on Wednesday afternoon, Biden rescinded it. And that means that Congress will have to shift billions of dollars that had been taken from the Department of Defense for border wall construction, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report.
“President Biden has taken historic steps to repair the damage that border communities and immigrant families have faced these past four years,” Cuellar said. “That would get billions of dollars back to the military and then we’ll deal with the appropriated money for the border wall. So he’s starting off on the right foot. I’m really excited.”
Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said that Biden’s action will allow the reappropriation of $6.3 billion in counternarcotics funding, and $3.6 billion in military funds that had been diverted for use for border wall construction.
Trump took $2.5 billion from military counterdrug programs for border wall construction in 2019 and had plans to take significantly more this year, The Washington Post reported.
Biden’s actions direct 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.
“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. He then wastefully diverted billions of dollars to that construction,” Biden’s new White House website announced. “Biden will today declare an immediate termination of the national emergency declaration that was used as a pretext to justify some of the funding.”
Reaction to the executive order in South Texas was swift and came from several activists along the border, many of whom had led protests and campaigns against the border wall.
“This is a huge win and a critical first step for our community, our river, our future. After two years of operating in crisis mode with this disastrous border wall project, we’re finally being listened to. We have fought a fierce battle to make sure that we, the people of this community, have a place at the table to determine our own future. We look forward to working with the Biden team to eventually cancel the contracts and bring the wall down,” Tricia Cortez, executive director with the Rio Grande International Study Center and a founding member of the No Border Wall Coalition said.
“President Biden’s moratorium on construction is a key first step. But our community will not begin to heal from Trump’s political assault until all border contracts in Webb County and Zapata County and the rest of the border are rescinded and the REAL ID Act repealed,” said Carlos Flores, founding member of the No Border Wall Coalition, and a lawyer in the constitutional case Zapata County vs. Trump.
“This is a highly encouraging start to this new administration, but the work is not over. The contracts need to be canceled for good, the taking of land needs to cease; many existing areas of wall need to be torn down, and places and communities that were harmed must be healed and restored as best they can,” said Juan Ruiz, of the No Border Wall Coalition.
“Take this wall down, restore the land that has been desecrated and give sovereignty back to tribes in the borderlands,” said Hon’mana Seukteoma a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. “The Biden administration has much reparation work to do for indigenous communities in the borderlands. O’odham land and sacred sights are forever changed because of the devastation border wall construction has brought.”
“This action clearly shows a federal administration that is finally making the history, heritage and rights of Hispanic and Native American voters a priority. The looming threat hanging over our most cherished ranchlands, ecosystems, sacred places, and landmarks will be removed. This is a great day for border residents on both sides of the Rio Grande,” said Margarita Araiza, executive director of the Webb County Heritage Foundation.
Ricardo Solis, president of Laredo College, whose campus is slated to be dissected by border wall construction, said “the ceasing of border wall construction is quite significant and comes as a relief to Laredo College and our community.”
But Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, cautioned this is just a first step that must be followed by much more action:
“We are not celebrating yet. Without an executive order cancelling all border wall contracts, we know that the lives and property of borderlands residents will continue to be used as a bargaining chip in Washington. We must not relent in demanding an end to all construction,” she said.
Just hours before he left office, Trump pardoned Steve Bannon, a political strategist who helped the Trump administration orchestrate hundreds of miles of border wall along the Southwest border.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.