McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Tuesday announced the Trump administration had completed its goal of 450 miles of new border wall along the Southwest border by the end of 2020, and said Congress has given the agency enough money to finish 738 miles.
Mark Morgan, CBP acting commissioner, in a call with media on Tuesday afternoon called it a “monumental achievement” and once again defended the strategical importance of constructing the 30-foot-tall metal bollards through the desert, mountains and thick brush from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. And in response to a question from Border Report, he insisted Congress believes in the border wall, saying it appropriated $1.375 billion recently to continue construction.
“It represents a historic accomplishment by this administration,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t just stand tall as a simple reminder of promises made to the American people and promises kept, but it stands as a reminder of our unwavering commitment to do everything we can to ensure we have the tools to protect our national and economic security. It should serve to remind us all that borders matter and failure to secure them have consequences for every town, city, and state in this great nation.”
Borders matter and failure to secure them have consequences for every town, city, and state in this great nation.”Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan
Morgan said he was told on New Year’s Eve that the 450 miles were completed — that’s the goal President Donald Trump had promised to deliver during his term. As of Tuesday, 452 miles have been built and the administration is averaging 1.5 to 2 new miles per day, he said.
New border wall miles have been built in the following CBP sectors along the Southwest border:
- El Paso: 131 miles
- Tucson, Arizona: 114 miles
- Yuma, Arizona: 107 miles
- San Diego: 46 miles
- El Centro, California: 31 miles
- Rio Grande Valley (South Texas): 17 miles
On Oct. 29, just five days before the presidential election, Morgan and DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf visited McAllen, Texas, to announce the completion of 400 miles of border wall.
On Tuesday, Morgan vowed that by the time Trump leaves office the administration will have awarded contracts to complete a total of 700 miles of new border wall. This includes areas in South Texas, where land has not yet been acquired, Morgan said.
His statements come just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes over the White House on Jan. 20, and Morgan even claimed that of late, Biden has “walked back” several earlier promises regarding immediate changes to immigration policies and border security.
Morgan said that during recent meetings with transition team personnel, Biden’s camp appears to be receptive to “delaying some of these policies,” which Morgan claims would be “colossal” failures.
In response to a question from Border Report, Morgan held steadfast, saying that the $1.375 billion appropriated by Congress in the fiscal year 2021 Omnibus spending bill is undeniably for the building of new border wall. Border Report pointed out that language in the $1.4 trillion spending package, which was signed by Trump just before the New Year, does not stipulate the $1.375 is to be used for border wall, but for “the construction of barrier system.”
“Everybody knows barrier system meant wall. Everybody knows that and it’s clear. The reason why the language is actually listed as barrier system is so we can actually add to the steel and concrete,” Morgan replied. “We actually were a proponent of not saying ‘wall’ because the reason why is what we’re building now is like no other infrastructure built in the past because it is a barrier system. It includes integrated lighting, access roads and state-of-the- art technology.”
But in his response, Morgan himself appeared to walk back some of his comments saying if the construction of the border wall were to cease, then technology should continue to be put up to help Border Patrol agents.
“Steel and concrete going in the ground is an essential part of that multi-layer strategy. It should not be a choice,” he said. “However, if that is the decision by the new administration to remove a critical part of that multi-layer strategy that I think will negatively impact the American people, then hell yeah, we’re going to fight to make sure they keep something. Our position is if you would take something away and make our job tougher to protect the American people at least give us some part of that multi-layer strategy, so yeah, technology.”
Morgan’s comments Tuesday were in stark contrast to federal lawmakers who recently helped craft the Omnibus spending measure.
Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, told Border Report that the spending package specifically did not say “border wall” in order to allow the $1.37 billion to be used on border technology and the other accouterments.
And in a Dec. 21 memo to the subcommittee, Chairwoman U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, wrote that Biden could ask Congress to rescind and re-appropriate funds for other purposes at CBP or within the Department of Homeland Security. If not, the money must be used for a “barrier system” but she wrote “but that term is not defined in law. Therefore, the Biden administration will have significant discretion.”
The Biden administration will have significant discretion.”U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.
On Tuesday, Morgan also confirmed what Border Report reported earlier this week that federal border agents are not readily in line to receive coronavirus vaccines.
He said his agency is working with the Veterans Affairs administration, as well as local county municipalities throughout the Southwest border to request that CBP officers and Border Patrol agents be included in inoculations.
“They will decide who will get it,” Morgan said. “We are working with local communities to see if they will decide to include them with local local law enforcement.”
Morgan said that over 5,000 CBP employees have contracted coronavirus and 21 have died from COVID-19 with “the majority in the line of duty.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.