All border wall construction projects must stop by Wednesday, contractors are told

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Border wall work hits ‘pause’ in Southern New Mexico and South Texas

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ALAMO, Texas (Border Report) — All border wall contractors have been notified that they must stop construction by Wednesday to comply with orders from the Biden administration, a South Texas lawmaker told Border Report.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, vice chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said Monday he was informed that contractors have been told that they must wrap up all operations and stop construction on the border wall along the Southwest border with Mexico by Jan. 27. Although some activity may continue for safety reasons where it is necessary, analysts say.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas (Courtesy Photo)

The stoppage complies with President Joe Biden’s executive orders — issued just hours after taking office last week — that halted all border wall construction on the Southwest border with Mexico. This includes projects where money had been shifted from military funds, and border barrier projects with money appropriated by Congress.

“I received notification that in accordance with President Biden’s executive order, all CBP contractors have now been formally notified by CBP Procurement to pause construction activities on CBP self-executed projects. While CBP cannot speak on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), it is expected that DOD and USACE are undertaking parallel action on CBP-funded border wall projects that they are overseeing,” Cuellar said.

“This is a promising step in our work to halt construction of the ineffective and wasteful border wall and undo the damage that borderlands have experienced these past four years. However, our work continues. I remain steadfast in my commitment to working with the new administration until every border wall contract is terminated and all construction crews leave our border communities.”

However, crews could be seen on job sites long past Wednesday if there are safety issues, open trenches or other construction tasks that take longer to safely wrap up.

Border wall construction remained idle Monday in Southern New Mexico and in South Texas where massive construction sites largely sat empty.

Above, photos from construction sites in Sunland Park and Santa Teresa, New Mexico, show earth-moving machinery parked a few feet from a section of wall where mesh fencing was being replaced, and recently removed mesh fencing piled yards north of a border barrier near a commercial port of entry. (Juan Muñoz/KTSM 9 News)

In Sunland Park, earth-moving machinery could be observed parked a few feet from a section of wall where mesh fencing was being replaced. Even portable toilets were left in place after the sudden work-stoppage in an area near the Sunland Park landfill.

A few miles west in Santa Teresa, a worksite by contractor SLS Co. showed recently removed mesh fencing piled yards north of a border barrier near a commercial port of entry. The area sported a recently upgraded access road for Border Patrol vehicles.

A sign announces border wal construction by SLS Co. near the Santa Teresa, New Mexico port of entry. (Border Report photo)
Idle construction equipment sits by the border wall near Sunland Park, New Mexico. (Border Report photo)

No workers were present at either site.

Near Alamo, Texas, on Monday, where President Donald Trump visited just days before he left office, the only sounds that could be heard were of a crop duster plane circling over heard near fields full of ripe cabbage that migrant farmers were busy harvesting.

A half dozen earth movers and cranes sat parked along the side of a closed road and a Border Patrol unit was stationed at a section of completed wall about half a mile to the east.

Throughout South Texas now there are wide gaps in the border wall construction where sections were completed during the Trump term, and other privately-owned lands were not acquired or built upon.

“Biden’s campaign promise was to halt all border wall construction so this does order a pause within seven days from the time it was signed, of border wall construction, except for those where it is necessary to continue for safety,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy council for the American Immigration Council told Border Report.

A Border Patrol agent on Jan. 9, 2020, looks at new border wall built under the Trump administration outside Fronton, Texas, in rural Starr County. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

On Wednesday, Biden issued an executive order that rescinded a 2019 executive order by former President Donald Trump that declared the Southwest border an emergency. That had allowed the Trump administration to shift billions of dollars in funds from military spending and counternarcotics to border barrier construction projects. An estimated 6.3 billion in counternarcotics funding, and $3.6 billion in military funds that had been diverted for use for border wall construction could now be reappropriated to other spending, Cuellar said.

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Congress appropriated $1.375 billion in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for border barrier infrastructure systems, and those funds and all border wall projects now will be evaluated during this 60-day pause imposed by Biden.

“It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall. I am also directing a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall,” Biden declared in the proclamation signed Wednesday.

Former El Paso County Republican Chairman Adolpho Telles said the Biden administration shouldn’t put border security on the backburner. 

“The wall, while sometimes not as appealing as it should be, is a necessity. Just like you lock your doors at night in your house, we need to lock the doors to our country. Just like we build fences around our backyard, we need to put fences around our country,” Telles said. 

He said he still hears cases of people in the U.S. victimized by migrants with criminal records that should’ve been kept out or deported but somehow came over and weren’t removed. 

“If we, as a country, were more proactive in dealing with immigration issues, the border wall would be less of an issue,” Telles said.  

While this moratorium on border wall construction will allow the Biden administration to launch an investigation “to allow a close review of the legality of the funding and contracting methods used” for the border wall, the new administration cannot shift funds away from the border other than those monies that were transferred from the DOD, Cuellar said.

New border barrier is seen going up on Oct. 22, 2020, in southeastern Arizona near the town of Palominas, in the San Pedro River valley. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The redirected funds would most likely involve reappropriating the money for virtual security technology along the Southwest border with Mexico, such as for mobile surveillance tower systems, the installation of infrared cameras and flood lighting and to continue building all-weather roads along the border for Border Patrol agents to better patrol the Rio Grande, analysts have told Border Report.

The secretaries of Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security, along with the Attorney General, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and other executives in key department agencies are tasked with developing a plan for the redirection of funds along in consultation with Biden’s National Security Affairs advisor. The plan must be in place by April 22.

And “after the plan is developed, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall take all appropriate steps to resume, modify, or terminate projects and to otherwise implement the plan,” according to the presidential order.

Border Report reached out to border agencies for confirmation on the work-stoppage, but was told to direct inquiries to the White House. The White House press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Biden is expected to announce more border and immigration-related orders on Friday.

Julian Resendiz reported from Sunland Park, New Mexico.

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