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 allows him to bypass environmental regulations under a plan announced by the Biden administration on Friday.
President Joe Biden suspended construction of the wall when he took office while his administration reviewed the project. That angered Republicans in Congress, who were eager to see it move on amid mounting concerns about migrants along the southwest border.
The new plan doesn’t entirely cancel the wall project, but it will likely still face opposition in Congress, where many Republicans are keen to promote a project closely linked to the former president.
Biden plans to return more than $ 2 billion that the Trump administration diverted from the Pentagon to pay for the wall and use other funds seized by Congress to solve “urgent life, safety and environmental problems,” created by the construction. It also calls on the legislature not to provide any additional funds for what the Biden team believes is unnecessary effort.
See: Pentagon is offering projects that may be cut back to pay for Trump’s border wall
Also read: Trump plans to move another $ 7.2 billion from the Pentagon to the border wall
“Building a massive wall spanning the entire southern border and costing American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious political solution or responsible use of federal funds,” said a statement from the Office of Management and Budget.
The government has spent decades building walls and other barriers along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border to eliminate some of the easier ways of bypassing checkpoints. Trump made the issue a core part of his political identity.
Trump promised to build a “practically impenetrable” wall and insisted that Mexico be paid for it, which never happened. Instead, his administration set aside about $ 15 billion through a combination of funds from Congress and the receipt of money from the Pentagon and other parts of the government.
The Trump administration built about 450 miles of the wall, moved quickly, and waived requirements for environmental assessment and brokering, even though only about 82 miles were in areas that were previously no barrier.
Biden’s decision to suspend construction prompted Republican senators to petition the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the administration was violating federal law by not using the appropriated money for its intended purpose.
The government said Friday that it will use funds already allocated by Congress for “its intended purpose, as required by law,” but is not asking for any new money in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2022 budget to build the wall.
Instead, Biden is looking for money for more 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 government said it would return $ 2 billion to the Pentagon and use it on the construction projects the money was originally intended for. This includes $ 79 million for an elementary school for the children of American soldiers in Germany; $ 25 million for a fire and rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; and $ 10 million to expand North Korean ballistic missile defense at Fort Greely, Alaska.
See: Defense minister defends approval of Trump’s diversion of military funds to the border wall
It plans to use the roughly $ 1.9 million remaining from Congress on drainage and erosion control or other environmental problems caused by the construction of the Wall in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and elsewhere.
Dozens of advocacy groups have called on the Biden government to pay to restore sensitive wildlife and land that is sacred to Native Americans and damaged by the wall. “This is a welcome, meaningful next step in healing the havoc Trump wrought in the border areas,” said Paulo Lopes, a senior land expert at the Center for Biodiversity.
The administration does not specifically say that it will not build a new wall. It does say, however, that every new construction will undergo an environmental review and that ongoing land seizure efforts will be reviewed by landowners by significant domains and parcels will be returned to owners if the Department of Homeland Security determines that it is not necessary.
Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott said Thursday the state would erect its own new barriers along the border with Mexico but did not provide details on how exactly, where or what they would look like. He promised more details next week. “We need to recognize that unless we change the game plan, the number of people crossing the border will continue to grow,” said Abbott.