In a stark reversal of one of his most significant campaign promises, President Biden has waived 26 federal environmental, public health and cultural protection laws in order to fast-track construction of former President Donald Trump’s border wall. Just months ago, the Biden administration was railing against Greg Abbott’s destructive use of nets and floating razor wire along the border. Now, the administration is showing they are in fact in complete agreement with the border policies of the far right, and will break their own laws in order to advance the project.
The federal government will move forward with building 17 miles of steel fencing in Starr County, Texas, near the Rio Grande Valley. The construction of the barrier promises to have devastating consequences for Indigenous burial rights, the environment, safe drinking water and endangered species.
Biden stabs Rio Grande communities in the back
In a 2020 interview, Biden emphatically stated, “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.” He further elaborated that Trump’s hard-line anti-immigration laws would immediately end and there would be no land confiscation for construction of a barrier. “End. Stop. Done,” he continued. “Not going to do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We’re out. We’re not going to confiscate the land.”
On his first day in office, the new president issued a proclamation stopping further construction of the border wall, calling it a “waste of money” and writing that, “It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.”
Now the administration is completely reversing course, claiming the President’s hands are being tied by Congress and that, by law, he must comply with the funding appropriated to construct a barrier before he was elected. Even as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is stating that “a border wall is not the answer,” the administration is waiving federal laws to speed up the construction of their non-answer.
This raises the question: If Biden is unable to stop the construction based on appropriation of funds, why is he not stopping or halting construction based on the dozens of federal laws the construction is breaking? Why is the administration ignoring their own laws in order to rush through a border wall they supposedly do not want to build?
Border wall construction would break numerous laws
Among the 26 laws which are being waived to make way for the wall are the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the National Environment Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. The waiving of the Endangered Species Act is yet another betrayal from Biden, who openly criticized Trump’s attempts to weaken the law in 2019.
This latest backtracking from Biden comes just one month after the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report concluding that the border wall construction that took place under the Trump administration had done damage to the ecosystem and had “destroyed towering saguaro cactuses in Arizona, threatened ocelots in Texas and dynamited Indigenous cultural sites and burial grounds.”
The continued construction of the border wall will take place in a highly erosive area in Starr County. The steel will cut right through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation advocacy group that works to protect endangered species, believes the wall will ultimately cut off wildlife corridors that endangered spotted wildcats need to survive and will severely upset the recovery of endangered ocelots. Environmental advocate Laiken Jordahl stated on the CBD website, “It’s disheartening to see President Biden stoop to this level, casting aside our nation’s bedrock environmental laws to build ineffective wildlife-killing border walls … Starr County is home to some of the most spectacular and biologically important habitat left in Texas and now bulldozers are preparing to rip right through it. This is a horrific step backwards for the borderlands.”
Border wall a slap in the face to Indigenous people
For decades, Indigenous groups have been fighting tooth and nail to stop the destruction of their ancestral homeland, as administration after administration threatened the Rio Grande Valley with steel barriers. Biden’s waiving of the Native American Repatriation Act and the American Religious Freedom Act is a direct attack on Indigenous communities, including the Esto’k Gna People, commonly known as the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, whose ancestors are buried along the banks of the Rio Grande.
In the words of the chair of the Tribe, Juan Mancias, “By developing this, they are furthering a genocide. [Colonizers] killed our people in the first place, and we have had to bury — and then you dig them up to build. It’s ongoing genocide.”
Biden, Abbott, Trump: an unholy trinity of border militarization
Biden was elected on the promise of reversing the excesses and violent policies of the anti-immigrant Trump administration, while he was quietly promising rich donors behind the scenes that “nothing will fundamentally change.” This is perhaps the only promise he has really kept.
Biden and Abbott have publicly clashed over some of the more visible effects of Abbott’s far-right border policies. But federal inaction to stop Abbott, passionate defense of Trump’s immigration policies such as Title 42, and even tougher restrictions when Title 42 finally expired — not to mention violence and mass deportation of refugees — reveals the truth. Biden is not fighting his political “opponents” like Abbott: He is joining them.