On Thursday, President Joe Biden defended his administration's decision to waive 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow for construction of roughly 20 miles of additional border wall – then said flatly that he didn't think such walls work.
In an earlier statement, his Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said: "There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas."
Ira Mehlman is a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). He says this a clearly a policy reversal.
"On Day 1 of his administration, President Biden canceled the construction of the wall," Mehlman points out. "They have steadfastly refused to build any more of it. They have steadfastly refused to even acknowledge that there is a crisis at the border.
"And now all of a sudden, they've decided that maybe it is a good idea to build a wall – and it is a good idea. [But] it's about nine million illegal crossings too late."
The new construction was announced in June, but the funds were appropriated in 2019 before Biden took office. Biden said he tried to get lawmakers to redirect the money but Congress refused, and the law requires the funding to be used as approved and the construction to be completed in 2023.
Art Arthur, a resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, concurs, says the president really didn't have any choice but to order the wall to be finished.
"Congress has appropriated funding to build barriers along the southwest border," Arthur tells AFN. "They appropriated I think $1.9 billion in FY19, $1.375 billion in FY20, and another $1.375 billion in 2021. That money is still sitting around – and by law the president has to actually use it for the purpose it was intended."
But Arthur acknowledges there's likely a political aspect to this decision.
"And that is that the Biden administration is getting a lot of heat from major Democrats like Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, and JB Pritzker, who's the governor of Illinois," he notes. "They're facing their own migrant problems, and they want the Biden administration to do something differently. That's a real problem for the president."
Mehlman also sees politics behind the decision. "You think it has something to do with the fact that the president's reelection date is just 13 months from now and he's taking a beating in the polls over the migrant crisis? That may have something to do with it," he offers.
The FAIR spokesman finds it "tragic" that the crisis at the border and its effect on communities all across the country had to reach this point before the administration decided it is time to act. Now, he says, "they need to go all-in by completing the border wall and reversing all of the failed policies that got us to this point."