McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Border wall opponents are celebrating the cancellation of contracts in Laredo, Texas, but worry that construction is still slated for Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and Southern California.
The Department of Homeland Security revoked border wall construction in Webb and Zapata counties, near Laredo, but 86 miles of border barrier remediation projects are still underway in Hidalgo and Cameron counties in areas where border wall construction was started during the Trump administration.
A new 30-foot-tall border wall is also being built into the Pacific Ocean at San Diego’s Friendship Park, where officials say migrants try to illegally come into the country via the ocean.
During an online media call Wednesday, members of the No Border Wall Coalition said they were grateful that no border wall barrier has been built near Laredo, but they asked the Biden administration to revoke dozens of environmental waivers that were issued in order to hasten construction, which they say still threatens the environment. And they want all funds rescinded by Congress to prevent future border wall construction.
“The border wall was an ill-advised and massively wasteful project that would carve a path of destruction,” said Raquel de Anda, of the coalition. “The people of Laredo won, however, we celebrate this victory cautiously.”
“Lucky for Laredo but unfortunately I have to echo caution,” said Dinah Bear, former general counsel for both Democratic and Republican administrations at the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.
Bear said funds slated for border wall in Laredo “are being diverted to remediation projects,” which she said currently are “somewhat unspecified.” But she said she hopes these funds will be redirected to restore mountains and canyons and borderlands that were damaged in Arizona, New Mexico and California from border wall construction.
“What Congress really needs to do is rescind all the remaining border wall funds and to shift those funds to allow them to be used for mitigation,” Bear said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is from Laredo and is vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee, said that about $2.5 billion remains available after border wall contracts were canceled. He said that he is working with colleagues in Congress to reappropriate the funds for other border-security measures such as lighting, technology, cameras and to repair areas damaged by border wall construction.
But Cuellar warned that conservative Republicans advocate the construction of new border walls and he said if Democrats lose the majority in Congress in November, he expects the GOP to reinstate border wall contracts instead of redirecting those funds.
“There is still a threat and if our Republican friends take over the House and even the Senate it will be more challenging,” Cuellar said. “The Laredo Sector seems to be in a much better situation than the Valley it looks like they will be terminating environmental in Laredo but in the Valley they will continue with remediation efforts.”
Bear told Border Report that the reason border wall remediation continues in the Rio Grande Valley is that those funds were appropriated in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 and Congress specified the money would be used for border barrier-related construction in the Rio Grande Valley. The Fiscal 2020 funding, which was going to be used for Laredo border wall funding, did not specify construction had to occur in Laredo, so “CBP can exercise their discretion to use the funds to where they are needed most for border wall related activity,” she said.
Cuellar said he does not expect new border wall to be built “except to fill in gaps.”
“You know the question is how much of a gap will they do but they’re not going to be building any new fencing itself,” Cuellar said. He added that he does expect new sensors, lights and cameras to be put on borderlands.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection in June announced the agency was developing an Environmental Assessment to evaluate potential impacts and project alternatives for border barrier in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which includes border wall segments in Starr, Cameron and Hidalgo counties.
According to CBP, the 86 miles of new border barrier “and related system elements” could include the construction of new 30-foot high border wall with a 5-foot anti-climb plate. It also could include:
- Up to 150-foot-wide enforcement zone
- Up to 50-foot-wide maintenance road
- Remote Video Surveillance System towers
- Erosion control and drainage
- Access roads.