The Biden administration on Friday said it was cancelling the construction of parts of former President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico that were being built using military funds, with the unused money being returned to the military.
Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 in an effort to redirect funding to build a wall along the US southern border.
President Joe Biden issued a proclamation on January 20, his first day in office, ordering a freeze on border wall projects and directing a review of the legality of its funding and contracting methods.
“The Department of Defense is proceeding with cancelling all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds originally intended for other military missions and functions such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account,” Pentagon spokesman Jamal Brown said in a statement.
Brown said the returned funds would be used for deferred military construction projects.
As of January 15, the government had spent $6.1 billion of the $10.8 billion in work it contracted, a Senate Democratic aide with knowledge of the contracts told The Associated Press.
Publicly, the Trump administration said it secured $15 billion for the wall. The Senate aide said it was actually $16.45 billion, $5.8 billion of which was appropriated by Congress and the rest diverted from the Defense and Treasury departments.
Trump’s diversion of funds from the Pentagon had been heavily criticised by lawmakers, who said it put national security at risk and circumvented Congress.
In 2019 alone, the military said more than 120 US military construction projects would be adversely affected by Trump’s move.
The Biden administration also said on Friday it will begin work to address the risks of flooding and soil erosion from unfinished sections of the wall.
Construction “blew large holes” into the flood barrier system of low-lying regions in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, the Department of Homeland Security said. It said it would “quickly repair” the flood barrier system without extending the wall.
Hidalgo County, Texas officials have expressed alarm about flooding risks during the hurricane season starting in June from breaches in a levee system.
The department said it would also fix “improper compaction of soil and construction materials” along parts of a 22.4-km barrier in San Diego and soon unveil plans to address additional “damage” from border wall construction. The San Diego wall is largely in unpopulated stretches in areas restricted to Border Patrol agents.