President Biden’s administration said on Wednesday that it would construct a 20-mile (32-kilometer) segment of border wall in the area, a decision that contrasted sharply with then-candidate Joe Biden’s 2020 promise that he would not build “another foot of wall” as president. On his first day in the office, he suspended the building. 

While President Biden and administration officials have claimed that the new border wall section is being built reluctantly – due to funds specifically appropriated by the Donald Trump administration in 2019 – the announcement has reignited fierce debate over the controversial border control measure that was once a signature policy of then-President Trump.

The last president authorized modifications and reinforcement of almost 460 miles (740 kilometers) of border wall, albeit only approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) were new. Mr. Trump and several Republican senators have advocated for additional border barriers to be built since he leaves office, citing increased migrant numbers at the southern border.

The effectiveness of border fences has become a strongly debated and intensely politicized subject.

Starr County, Texas, appears to be a peaceful place at first impression. 

Its softly sloping hills are carpeted with low-growing mesquite and bushes, and many of its small, peaceful communities appear to have been taken from old Westerns.

However, the US-Mexico border is never far away. Residents and visitors in cities like Roma can easily hear boisterous conversing, children playing, or roosters crowing across the Rio Grande on quiet days.

For decades, the county’s ecology, proximity to the river, and access to roads have made it a popular crossing location for migrants – and now, a focal point of the US’s contentious border security debate.

While data released by the Department of Homeland Security in late 2020 suggests that new walls cut unlawful access in some regions by 90%, academic studies have found moderate results.

According to one Cato Institute examination of statistics, Border Patrol saw more detentions and successful illegal crossings even before the Trump administration ended, implying that the wall was ineffective.

Border barriers reduced migration by 35%, according to a third study published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. The study, however, found no evidence that the barriers are more effective than using the cash to pay more border inspectors.

The Biden administration, for its part, has stated frequently and firmly that the barriers are ineffective.

Using current funds 

According to the filing in the US Federal Registry, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas concluded that “it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations, and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads” in Starr County, Texas, along the US border with Mexico.

“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,” the notice said.

According to a CBP spokesperson, the agency “remains committed to protecting the nation’s cultural and natural resources” while following “sound environmental practices” to build the border barriers.

Collaboration with Mexico 

Migrant crossings at the US-Mexico border are projected to stay high in the near term, according to a senior US Customs and Border Protection official, though more promises from Mexico are expected to help bring down numbers eventually.

Mayorkas, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and White House Homeland Security adviser Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall are scheduled to meet with Mexican counterparts in Mexico City this week for annual security talks.

It is likely that migration will be discussed. Senior administration officials say that the US has been in constant contact with Mexico about the situation at the US-Mexico border, including vows to beef up enforcement.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has stated that building a new border wall is a “regression” that will not solve the country’s immigration problem. During his regular press conference, he chastised “right-wing Republicans” for politicizing the immigration and drug trafficking issues.

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