Rafael Carranza of the Arizona Republic reported last week that the Trump administration has completed work on 400 miles of new barrier in Arizona alone, and is expected to add 50 more miles before his term ends. That may come as a surprise to some. During his first two years in office, Trump routinely lied about how much progress was being made on the wall. That created a false narrative that some commentators on the left have held to throughout his term.
But, they were missing what was happening on the border. Things started to pick up after February, 2019, when Trump declared a national emergency on the border in order to divert billions of dollars that had been appropriated for defense projects, including at White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.
After running into legal roadblocks in Texas early on, the administration shifted its focus to Arizona and New Mexico, newer states where the federal government has free rein on the border.
The Homeland Security Department announced at the start of the process that it would not abide by environmental laws or follow the lengthy procedure usually required before the start of a new federal construction project.
In 2018, DHS announced that it was waiving 25 environmental, natural resources and land management laws so that 20 miles of new barrier could be constructed east of Santa Teresa. That was just one example of environmental and wildlife protection laws being ignored up and down the border, allowing for new construction without oversight.
The goal was clearly to get as much done as quickly as possible without concern as to the consequences, and then let the next guy figure it out. And, for better or worse, Trump’s determination has resulted in hundreds of miles of new barrier being completed.
The next guy will be here soon. Joe Biden has said that he will bring a halt to new construction the moment he takes office.
The bigger question is what should Biden do with the hundreds of miles of barrier hastily erected during the past several months without concern for land, water or wildlife.
Simply tearing down all that Trump has erected may be cathartic, but it doesn’t make much sense. In some areas, a new barrier has been needed for years.
Biden should take the time to follow the process that Trump skipped. Bring the scientists and the security experts together to determine what type of barrier, if any, is needed and appropriate for each specific region along the border.
Then, maybe we can get back to the real issues of immigration and asylum.
That debate has been put on hold for the past four years, as the entire discussion has shifted to issues of enforcement and protection. Fear has been the primary basis for all of our decisions and actions.
That has to change. The America of my youth did not hide behind walls. We were the most aggressively competitive nation on the face of the earth. Those who came here seeking a new life did not weaken us, they made us stronger.
A border wall was never going to be the answer.
Walt Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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