Starting next week, Joe Biden has to start making headway on campaign promises. One of many urgent decisions facing the new administration will be what to do about the infamous wall on our southern border.
Just this week, President Donald Trump visited his wall — it was the cornerstone promise of his campaign and administration, to build a “big, beautiful” wall — to underscore that he had delivered.
Thankfully, he delivered less than promised; for one thing, Mexico did not pay for the wall, as Trump had pledged. Construction is ongoing, with crews working frantically to do as much damage as possible before the new president takes office.
And by damage, we mean just that. To build the wall along some portions of the border, workers are dynamiting mountains and running bulldozers across pristine landscapes. The damage to the earth, to wildlife and to communities from Texas to California must be stopped and then reversed. This is yet another of Trump’s toxic legacies that needs repairing, which Biden has promised to do.
In Arizona particularly, wall construction is damaging sacred tribal lands — Biden owes those communities, since they helped him win the state’s electoral votes. He has to deliver and has promised to do so.
Biden said last year in an NPR interview: “There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration.”
That’s about as clear a commitment as a politician can give. Promises, of course, can vanish once the realities of serving overwhelm a new officeholder. Battling coronavirus, investigating insurrection, repairing foreign relationships, delivering COVID-19 survival benefits and so many essential tasks await the Biden-Harris administration.
Despite the many challenges, Biden cannot forget his promises on the border.
He must stop construction on the wall. Halting work, of course, will be just one portion of whatever actions the president will take on immigration. He’s got to mend Trump-era policies on separating families, eliminate travel and immigration bans on specific groups and finally, deliver legislation to reform the immigration system and provide security for adults who came to the United States as children illegally.
Again, stopping construction on the wall will indicate that Biden means business.
So much damage already has been done, with wall builders scurrying in the past weeks and months to complete as many miles as possible. According to NPR, some 11 different contractors are working away at 27 separate construction sites, with as much as $16 billion set aside to pay for the work.
According to figures from Customs and Border Protection last week, completed work includes 131 miles of wall in the El Paso sector, encompassing the entire New Mexico border with Mexico, plus El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas.
And more is being planned. Department of Justice lawyers are busily suing private landowners in Texas to take their property so the wall can be built. The Department of Homeland Security finished its expected 450 miles of the border wall by the end of 2020, with little indication that construction work or federal land grabs would stop.
After all, when Barack Obama took office, he allowed contracts issued under the Bush administration to be completed — Biden must do better. He’s under pressure, of course, because border hawks want more work on the wall and a more leisurely step back from construction.
But U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, wants Biden to keep his pledge to stop construction on the border wall. As president, Biden has immediate tools to use, first by ending federal condemnation lawsuits to grab private land for the wall. He can remove Trump’s declaration of emergency, under whose cover the current administration grabbed money from the military to pay for the wall and stampeded past regulations designed to protect the environment. The border barrier is proving deadly for animals that are barred from reaching water and food.
The president also can tell the Army Corps of Engineers to tell contractors stop construction. Just stop.
When all is said and done, “not another foot” is a promise even a child can understand. It’s one we expect Biden to keep.