On Thursday, the Biden administration announced that it will build an additional 20 miles of the border wall in Starr County, Texas, a busy crossing point for migrants along the Rio Grande.
The move is a sharp turn from President Joe Biden’s long-standing criticism of the US-Mexico border wall, a controversial hallmark of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration into the country. The Biden administration insists that it had no choice but to extend the wall because the funds had been appropriated by the Trump administration and must be put to that use.
When asked on Thursday if he thought the border wall is effective, Biden responded curtly: “No.”
Still, the move is drawing intense criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who see the border wall as ineffective and inhumane. “A wall does nothing to deter people who are fleeing poverty and violence from coming to the United States,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in a statement. “Walls only serve to push migrants into more remote areas, increasing their chances of death. It is a cruel policy.”
For a long time, it seemed like Biden agreed. When campaigning for the presidency, Biden promised that there would “not be another foot of wall constructed” under his leadership. On his first day in office, he ended the national emergency declaration that helped the previous administration fund the barrier, avowing that “no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.”
But Biden’s decision to move forward on the wall comes amid intensifying pressures—including from within his own party—to clamp down on border crossings.
This week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a four-day trip to Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia to tell asylum seekers hoping to seek refuge in the city: “We are at capacity.” Almost 120,000 migrants have arrived in New York City over the past year and the Democratic mayor has grown increasingly vocal about reducing immigration, proclaiming that the “city is being destroyed by the migrant crisis” and that the White House had “turned its back” on New York City.
Meanwhile, GOP leaders have revived the clamor to oust Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whom they’ve blamed for calamities ranging from drug cartels to the fentanyl crisis. Several Republican lawmakers have filed articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, alleging that the secretary has been “derelict” in his duties. “The invasion at our southern border is a national disgrace,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote this week on X, formerly Twitter. “Mayorkas should have been impeached a long time ago.”
This is not the only turnabout on immigration from the Biden administration this week. The same day it announced it would extend the wall, officials declared that they would once again resume deportations of migrants from Venezuela, who make up the largest single group of arrivals at the border. Just weeks earlier, the administration had decided to grant temporary legal protections for thousands of Venezuelans in the US.
For all its criticisms of Trump’s immigration measures, the Biden administration has frequently come under fire for its own, similarly harsh, policies. This spring, after the lapse of Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction limiting asylum seekers from applying for protection, Biden put new rules in place that advocates say are just as restrictive. And despite his condemnation of Trump’s physical wall, Biden’s own answer to the situation—the construction of a massive “virtual wall,” replete with hundreds of surveillance towers dotted along the US-Mexico boundary—is far from a meaningful departure.
As Biden prepares to expand Trump’s border wall, it won’t be the first time that his take on immigration has hewn perilously close to his predecessor’s.