On October 4, the Biden administration announced that it waived 26 federal laws and environmental, public health, and cultural protections in South Texas to allow border wall construction. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security notice cited that this was due to a high number of unauthorized entries into the United States through the Rio Grande Valley. However, after receiving backlash from immigration and environmental justice groups, the president has said he is unable to stop the building of the wall because the funds were approved by the previous administration and the government is legally required to go forward with the construction.
“The money was appropriated for the border wall. I tried to get them to reappropriate it, to redirect that money,” Biden told reporters when asked about his broken promise. “They didn’t. They wouldn’t. And in the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated.”
Still, many activists, community members, and voters have expressed disappointment and anger at what they see as a broken campaign promise. Immigration, and specifically Biden’s vow that “there will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration” (referring to Trump’s infamous wall between the United States and Mexico), helped win him the close election.
"South Texas is treated like a region that is a third-world country, and the Biden administration believes they can just cast us aside for optics."
The Biden administration has also claimed that they’re not building a wall, but a “moveable” barrier that will be much shorter than the 18-to-30-foot concrete-filled steel bollard panels of Trump’s wall, but Michelle Serrano, co-director of Voces Unidas Rio Grande Valley, says the president is playing semantics. She speculates that, because of the upcoming presidential election, Biden wants to downplay his broken campaign promises and also appear strong enough on immigration to flip conservative votes — and he is using South Texas as a sacrificial lamb.
“South Texas is treated like a region that is a third-world country, and the Biden administration believes they can just cast us aside for optics,” Serrano tells Refinery29 Somos. “We're coming up to an election, and they need to show some sort of force. And what better place to do that than in Texas, which has constantly criticized the administration, saying that they don't do anything here?”
Despite his pro-immigration campaign platform, Biden has continued to deport asylum-seekers, increase border apprehensions, and even tried to implement a similar asylum ban of the previous administration. But even if Biden’s new approach to immigration is, like his predecessors, to secure the borders, immigration advocates have repeatedly warned that building a wall is an ineffective way to control immigration.
“Building a wall across our entire southern border is impractical and an immense waste of resources that could instead be used to fund a more humane and robust immigration system with expanded legal channels,” Faisal Al-Juburi, a spokesperson from The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), tells Somos. “It is clear that building a wall or banning asylum will not stop people from arriving at the border. And if our government continues to push and turn asylum-seekers away, they will be forced to take more extreme measures in the pursuit of safety.”
Back in August, two migrants were found dead in the southern part of the Rio Grande river. One of the bodies was discovered in the lines of orange buoys installed by Texas authorities, while the second one was found separately in the area of the buoys by the Beta Group of Piedras Negras.
“President Biden must reverse course before more lives are needlessly put at risk,” Al-Juburi adds.
Biden’s wall could also endanger those that currently reside along the region. The territory in which the border wall is set to be built is populated by people (largely low-income immigrants), animals, and essential ecosystems that may be affected by the construction. For instance, with the 20 new miles of the wall cutting through near the lower Rio Grande Valley’s national wildlife refuge, there’s concerns that the people, flora, and fauna that make up this region will suffer from flooding, that ecosystems will disappear, and that animals that depend on the ability to cross the border to feed themselves could die. Mountain lions, bobcats, javelinas, coyotes, white-tail deer, armadillos, jack rabbits, ground squirrels, and two endangered, federally protected plants — Zapata bladderpod and prostrate milkweed — might all be affected by the wall.
"President Biden must reverse course before more lives are needlessly put at risk."
“I feel like the president treats South Texas like a disposable place, a place that is irrelevant to the rest of the country,” Serrano says. “Perhaps it has something to do with the misguided notion that nobody lives here, which is not the case. We are definitely a very diverse and vibrant community.”
Like Voces Unidas, many environmental justice and Indigenous groups have also condemned the move, emphasizing that the border wall will punish the most vulnerable people in the territory by further limiting their access to green spaces and Indigenous sacred sites, including land that is sacred to the Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe of Texas.
“The wall will cause harm to low-income people who have been working so hard to maintain their homes,” Serrano adds. “It’s interesting how a wall never gets built next to a country club; it's never next to a fancy mansion. It's always next to these low-income communities.”