Just hours after President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, he signed a handful of executive orders fulfilling campaign promises and signaling the priorities of his fledgling administration.
Among them: an order to immediately halt construction on former President Donald Trump’s signature border wall.
Trump’s signature promise to build a barrier along the southwest border of the U.S. propelled him to victory in 2016, and his administration during his term appropriated some $15 billion for its construction – a big chunk of which was taken from the Defense Department’s budget after Congress refused to meet the administration’s funding demands, prompting a lengthy government shutdown.
The wall was a constant source of controversy, prompting fierce criticism from environmentalists and Democrats. Its construction and funding was also the target of a number of lawsuits.
Before Biden stopped new construction on the wall, the Trump administration had built 458 miles of what it dubbed “border wall system,” according to final figures compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and provided to U.S. News.
The wall consists mostly of 18- to 30-foot steel bollards anchored in concrete. The barriers also feature sensors, lights, cameras and parallel roads in some places.
The vast majority of the 458 miles were constructed in places where some kind of barrier already existed, but most of the preexisting structures were far less imposing than the new wall and included fencing and rudimentary technical barriers. The total figure also includes what the agency calls “secondary border wall” or sections of wall built behind preexisting barriers that ultimately remained in place.
Some 226 miles, or nearly half of the total number of miles built, run along the border in Arizona, including more than 100 miles in both the Border Patrol sector near Yuma and in the sector near Tucson.
About 100 miles were constructed in New Mexico, largely in a stretch along the eastern part of the state’s border that bumps into Texas near El Paso. A total of 55 miles were built in the Lone Star State along the Rio Grande by El Paso and in lengths by Lardeo and in the Rio Grande Valley.
California saw the completion of construction of 77 miles of wall in areas along the border near San Diego and El Centro.
Stretches of the wall system are not necessarily contiguous. The wall often runs into existing fencing or simply has gaps.
One of the most controversial aspects of the wall was its cost. During his 2016 campaign, Trump pledged that Mexico would foot the bill – a promise that went unfulfilled, leaving taxpayers to fund construction. In some places, Trump’s barrier carried a price tag of up to $46 million per mile, according to the Biden administration.
Since taking office and largely stopping wall construction, Biden has canceled border wall projects paid for by Pentagon funds. In June, the administration announced it was returning $2.2 billion in Defense Department funds diverted for the wall in order to use the money for 66 previously deferred defense projects, including a missile field expansion in Alaska and a school for U.S. military children in Germany.
The Biden administration most recently said it would use border security funding allocated by Congress to close small gaps in border barriers and to pay for environmental fixes and the clean-up of border wall construction sites. Work will include projects like the installation of drainage to prevent flooding, addition of missing gates and construction of erosion control measures, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a December statement.
The administration is also urging Congress to cancel the remaining funding allocated to the wall and instead siphon money toward other border security initiatives.
Conservatives have sharply criticized the administration for stopping wall construction, especially as the number of migrants crossing the border surged in 2021. Democrats largely maintain that a physical wall along the border is both ineffective and fiscally wasteful.
Biden has struggled in polling on immigration, and the topic – along with the wall itself – are likely to be among the issues at the forefront of the 2022 midterm elections in November.