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Border Activists Cautiously Await Biden’s Full Plan For Border Wall

Cars drive through Laredo, Texas, in support of Joe Biden's presidential campaign in October 2020. Several cars tout Biden flags, as well as signs protesting the border wall.
María Méndez
Texas Public Radio
Democrats rallied support for presidential candidate Joe Biden with a car caravan in Laredo. Several participants had signs that protested the Trump administration's border wall.

Ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s Wednesday inauguration, border wall construction hasn’t slowed down, but neither have activists.

On Tuesday, a coalition of advocates across the Southern border and country came together to urge Biden to halt border wall construction on day one of his presidency.

“We need him to take action quickly,” said Tricia Cortez, executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center. “Right now, we're deeply concerned that despite Biden’s promise, his commitment to stop the wall has not appeared on any list of planned executive orders.”

While Biden promised there would be “not another foot” of wall and that he would “withdraw lawsuits” against border landowners, he has not yet publicly detailed his exact plan to stop the hodge-podge of wall projects he will inherit from the Trump administration.

Biden’s transition team has prepared for him to “issue a proclamation terminating the border wall emergency,”according to Politico.

His nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, on Tuesday told Senators that he is committed to Biden’s promise, but said he would have to look into “what the opportunities are to discontinue obligations,” meaning existing funding for wall projects.

Advocates are calling for Biden to issue an immediate moratorium to halt all construction, contracts and condemnation lawsuits, a measure which South Texas local governments and other entities have backed through resolutions.

“The destruction to the environment is ongoing,” Melissa Cigarroa, a Zapata County landowner, told TPR. “Day one if you’re not able to put a moratorium on all of the construction, condemnations and contracting, day one another foot could be built.”

Advocates said they would keep an eye on not only Biden’s actions on Wednesday but also on any more wall construction.

“And if on day one a single foot of wall is built, we will document that and make it available,” Cortez told reporters Tuesday.

Despite the election results, the Trump administration has ramped up border wall construction and pre-construction across South Texas.

Lawsuits and legal proceedings against landowners like Cigarroa, who is fighting in court for the second time now to not allow the government to survey her land for construction planning, have also ramped up.

The federal government filed 102 lawsuits in the Rio Grande Valley during 2020, including 42 after the election, according to The McAllen Monitor. The newspaper alsopublished 149 border wall land condemnation lawsuits after President Donald Trump’s Jan. 12 Rio Grande Valley visit, where he celebrated the completion of more than 400 miles of border wall.

Only 80 miles of that work includes new wall or fencing in areas where there had not previously been a barrier before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For example, in Eagle Pass, the Trump administration has recently been working on replacing a fence built under former President Barack Obama after he took over George W. Bush’s wall projects.

It’s that history that has left anti-wall advocates cautiously hopeful but skeptical about Biden’s promise.

“About 54 miles of border wall were built in the Rio Grande Valley under Obama. They were planned and devised under Bush, but Obama built them,” said Scott Nicol, who has been involved in advocacy against border wall construction for more than 14 years.

“Biden was in the White House alongside Obama, when Obama kept walls going,” he said.

But on top of halting construction, advocates said they also want Biden to tear down walls and remedy the damage of construction.

Biden has reportedly said he wouldn’t tear down barriers put up by the Trump administration, and Mayorkas said he had “not looked at the question of what we do with respect to the wall that already has been built.”

“There’s an urgency, immediacy to evaluating this damage,” said Congressman Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat. “And as such begin to repair that damage, mitigate that damage and in some cases remove that damage. Yes, I agree some of it has to go.”

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María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria