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Biden temporarily blocked from diverting border barrier funds

A judge’s ruling is the latest development in an ongoing border enforcement battle between Texas and the president.
Posted: 12:44 PM, Mar 13, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-13 13:44:27-04
Border wall construction resumes near the Eli Jackson Cemetery in Pharr on March 21, 2022.

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(Texas Tribune) — The Biden administration is temporarily barred from redirecting $1.4 billion that Congress allocated for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton of the Southern District of Texas issued the temporary injunction last week. Congress allocated the money in 2020 and 2021 during former President Donald Trump’s term.

Tipton, who was appointed by Trump, wrote that the Biden administration’s “spending decisions run afoul” of administrative law, rejecting the federal government’s argument that it has discretion in how to spend the money.

Tipton said Texas needed to prove the funds aren’t being spent on additional border walls and that such barriers “would result in fewer illegal aliens entering the country.”

“Texas has done so,” Tipton concluded.

Tipton gave the Biden administration seven days to appeal the order.

“Biden acted completely improperly by refusing to spend the money that Congress appropriated for border wall construction, and even attempting to redirect those funds,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “His actions demonstrate his desperation for open borders at any cost, but Texas has prevailed.”

In 2021, George P. Bush, then-commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, and Paxton sued the Biden administration after the president directed to pause construction of a border wall. The cases were combined and a state district judge originally dismissed the lawsuit. But in June 2023, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, reviving the Texas lawsuit against the Biden administration.

In the meantime, the Biden administration has used the money for projects along different parts of the 2,000 border. That includes closing gaps of current border barriers, environmental remediation, clean-up efforts and erecting 15-foot concrete panels topped with 6-foot steel bollards in the Rio Grande Valley. The Biden administration has described the project as repairing earthen levees, not a border barrier. Still, in 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detailed plans to build 86 miles of border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

Last year, Biden said his administration is required by law to continue certain wall construction because Congress appropriated money for it. That appropriation occurred in 2019, before Biden took office.

“I tried to get them to reappropriate it, to redirect that money,” he previously said. “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.I can’t stop that.”

For the past four years, Gov. Greg Abbott and Paxton have filed lawsuits against Biden’s immigration policies, describing an them as open- border policies and claiming the president has incentivized illegal immigration. The Biden administration has mostly dropped Trump-era immigration policies but has continued to apprehend and process for deportation many migrants crossing illegally.

During his administration, Biden and Texas officials have escalated legal fights over immigration.

Since March 2021, the state has spent over $10 billion as part of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, a state effort to deter people from illegally crossing the Rio Grande. As part of the operation, Abbott has ordered National Guard members and state troopers to different parts of the border to arrest migrants illegally crossing the border. The state has also erected 23 miles of border barrier along different parts of the border. In Eagle Pass, Abbott ordered the National Guard to prevent Border Patrol agents from accessing Shelby Park, a 47-acre city park, which is along the Rio Grande.

Immigration has also become a key issue in the upcoming presidential election.

Last month, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump each visited different Texas-Mexico border cities. During his term, Biden has coupled strict immigration enforcement with narrow programs that allow some migrants to enter the country legally. Trump wants to reimplement policies that would force some migrants to wait in Mexico as their asylum cases are pending in U.S. courts. He has also said his administration would round up as many suspected undocumented immigrants for deportation.

Disclosure: Texas General Land Office has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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