Washington — The Pentagon announced Friday that it would cancel all border wall construction projects paid for with Department of Defense (DOD) funds that the Trump administration redirected from military schools, training facilities and other projects.
In early 2019, President Trump tapped defense dollars to finance additional border wall construction because Congress refused to fund it, creating a two-month-long impasse that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
Now, the Biden administration is taking concrete steps to reverse that decision and redirect what is left of the ten-figure sum back into Pentagon projects.
“Consistent with [President Joe Biden’s] proclamation, the Department of Defense is proceeding with canceling all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds originally intended for other military missions and functions such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account,” Deputy Pentagon spokesman Jamal Brown said in a statement, Friday.
About 127 defense department projects were initially paused in September 2019 after Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed off on the White House request to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds, defense officials told CBS News at the time.
A Biden administration official said border wall construction under the Trump administration has tied up “more than $14 billion in taxpayer funds.” President Trump’s declaration of emergency at the border greenlighted the transfer of billions in building contracts through the Army Corps of Engineers.
It is not immediately clear exactly how much money will be returned to the Pentagon, but is likely to amount to billions of dollars. What’s left will be restored to the military projects whose funding was interrupted — half the money was pulled from overseas defense department contracts and the other half transferred from domestic projects.
“DoD has begun taking all necessary actions to cancel border barrier projects and to coordinate with interagency partners,” Brown said. “Today’s action reflects this Administration’s continued commitment to defending our nation and supporting our service members and their families.”
Despite the Biden administration’s cancellation of border wall construction, the Texas Civil Rights Project, notes that some 140 eminent domain cases that could result in the seizure of homes along the southern border are still active. In fact, a federal judge ruled earlier this month that the government could take “immediate possession” of one Texas family’s land along the Southwest border in Hidalgo County, after a years-long court battle.
Congress funded an additional nearly $1.4 billion in border wall appropriations for fiscal year 2021 as part of its broader COVID-19 relief bill, last December. The Government Accountability Office is expected to issue an opinion on the legality of Biden’s decision to curtail spending on the southern border wall as soon as next month.
The Department of Homeland Security also announced Friday it would begin to fix environmental harm caused by border wall construction during the Trump administration, including physical damage to Rio Grande Valley’s flood barrier system and soil erosion within San Diego. A DHS spokesperson said it would “soon complete a plan that identifies additional measures to address the damage resulting from the prior Administration’s border wall construction.”
Despite the border wall hiatus, roughly 3,500 National Guardsmen from 22 states remain deployed at the southwest border in support of Customs and Border Protection, General Glen VanHerck of U.S. Northern Command told reporters in March.
David Martin contributed to this report.