FIRST ON FOX: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are investigating the decision-making behind what they see as “conflicting” statements by the Biden administration on border wall construction at the southern border — after the administration waived dozens of federal regulations to allow construction in Texas.
Committee Republicans, led by Chairman James Comer, have written to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the move to waive 26 federal laws to allow construction of barriers and roads in Starr County, Texas.
The construction is funded by the fiscal year 2019 DHS appropriations bill, which specifically funded wall projects in the RGV Sector and which DHS is required to use for its appropriated purpose.
While the construction announcement was made in June, Mayorkas cited this month an “acute and immediate need” in an announcement on the U.S. Federal Register in order to waive federal laws due to high illegal crossings in the area.
“There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas pursuant to sections 102(a) and 102(b) of [the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996],” Mayorkas said.
It immediately drew claims from both Republicans and Democrats that it was a departure from prior positions by the administration on the wall. The administration halted border wall construction in early 2021 and called such projects ineffective while also selling off border wall materials.
Comer said the lawmakers agreed with the need for a wall, citing the ongoing record numbers at the border.
“On its face, your words concede a seemingly obvious point: that border barriers are an essential part of securing the border, as they have “proved to be a critical component in gaining operational control of the border” by diverting or slowing illegal crossings of people or contraband, and result in a significant and measurable decrease in illegal entry in the areas they are erected while requiring less manpower to patrol,” he said. “Yet Administration officials continue to assert that this action does not constitute a change in policy and that border barriers are ineffective.”
Mayorkas has since said that there was no new policy on border wall construction, and the administration was mandated to spend the money appropriated by Congress during the Trump era.
“From day one, this Administration has made clear that a border wall is not the answer. That remains our position and our position has never wavered. The language in the Federal Register notice is being taken out of context and it does not signify any change in policy whatsoever,” he said in an Oct. 5 statement.
“We have repeatedly asked Congress to rescind this money but it has not done so and we are compelled to follow the law,” he said.
The Republicans on the Oversight Committee also pointed to comments made by the White House that “we believe that a border wall is not effective” and similar statements by President Biden himself.
A DHS spokesperson said the agency responds to congressional correspondence via official channels and “will continue to respond appropriately to Congressional oversight.” The spokesperson noted the FY 2019 requirement for the money to be spent, and that Congress would not rescind the appropriation.
“After two years of trying to get Congress to reappropriate the funding for smarter, more effective policy interventions, the only way to then spend the money as Congress intended was to then issue a waiver of these laws,” they said. “The language of the waiver was written to ensure that DHS complied with Congress’s 2019 legal mandate that DHS spend the appropriated funds for border wall construction. It is not a statement of the Administration’s policy. ”
“As a matter of policy, the Administration disagrees with Congress’s 2019 mandate and continues to oppose further border wall construction. Nevertheless, DHS must and will comply with the law,” they said.
The administration has also called on Congress to cancel or reappropriate additional border funding and divert them elsewhere. DHS has pointed to calls made in 2022 and 2021 for Congress to move the money elsewhere, including in the FY 2022 budget – which sought to reassign the FY19 funding.
The lawmakers are seeking documents and communications associated with the border barrier construction, as well as Mayorkas’ statement clarifying administration policy — in addition to communications between DHS and the White House.
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Comer said that the initial moves by the administration to halt border wall construction amid the ongoing border crisis “is detached from reality.”
“The Department of Homeland Security has finally admitted there is a need to construct physical barriers along the border, only after the Biden administration sold off unused border wall materials that sat idle since President Biden’s first day in office,” he said. “While the White House continues to live in a fantasy land, Oversight Republicans have and will continue to fight for the American people and hold this Administration accountable for their failures along the border.”