AUSTIN, Texas — Stockyards of border wall materials have been sitting untouched in each of the four states that line the U.S.-Mexico boundary for nearly a year since President Joe Biden canceled all of the Trump administration’s projects.
Those unused steel panels, cameras, lights, and electrical wiring may soon be headed to new homes on U.S. military bases, as well as the state of Texas, which is building its own border wall. The move has the potential to be a big boon to Gov. Greg Abbott, following his June promise to finish former President Donald Trump’s border wall in Texas since Biden halted work in January.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Border District handles how the private companies that were contracted to build the border wall can offload their unused materials. Contractors hired by ACE have been asked to return any unused property to their suppliers at a fair price, spokesman Robert DeDeaux told the Washington Examiner. Whatever cannot be returned will be offered to Texas, the Defense Department's Defense Logistics Agency, or several military bases located near the border. It is up to Texas and the U.S. military to claim anything they want and transport it off site.
In the Yuma, Arizona, region, one area of the 2,000-mile-long southern border, just 5 miles of the 107 planned miles were fully completed before wall construction was halted. The other 102 miles did not have cameras, underground sensors, roads, gates in the wall, and lighting installed before Biden suspended projects. Those materials have been sitting out along the border since then, according to Anthony Porvaznik, who retired last December as Border Patrol chief in Yuma. Fifty large spools of fiber optic cable dot the landscape, and another expanse of fence panels sits not too far away.
“All the light poles are sitting in that yard, just out there in the sun,” said Porvaznik. “The actual lights that go on the light poles — we had this really good LED lighting that was going on. They're all out there in cardboard boxes just sitting out there in the weather. And there's stacks of those.”
JUST 145 MILES OF THE TEXAS BORDER HAVE A WALL. HERE'S THE 1,100 MILES WHERE ABBOTT VOWS TO BUILD
The Trump administration and Congress put more than $15 billion toward nearly 800 miles of the wall system. Congress approved $4 billion in funding during the previous administration, while the White House diverted $10.5 billion from other federal departments' budgets.
Roughly 40 wall system projects were canceled by the Biden administration. Supplies for projects that were funded through the $10.5 billion pot that Trump diverted from the Pentagon already belong to the U.S. government. One such military-funded project was on the Barry M. Goldwater Range, a bombing range in western Arizona. Supplies from BMGR are being offered up to the military.
“When I was out there a couple weeks ago, there were some military folks from the Yuma Proving Ground, which is the Army,” said Porvaznik. “These guys were interested in getting the fiber optic cable because they wanted to put new fiber optic in up there at the Yuma Proving Ground.”
If the military does not jump at it, other federal agencies will be able to claim it. From there, the remainder will be offered to state and local governments. Anything leftover will be auctioned off to the private sector by the GSA.
Border wall construction projects took off in the 1990s when then-President Bill Clinton approved congressional funding to hire more Border Patrol agents and install infrastructure on the border. A decade later, during the George W. Bush administration, Congress approved the Secure Fence Act, which funded more than 650 miles of barrier. Half of that span was comprised of short fences just tall enough to block vehicles from driving across rural parts of the border, while the other half was tall enough to prevent people from crossing on foot. Border wall projects continued, albeit at lower rates, under the Obama administration.
The Trump administration completed 450 miles of slatted border fence in all four southern border states, though much of it replaced shorter fences or was secondary fencing that ran parallel with the main wall.
On Jan. 20, Biden signed an executive order halting all border construction projects. The U.S. government has not disclosed how much money of all contracts was spent but said the remaining amount will go toward previously planned construction projects.
Former Border Patrol officials remain adamant that the wall system — to include lighting, roads, sensors, and cameras — needs to be completed and gaps in the fencing must be filled.
In Yuma, holes in the wall have funneled people attempting to illegally cross into specific areas. The number of noncitizens encountered each week has shot up from fewer than 50 per day to 1,000 per day, Porvaznik said.
“They've got to get these gaps filled in,” said Ron Vitiello, former deputy commissioner of the Border Patrol’s parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “We can't build wall under this administration, but they can do the common sense thing, which is finish work where it's necessary where it's all been started.”
The Biden administration on Monday gave border officials the green light to fill in some of the gaps in unfinished wall projects, as well as resolve environmental issues and clean up remaining construction sites nearly a year after activity was halted.
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The Department of Homeland Security and CBP did not respond to requests for comment. Abbott did not respond to a request for comment on whether Texas will seek to use materials for its own border wall projects. The state has 145 miles of finished border wall and more than 1,100 miles of unfenced border with Mexico.