‘Biden lied’: Democrats come down hard on border wall backflip

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Washington: Military veterans, environmentalists and progressive Democrats have hit out at US President Joe Biden after he reneged on an election promise not to build a wall at the US-Mexico border.

One day after the Biden administration announced it would waive 26 federal laws and regulations to allow a border wall to be constructed in an area of south Texas with a high number of migrant crossings, the president has faced an angry backlash, with some members of his own party accusing him of hypocrisy and lies.

President Joe Biden walks with US Border Patrol agents along a stretch of the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, in January 2023.Credit: AP

The backflip came despite Biden entering office promising “there will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration” and beginning his presidency by immediately dumping one of his predecessor Donald Trump’s signature policies.

Almost two years later, his government has reversed course as urban cities and regional border towns across the country struggle to deal with the ongoing influx of migrants from South and Central America, and as far as Africa and South Asia.

“This is hypocrisy at its finest,” said Rio Grande Mayor Joel Villarreal, a Democrat whose city is part of the area where construction for a new section of wall was given the go-ahead. About 30 kilometres will be fenced along the Rio Grande that separates Mexico from the US.

“The bottom line is President Biden lied to the American people.”

Migrants wait in line to be processed at the US-Mexico border in May.Credit: Bloomberg

The policy shift was also met with anger by members of Congress, who demanded the administration reverse the decision and come up with meaningful immigration reform.

“You could build a great big Trumpy wall on the entire US southern border and it’s still not going to fix this problem,” New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Instagram.

“The US and US foreign policy is contributing to this problem, and if we do not address the migrant crisis at its root, it is still going to be a problem.”

Common Defence – America’s largest grassroots organisation of military veterans, which represents 200,000 veterans, military family members and civilian supporters – agreed.

“We should be creating safe pathways for people instead,” the group’s climate justice director Perry O’Brien told this masthead.

“We are deeply disappointed and think that this is just playing into the hands of defence contractors and the xenophobes on the far-right who want to turn the southern border into our next forever war.”

The backflip underscores the political and policy challenge that Biden – who has had about 6 million asylum seekers detained or intercepted under his watch – faces ahead of next year’s election.

Migrants board a city bus to a shelter intake centre after travelling on a bus from Del Rio, Texas, at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York.Credit: Bloomberg

According to a recent Gallup poll, his overall approval rating sits at a low 42 per cent, but Americans view his performance on immigration to be much worse, at 31 per cent.

While building a border wall was one of Trump’s signature policies, Democrats have traditionally taken a more cautious approach to immigration.

However, the White House has hardened in recent months, coinciding with Republican governors sending scores of migrants to Democratic cities such as New York, Chicago and Washington to goad the president over the crisis.

Biden sought to defend the decision again on Friday (Saturday AEDT), telling reporters at the White House that he had wanted Congress to redirect the funds towards other measures, such as more border patrol agents or drug-detecting capabilities.

However, the money had been appropriated by Congress in 2019, when Trump was still in power, specifically for the construction of the wall.

“I was told that I had no choice,” Biden said.

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