Metal walls, barbed wire, water buoys, extra thousands of law enforcement agents deployed, and more inspections forcing trucks from Mexico to queue for miles, all now appear to have become a “new normal” of the U.S.-Mexico border.
On top of the new normal were large influxes of migrants, bringing border crossings to new highs.
Do the border wall and other barriers really work?
The border wall is former president Donald Trump’s signature promise in his 2016 campaign. Since then, Republicans have seen the wall building as a key facet to stemming illegal immigration and enhancing border security, while Democrats fiercely opposed the construction, calling it ineffective and expensive.
During Trump’s term, about 450 miles (724 km) of barriers were built along the U.S.-Mexico border between 2017 and January 2021, while illegal border crossings hit a 20-year high.
Biden pledged in 2020 that if elected, his administration would not build “another foot” of a border wall. He halted the construction during his first week in the White House in January 2021.
And on Wednesday, facing a fresh considerable surge in border crossings, the Biden administration waived 26 federal laws to allow border wall construction in Starr County, southern Texas, marking a U-turn on this highly polarized issue.
“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,” Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, said in a notice on Wednesday.
The decision immediately irritated Democrats. Ricardo de Anda, a Democrat, called the White House move “a slap in the face.”
Biden explained on Thursday that he was required by law because Congress did not agree to cancel the funding it appropriated for wall building in 2019 before he took office.
However, many people may not know that even since the early days of Biden’s term, barrier construction continued along the U.S.-Mexico border as Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott funded the wall building with state resources.
As early as 2021, construction crews were erecting 15-foot (4.6 m) concrete panels topped with 6-foot (1.8 m) steel bollards in the Rio Grande Valley, according to a Texas Tribune report.
Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection rolled out plans to build 86 miles (138 m) of border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, including Starr County, said the report.
In the wake of the end of Title 42 in May, Abbott ordered the deployment of the 1,000-foot (305 m) string of buoys in the middle of the border river Rio Grande. A federal appeals court ruled last month that Texas can keep the floating barriers till the end of the lawsuit, which was launched by the Biden administration.
The Texas National Guard began laying more than 20 miles (32 km) of concertina wire along the border near El Paso in the spring and reinforced it in August with two, and in some places three, lines of fencing, the New York Times reported. Many migrants, including children, were cut by the razor wire.
The U.S.-Mexico border currently is the world’s deadliest land migration route, according to a report released last week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency. The latest IOM data shows 1,457 migrants died or went missing throughout the Americas last year, with 686 deaths and disappearances in the U.S.-Mexico border alone.
And it seemed neither physical barriers nor deaths could stop migrants from crossing borders. There were more than 260,000 encounters at the southern U.S. border in September, which would be the highest monthly total on record, multiple media outlets reported, citing Customs and Border Protection sources.
When asked whether he believed the wall could work on Thursday, the president answered, “no.”
There is no unanimous answer to this question, which has deeply divided Americans throughout the last two general elections and is expected to do that again in the 2024 presidential race, local analysts suggest.