Friday, May 24, 2024

Biden expands Mexican border wall — but can it stop crossings?

(BBC News) At first glance, Starr County in Texas is a quiet place.

Its gently rolling hills are blanketed with low-growing mesquite and shrubs intersected by small gullies and streams, and many of its small, sleepy towns seem plucked from old westerns.

But the US border with Mexico is never far off. On peaceful days in towns like Roma, residents and visitors can clearly hear loud chatting, children playing, or roosters crowing across the Rio Grande.

For decades, the county’s environment, proximity to the river, and access to highways have made it a busy crossing point for migrants — and now, a focus of the heated debate over border security in the US.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced it would build an approximately 32-kilometre section of border wall in the area, an announcement that stood in stark contrast to then-candidate Joe Biden’s 2020 declaration that he would not build “another foot of wall” as president. He halted construction on his first day in office.

While Biden and administration officials have claimed that the new border wall section is being built begrudgingly — because of funds specifically appropriated by the Donald Trump administration in 2019 — the announcement has once again sparked intense debate over the controversial border control measure that was once a signature policy of then-president Trump.

In total, the former president ordered renovations and fortification of just under 740 km of border wall, although only about 80 km were new. Since he left office, Trump and some Republican lawmakers have called for additional border barriers to be built amid rising migrant figures at the southern border.

Whether or not border walls can be effective has become a hotly contested and intensely political debate.

While Department of Homeland Security data released in late 2020 suggests that new walls reduced illegal entry in some sectors by nearly 90%, academic studies have suggested more modest returns.

One analysis of data from the Cato Institute, for example, found Border Patrol saw more detentions and successful illegal crossings even before the Trump administration ended, suggesting the wall was ultimately unsuccessful.

A third study, published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, found that border barriers reduced migration by 35%. However, the study found no data to suggest that the barriers are more effective than using the funding to hire more border agents.

The Biden administration, for its part, has repeatedly and unequivocally said it does not believe the barriers are effective.


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