Bush recently launched his 2022 campaign for Texas attorney general by channeling and courting Trump despite the 45th president’s history of attacking elder members of the Bush clan. (Bush’s campaign swag features a beer koozie that quotes Trump saying: “This is the only Bush that likes me! This is the Bush that got it right. I like him.”)
A Trump endorsement would go a long way in this Texas race. Bush is running to unseat Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), a die-hard Trump supporter whose father was never given a derogatory nickname by the former president. (Bush’s father is “low-energy” Jeb Bush.)
Anyway, the construction figures Bush gave for Trump’s barrier don’t add up regardless of how you count, and he was wrong to say all the funding was “duly appropriated.”
Trump’s signature campaign promise in 2016 was to build a concrete bulwark spanning the length of the U.S.-Mexico border to deter illegal immigration. Congress balked at funding the project, and the standoff between both sides caused a shutdown of the federal government in early 2018.
Trump then abandoned his original plan for a concrete wall and agreed to build 30-foot-tall steel bollard fences and vehicle barriers. The plan, at the time Trump left office, called for 738 miles of this “border wall system” along the nearly 2,000-mile southern border.
A fact sheet released jointly by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows that as of Jan. 8, 453 miles of the project had been completed.
Of the 453-mile total, 351 miles were replacement barriers, 47 miles were new barriers where none previously existed, and the remaining 55 miles were “secondary” barrier.
(A CBP spokesman told us another five miles were added before Joe Biden took office Jan. 20, for a total of 458 miles.)
Bush said “only 150 miles were constructed,” but it’s not clear how he landed on this figure. If you count only new barriers where nothing existed before, that’s about 50 miles. If you count both replacement barriers and new barriers, that’s about 400 miles. Adding in secondary barriers gets you above 450 miles. Bush, his campaign and the Texas General Land Office, which he currently leads, did not respond to our questions.
Bush claimed the funding for the barrier was “duly appropriated,” but in fact, Congress refused to appropriate as much funding as Trump wanted for the project.
Trump declared a national emergency in 2019, claiming unauthorized immigration had reached threatening levels, and used the legal powers derived from that to raid funds that Congress had appropriated for the military.
The total 738-mile project was estimated to cost about $15 billion. Two-thirds of the funding ($10 billion taken from the Defense Department) was not appropriated for that purpose.
In 2017, Congress appropriated $341.2 million to replace approximately 40 miles of dilapidated barriers for pedestrians and to build 34 gates.
Congress appropriated $1.375 billion each year in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Those funds came with strings attached, designating what kinds of barriers should be built and where. In 2019, an additional $601 million came from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.
The Trump administration over 2019 and 2020 took $6.3 billion in counternarcotics funding from the Defense Department and redirected it to border barrier construction. An additional $3.6 billion in military construction funding was taken from the Defense Department in 2019.
President Biden ended Trump’s national emergency on immigration immediately, though his administration has not said how unspent funds would be recouped. “Like every nation, the United States has a right and a duty to secure its borders and protect its people against threats,” Biden said in his proclamation. “But building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution. It is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”
Even if Biden wanted to continue the barrier, it’s in question whether he could solve the logistical challenges that bedeviled his predecessor.
Trump built much of his barrier across the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where his administration built along national forest land, wildlife preserves and other federal property already under government control. It built far less in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the busiest area for border crossings and the epicenter to a major migration influx, where much of the land is privately owned.
Private, tribal and state-owned land constitutes about 70 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border. According to a November report by the Government Accountability Office, the large number of private landowners along the border and several other factors such as incomplete land records kept by local officials delayed the construction of Trump’s barrier in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Barriers must be built ‘well north’ of the Rio Grande River in some areas in South Texas because of a 1970 treaty between the United States and Mexico prohibiting the placement of barriers in locations that will cause deflection or obstruction of the normal flow of the Rio Grande River,” the GAO reported, noting that at some points this would mean building a mile up the river. “As a result, barriers could cut through parcels of land and leave landowners with ownership of land on both sides of the barrier. In these cases, Border Patrol needs to provide landowners with a way to access their land south of the barrier.”
Some tracts of land in the area also have multiple owners, which made it harder for the federal government to negotiate an acquisition. “For example, one case, initiated in 2019, listed at least 87 landowners for a plot of about 6 acres in Hidalgo County in south Texas,” the GAO report says. “According to the court filings, eight landowners opposed the condemnation.”
The information Bush mangled isn’t hard to find. Trump on Jan. 12 traveled to Texas to say: “Today we celebrate an extraordinary milestone, the completion of the promised 450 miles of border wall. Four hundred and fifty miles. Nobody realizes how big that is.”
The Pinocchio Test
Bush double-flubbed this one, incorrectly stating that only 150 miles of Trump’s border barrier were built before Biden took office, and wrongly asserting that all funds for the 738-mile project had been “duly appropriated.”
Of the $15 billion total, $10 billion came from Defense Department funds that Trump grabbed with emergency legal powers, not from congressional appropriations.
Some could argue that Trump built as little as 50 new miles of border barrier or as much as 458 miles, if you throw in replacement fencing and secondary barriers. But the 150-mile figure seems to come out of nowhere, and Bush did not provide an explanation when we asked.
This is the rare case in which a politician could have avoided some Pinocchios simply by repeating Trump’s talking point. Instead, Bush went his own way and earned Three Pinocchios.
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