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Biden will return the embezzled border wall money, spend rest

WASHINGTON (AP) – Former President Donald Trump’s signature border wall project would lose much of its funding as well as the fast-track status that allowed it to bypass environmental regulations under an administration plan Biden announced on Friday.

President Joe Biden suspended construction of the wall when he took office while his administration reviewed the project. It angered Republicans in Congress keen to see him move forward amid rising apprehensions of migrants along the southwest border.

The new plan doesn’t outright cancel the wall project, but it is still likely to meet opposition in Congress, where many Republicans are keen to promote a project closely associated with the former president.

Biden plans to return more than $ 2 billion the Trump administration embezzled from the Pentagon to help pay for the wall and use other funds appropriated by Congress to address “pressing life, security and environment issues »Created by construction. He also calls on lawmakers not to provide any additional funding for what the Biden team sees as a wasted effort.

“Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs US taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious political solution or a responsible use of federal funds,” the Office of Management and Budget said. in a press release describing the plan.

The government has built walls and other barriers along the 3,200-kilometer-long US-Mexico border for decades to eliminate some of the easier routes to bypass checkpoints. Trump has made the issue a centerpiece of his political identity.

Trump vowed to build a “virtually impenetrable” wall, insisting he would be paid for by Mexico, which never happened. Instead, his administration set aside roughly $ 15 billion through a combination of appropriations from Congress and money from the Pentagon and other parts of the government.

The Trump administration built about 725 kilometers of wall, moving quickly by waiving the requirements of environmental reviews and mediation, although only about 84 kilometers were in areas where no barriers previously existed.

Biden’s decision to suspend construction prompted Republican senators to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the administration was violating federal law by not using the appropriate money for its intended purpose.

The administration said on Friday it would use funds already set aside by Congress for “their proper purpose, as required by law,” but is not asking for any new money for building walls in the ministry’s 2022 budget. of Homeland Security.

Instead, Biden is seeking money for increased technology at points of entry and elsewhere, saying there are more effective ways to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking at the border.

The administration said it would return $ 2 billion taken from the Pentagon and use it for construction projects for which the money was originally intended. This includes $ 79 million for an elementary school for children of the US military in Germany; $ 25 million for a fire and rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida; and $ 10 million to expand defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles at Fort Greely in Alaska.

He plans to use the remaining approximately $ 1.9 million allocated by Congress for the wall for drainage and control of erosion or other environmental problems caused by the construction of the wall in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and elsewhere.

The administration does not explicitly say that it will not build a new wall. But he says any new construction will go through an environmental review, and he will review ongoing efforts to seize land from landowners by eminent domain and return the plots to owners if the Homeland Security Department determines that they are not. is not necessary.

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