In recent weeks, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have traveled to the southern border to highlight the ongoing surge of immigrants.
As a surge of migrants arrives at the United States’ southern border, there is increasing pressure from both sides of the aisle for Congress and President Joe Biden to address what some have called a “crisis.”
Republicans are seizing on this moment to push Biden to return to one of his predecessor’s key policy goals: building a wall along the border with Mexico.
Former President Donald Trump made the border wall a signature issue, claiming it would prevent illegal immigration and a wave of criminals arriving from Latin American countries. However, by the time his presidency ended, despite billions of dollars being spent on its construction, less than 500 miles of construction on the wall had been completed, most of it replacing existing structures.
On Biden’s first day in office, he signed an executive order to halt construction of the wall, stating “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.” The order redirected funds that had originally been earmarked for the wall.
Now, Republican lawmakers are arguing that Biden’s executive order was illegal and must be rescinded. They say the money that Congress set aside for building the wall must be used for that purpose and that the president does not have the authority to redirect those funds.
Was Biden’s executive order illegal?
On March 17, Senate Republicans wrote to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request the agency investigate Biden’s executive order that halted the building of the border wall. The letter states the current border crisis was a result of this action, adding that Biden’s actions were “a blatant violation of federal law and infringe on Congress’s constitutional power of the purse.”
Specifically, these Republicans believe the executive order violates the Impoundment Control Act (ICA). Passed in 1974, the ICA dictates Congress’s role in the US budget and prevents the president from reducing federal funding without first getting approval from Congress.
Following the letter from Republican senators, the GAO agreed to review Biden’s executive order to determine if it was in violation of the ICA. A GAO decision against Biden is unlikely to have any legal ramifications for the president, but it could restart construction on the wall, at least until the next budget.
The GAO found in 2020 that Trump had illegally withheld funds from Ukraine, but he faced no punishment for the act.
While Republicans in the House supported the inquiry by the GAO, they are also pursuing a separate line of investigation. Republican members of the House Budget Committee are urging the committee’s chairman, Democratic Representative John Yarmuth, to open a hearing into Biden’s actions.
Like the Senate Republicans, these GOP House members, led by House Budget Committee Republican Leader Jason Smith, are arguing that Biden’s order violated the ICA. The Republicans sent the letter to Yarmuth on March 29, though it seems unlikely he will elect to begin such a hearing.
Republicans at the border
In recent weeks, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have traveled to the southern border to highlight the ongoing surge of immigrants. The two parties dispute the cause of the surge, with Republicans claiming Biden’s policies have led to the surge. Democrats have countered this, noting Biden has told immigrants not to come.
Immigration experts have argued that the surge is a result of a normal pattern of increased immigration in the spring months. That, along with a bottleneck caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to a sizable but not unprecedented surge at the border.
Nonetheless, Republicans appeared at the border on March 15 to bring attention to what Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called a “dangerous disaster.” On March 26, another group of Republican leaders, including Senator Ted Cruz, appeared at the border near one segment of the existing wall to call for a reversal of Biden’s immigration policies.
Cruz and other Republicans have taken to calling the facilities where immigrants are temporarily being housed “cages,” echoing the same criticisms that Democrats and left-wing critics lobbed at Trump when he was in office. The Biden administration has been accused of cruelty and hypocrisy for the way they have housed immigrants, including children.
However, differences between the two administrations exist. Biden ended the Trump policy of separating children from their parents and housing them separately. The Trump administration also initiated a policy during the pandemic that automatically expelled all immigrants at the border. The Biden administration stopped this policy for children.
Additionally, going back to the Obama administration, minors who arrive at the border unaccompanied are put in facilities until the government can place them in long-term care.
Nonetheless, immigration advocates have urged the Biden administration to stop using facilities that are not properly maintained or supervised.
According to Jason Miller, an aide for former President Trump, Trump plans on visiting the border at some time in the future, but he hasn’t yet because he is waiting on Biden to “fail on his own.”
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