The Department of Homeland Security announced this week it will waive labor and procurement rules to speed up construction of President Trump’s border wall, as the department rushes to build as much as possible before Mr. Trump’s self-imposed end-of-year deadline.
The move marks an expansion for the department, which has previously waived some of the country’s most iconic environmental laws but now is moving into other areas.
“It allows to us speed up a lot of our contracts that the Army Corps has. Anywhere from 30 to 45 to 60 days,” acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf told Fox News. “We hope that will accelerate some of the construction going on along the southwest border.”
The decision will allow the administration to faster spend the billions of dollars it has siphoned from Pentagon accounts over the last two budget years.
But it also short-circuits legal protections for taxpayers’ money, said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“His cronies are likely to be the beneficiaries, while we are left overpaying for border wall that doesn’t work or, as we saw recently, literally falls over,” the Mississippi Democrat said.
That was a reference to a section of the wall that toppled over in high winds. Homeland Security officials said the wall wasn’t the problem, but rather the concrete that it was set in, which was still curing.
Mr. Thompson said Mr. Trump’s latest justification for building the border wall — to reverse an increase in the flow of drugs from Mexico — doesn’t hold up.
“If he really cared about stopping the drugs that are killing our kids, he’d strengthen ports of entry because that’s where 90% of opioids are entering this country,” Mr. Thompson said.
Homeland Security says Mr. Thompson’s claims of cronyism are misplaced.
They said the Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee construction, will use pre-qualified contractors including those who already are working on the wall in other sections.
Border fencing used to enjoy bipartisan support, with most top Democrats — including then-Sens. Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden and Hillary Clinton all voting for 700 miles of double-tier fence as part of a 2006 law.
But under Mr. Trump, border walls have become deeply political. His struggles have been lampooned.
The latest questions came Tuesday after the El Paso Times reported that smugglers across the border in Juarez, Mexico, have created camouflage rebar ladders that blend into the border wall, making the ladders tough to detect.
Mr. Trump regularly tells campaign rallies he will have more than 400 miles of new wall erected by the end of the year.
As of the beginning of the month, he was less than a third of the way to that goal.
In his interview with Fox on Tuesday, Mr. Wolf also confirmed that Homeland Security would deploy members of Border Patrol’s tactical SWAT-like teams to the interior of the U.S. to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement teams that go out into communities to make arrests.
Mr. Wolf said they’re being used to boost workforce in sanctuary cities, which refuse cooperation, forcing more community arrests since ICE can’t get at targets in prisons and jails anymore.
“So what used to take one or two officers going into a jail setting and picking up an individual that’s on a final order of removal, we now have to go into communities with many, many officers and so we need additional resources,” Mr. Wolf said.
Top House Democrats sent a letter Tuesday to Mr. Wolf complaining about the move.
They said taking teams trained to disrupt cartel activities at the border and deploying them in the interior is “a misuse of specialized resources.”
They also said it contradicts Mr. Trump’s recent redeclaration of a border emergency, which was his justification for tapping the additional $3.8 billion in Pentagon money to be used for wall construction.
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