President Biden’s pick to lead the government’s border agency told senators Tuesday that there are reasons to restart construction on the border wall, saying there are “some gaps” left by the new administration’s halt.
Chris Magnus, police chief in Tucson, Arizona, said he has heard from agents on the ground who say the wall is an important tool in helping them defend the southern border, and who point to areas where more wall is needed.
“I think there are some gaps where that could make sense,” said Chief Magnus, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection nominee.
But he said agents also want more technology to help them.
The revelations came as Chief Magnus sat for a confirmation hearing with the Senate Finance Committee.
Mr. Biden last year vowed not to build “another foot” of the wall. As soon as he was sworn in, he issued a directive halting construction on the massive project, which was the most visible campaign promise fulfilled by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
In the months since the border has seen a massive surge of new migrants, and some security experts say Mr. Biden’s move to cancel new wall construction is part of the reason.
At Tuesday’s hearing Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, challenged Chief Magnus over the construction halt, saying the agents he’s spoken with say the wall is a valuable tool.
Chief Magnus said he’s heard the same, adding, “I’m not taking issue with that.”
Pressed again by Mr. Daines, he said he does see the value in restarting construction.
“I think there are some gaps where that could make sense,” he said.
The Washington Times reported earlier this year on some of those gaps, including areas where the government envisioned roads for agents to use on the U.S. side of the border. The roads were built but the wall wasn’t. That’s created new smuggling routes for the cartels that control the smuggling operations.
It’s not just the wall that was halted.
The Trump administration billed its construction as a “wall system,” with lighting and cameras and sensors to help detect illegal entrants. The actual wall, meanwhile, was intended to shape where those entries took place.
Senators said the construction halt has stopped the technology from being installed, too. Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said only about 10% of the technology was completed.
Chief Magnus signaled he would be willing to complete that part of the wall project.
“I’m interested in providing the agents of the Border Patrol with the best possible resources, which would include improvements in technology,” he said.
The nominee also diverged from the Biden administration’s explanation for the current surge. Where Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have said the issue is “push” factors causing people to leave their homes and head to the U.S., Chief Magnus said both push and pull factors are at play.
“The pull factors are very evident, and I think there’s no one simple solution to this,” he said.
He said one part of the answer will have to be clearer messaging that the government will enforce the law against those who jump the border.
And he said the asylum system “must be improved” in order to stop it from being abused as a loophole for illegal border crossers.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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