A December 2018 American Oversight report, “Audit the Wall: No Plans, No Funding, No Timeline, No Wall,” found that President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that his administration was building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border have largely been false. No matter Americans’ opinions on Trump’s insistence, they have a right to know how their money is being spent — especially since Trump’s vow to make Mexico pay for the wall went nowhere. Estimates of the wall’s total cost have varied, sometimes reaching as high as $70 billion, and the administration has failed to accurately determine how much taxpayers would be expected to spend, failing to consider factors such as topography and land ownership.
Beginning in 2017, American Oversight filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Homeland Security and other related agencies to uncover not only the costs of construction, but the procurement process, the proposed schedule for building, and considerations of environmental impact and property ownership.
Records we obtained in September 2017 revealed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had serious concerns about the “likely irreparable” ecological damage building a wall would inflict on wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley. We also uncovered communications that indicate the government had made almost no efforts to engage with leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a sovereign Native American tribe that controls 62 miles of borderland. Similarly, the administration has not made adequate legal preparations for likely eminent-domain challenges, which are bound to arise considering that most borderland without a fence is privately owned.
In December 2018, the Trump administration pursued $5.7 billion for a border wall in the 2019 federal budget and triggered a partial government shutdown that lasted over 30 days — the longest shutdown in U.S. history. In February 2019, a budget deal was negotiated and approved by Congress without any funds for Trump’s border wall. Following the deal, Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing that he could take money from the military’s budget for the wall, effectively bypassing Congress’s appropriations process. In September 2019, it was reported that $3.6 billion was being diverted from military projects to the border wall, canceling 127 military construction projects both domestic and overseas. Congress continues to challenge Trump’s national emergency declaration.
As Trump continues to rely on using the wall as a rallying cry for his political base, our investigation has revealed his administration’s failure to seriously consider the effects of such a massive infrastructure project. American Oversight is currently suing DHS and CBP for the release of additional documents and communications that could uncover conflicts of interest and shed light on administration plans for the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
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