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Subcommittee Chairs Higgins, Bishop Deliver Opening Statements in Joint Hearing on Biden Admin Halting Border Wall Construction

July 18, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement Chairman Clay Higgins (R-LA) and Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability Chairman Dan Bishop (R-NC) delivered the following opening statements in a joint hearing on the effects of the Biden administration’s cancellation of border wall contracts on the safety and security of the American people.

Watch the full hearing here.

As prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon and welcome to the Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement and Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability’s joint hearing to examine the effectiveness of the border barrier system and the effects of the Biden administration’s cancellation of border wall contracts on the safety and security of the American people. 

I would like to thank our witnesses for being here today, some of whom traveled extensively to be with us to discuss this important topic.

Simply put, physical barriers work to deter and delay any form of criminal intent. In areas along the Southwest border where there is some kind of physical barrier, illegal border crossings have decreased by up to 87 percent. 

From fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2020, during the construction of the border barrier system we will be discussing today, the Department of Homeland Security never reported more than one million yearly encounters of illegal aliens at the Southwest border.   

The border barrier system also allows Customs and Border Protection agents to respond to and detect threats or breaches using surveillance technology in place along the barrier instead of relying on manned patrol and other limited surveillance efforts.

That is why earlier this year, I introduced the “Finish the Wall Act,” requiring the Biden administration to resume construction of the border barrier system. 

In the two and a half years since President Biden was inaugurated, there have been more than five million illegal border crossers and over 1.5 million gotaways – if this trend continues, the Biden administration is expected to reach nearly 2.5 million alien encounters at the southern border by the end of September.

The truth of the matter is that my colleagues and friends across the aisle cannot deny that walls work. In fact, there is a long history of bipartisan Congressional support in securing the border using physical barriers, such as fencing, innovative technologies, access roads, and lighting. My colleagues across the aisle, Ranking Member Thompson, Congressman Payne, and Congresswoman Jackson-Lee even voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Unfortunately, when President Biden paused and eventually canceled all border wall construction projects in 2021, he showed the American people that he would rather engage in partisan politics over prioritizing our nation’s national security and stopping those who break our laws by conducting illegal activity at our southern border. Fencing and border wall construction has ceased to be a bipartisan security tool, and the American people are suffering for the sake of political posturing. 

In addition to the human costs of these cancellations, it is apparent this administration did not stop and think about the consequences and the impacts that cancellation of border barrier projects would have on American small businesses who had a contract for and completed work on the border wall system. 

One of our witnesses here today, Jim De Sotle, his company was hired in 2019 by the federal government to conduct work on the border barrier system. To this day, Jim’s company, LoneStar Pipelines, has yet to receive a single dollar of reimbursement for any of the work they did. 

Another witness with us today, Mr. Russell Johnson, was a former Border Patrol agent turned rancher along the New Mexico-Mexico border. As border wall construction expanded, he and his family saw illegal traffic pushed to other sections of the border without a wall, showing that the border wall system is a force multiplier so that the U.S. Border Patrol can focus agents in areas where a wall might not be logical or possible. 

Border Patrol agents, and the recently retired Chief of the Border Patrol, Raul Ortiz, have repeatedly stressed the importance of the border wall for the Border Patrol to do its job.

The border wall system should not, and did not use to be a partisan issue, but over the past few years, every detail of border security has become a political playground, including paying our contractors for work that has already been done. 

Completing the border wall system is critical to our nation’s safety, security, and sovereignty. We, the People, demand a resolution to this crisis. Order must be restored, and this is the first step.

As prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, and welcome to this joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement and the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability. Today’s hearing will examine President Biden’s decision to terminate construction of a wall on the southwestern border and the consequences of this America Last decision.

In 2019, President Trump declared a national emergency in recognition of the security and humanitarian crises at our southern border. However, on his very first day in office, President Biden terminated President Trump’s proclamation and halted construction of the border wall.

While this purely political decision appeases radical Left open borders advocates, it does nothing to enhance the security of Americans. The numbers do not lie. Since the 2018 election and the year following, border encounter numbers reached 20-year highs, broke records for encounters of aliens from countries other than Mexico, and more than doubled in every sector along the U.S.-Mexico border. Today, our crisis is at a boiling point with over 200,000 encounters in the month of May alone.

Yet, President Biden refuses to budge on restarting construction of a border barrier – wasting taxpayer dollars, encouraging illegal traffic at gaps at our border, and endangering the safety and security of Americans.

A physical border barrier slows down those seeking to illegally cross the border and enhances Border Patrol agents’ ability to apprehend those individuals. President Biden’s failure to complete the border barrier system unquestionably hinders Border Patrol’s efforts to control the border.

As then-chief patrol agent for the Del Rio Sector and now Chief of Border Patrol Jason Owens, testified to this committee in a transcribed interview, that a, “physical barrier extends the amount of time that I and my team have to respond to and interdict, and it increases the certainty of arrest.”

Another sector chief logically explained in their transcribed interview that the presence of a border wall leads individuals to cross at areas without a barrier, which allows Border Patrol to focus resources in response.

Since President Biden halted border wall construction, Border Patrol recorded more than 1.5 million gotaways who crossed illegally into the United States without being apprehended.

We don’t know who gotaways are. We don’t know what they’re bringing across the border. And, we don’t always know their intentions.

But, we do know that cartels traffic fentanyl across the southern border, and Americans are dying of fentanyl overdoses at historic levels.

These are among the reasons Congress acted to enhance physical infrastructure along the southern border. For example, Section 3 of the bipartisan 2006 Secure Fence Act requires, “at least two layers of reinforced fencing, installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors.”

Since 2006, Congress appropriated funding explicitly to construct the barrier system on the southern border. In fact, just one month before President Biden halted border wall construction, Congress included almost 1.4 billion dollars for the border barrier system in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2021.

Not with standing legal requirements and congressional appropriations to build a barrier system, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security is instead spending tax dollars on environmental remediation projects.

President Biden’s irresponsible decision left stacks of unused construction materials to rust away at project sites along the border, at immense cost to the federal government. Private citizens on the border found themselves left with the inconvenience, hazard, and expense of materials that remain abandoned on their properties for now over two years.

We bought materials, we signed the contracts, but now we’re getting nothing for it – just unprecedented levels of illegal immigration.

The suspension and termination of contracts also placed contractors in an untenable position. Contractors made business plans and took on expenses to fulfill their contracts. They were then forced to wait on hold for months while the Biden administration decided whether to honor contractual obligations. In the end, contracts were terminated and contractors can only hope – two years later – that they can recover some of their costs.

With the ongoing border crisis of historic proportions, we need to equip our Border Patrol agents with all the tools possible to secure our border. Congress has spoken and passed laws, but the Biden administration wasted hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars in cancelling contracts that would finish the job.

Instead of getting what Americans paid for, we’re left with wall panels to bake in the desert and a wide open border. President Biden’s unconscionable decision compromises national security. Thank you all for joining, and I look forward to hearing testimony from our witnesses.