Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, flanked by several senior department officials, hyped the administration’s efforts to construct hundreds of miles of wall along the US-Mexico border while lavishing praise on President Donald Trump less than a week before Election Day.
Thursday’s news conference in McAllen, Texas, is the latest in a string of media events in which Department of Homeland Security officials have touted the administration’s immigration policies as successes and delivered veiled criticisms of the Biden campaign’s proposals.
Just last week, Wolf traveled to Arizona, where he also delivered a full-throated defense of Trump’s immigration record.
Standing alongside the concrete and bollard border wall in Texas, Wolf doubled down on those claims Thursday, echoing the President’s border security message and citing the wall as critical to it.
“The many miles of border wall system exist because of the will and vision of President Trump, and the dedication and hard work of the men and women of CBP and the Army Corps of Engineers,” Wolf said, referring to Customs and Border Protection.
Wolf has previously traveled to the border region to highlight the construction of barriers, and he referenced those visits Thursday, but this event, just days from the election, gave the appearance of being political in nature.
Building a border wall remains a signature campaign issue for Trump, who claimed at a rally in Arizona this week that under his administration the southern border was the “most secure” in US history.
“We built almost 400 miles,” Trump said Wednesday, referring to the wall. The administration is trying to reach 450 miles by year’s end.
Wolf didn’t specify the exact number of miles that had been constructed Thursday, saying only that it was “nearly 400.” While most of the new wall construction has replaced barriers already along the southwest border, the new construction is taller (18 to 30 feet) and in many cases bolstered by surveillance systems and access points.
While only several miles have been built where no wall previously existed, the effort stands to be a lasting legacy for Trump that will have ramifications for years to come.
The President has pushed the bounds to achieve his wall — hiring controversial contractors, involving himself in its aesthetics and circumventing Congress to obtain Pentagon funds, a move that’s now before the Supreme Court.
Wolf praised Trump’s “vision and dedication” in pushing wall construction forward. That vision has also culminated in the administration considering painting more than 80 miles of border wall black in Texas, a costly move that current and former officials argue is designed to placate the President, who pushed to paint barriers his preferred color.
On Thursday, the officials stood beside a section of wall that was painted black. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said paint is being used to help identify movement behind the wall. CBP is still in the process of “figuring out where it is appropriate and where it is not,” Scott said.
Under the Trump administration, $15 billion has been set aside for wall construction, including appropriated congressional funds, as well as repurposed Department of Defense funds.
Despite a slew of legal challenges, the administration has been able to build roughly 400 miles of barrier at an unusually rapid pace and anticipates constructing 50 more before the end of the year.
Wolf addressed the political controversy over the wall on Thursday.
“I understand that our critics have policy differences regarding the construction of the border wall system,” he said. “While I appreciate those concerns, everything we have accomplished has been within our legal authority and vindicated by the courts.”