GOP senators say Biden’s freeze on border wall funds breaks federal law

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, accused President Joe Biden of violating federal law when he froze congressionally approved funding for border wall construction, a move they say led to a rise in illegal border crossings.

On Jan. 20, in one of his first acts as president, Biden suspended construction of the wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and froze funding for one of former President Donald Trump’s major projects.

“In the weeks that followed, operational control of our southern border was compromised and a humanitarian and national security crisis has ensued,” according to a 10-page letter sent to the Government Accountability Office. “The president’s actions directly contributed to this unfortunate, yet entirely avoidable, scenario.”

Forty GOP senators, including former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signed the letter. Utah Sen. Mike Lee is not among the signers. Romney and Lee supported funding for the wall.

Meantime, Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, called on Biden to visit the southern border.

“President Biden should be ashamed of himself, ashamed. This was preventable,” he said at a press conference about a Republican immigration reform bill unveiled Wednesday.

“President Biden, do us all a favor,” he said. “Go to the border and see what you’ve done. Go to the border and witness the misery that’s going on in our country today.”

U.S. Custom and Border Protection reported last week that it encountered 100,441 people attempting to cross the southwest border in February, a 28% increase over the previous month. The agency reported 72,113 expulsions from the border.

Border agents encountered 9,457 migrant children crossing the border last month, a 61% increase over the previous month.

The February data, released Wednesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, marks the highest monthly total in border crossings by unaccompanied minors since a surge in migration in spring 2019.

The number of encounters at the border has been rising since April 2020 due to ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity and poverty in Central America, according to the border patrol.

The letter says Biden’s action is a manifestation of a disagreement with Congress over immigration policy.

“The president bemoans the border wall system funded by Congress as ‘not a serious policy solution’ and a ‘waste of money,’” according to the letter.

While the president has the right to make those criticisms, he can’t unilaterally impound congressionally approved funding, the senators wrote. They say it’s a “blatant” violation of federal law and infringers on Congress’ power of the purse.

The Department of Homeland Security received about $3 billion for construction of a barrier on the southern border and had built or replaced 112 miles of wall by the end of 2020.

Not coincidentally, according to the letter, and in conjunction with other immigration policies, illegal border crossings dropped substantially and control of the border increased dramatically. In Yuma, Arizona, for example, illegal crossings fell 87% in areas where the wall was built, the letter says.

Owens and Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, attended a press conference in Washington, D.C., supporting Florida GOP Rep. Maria Salazar’s immigration reform proposal. The plan includes border security, asylum reform, protection for Dreamers and solutions for undocumented and guest workers. Rep. Johns Curtis, R-Utah also attended.

“We have a crisis on our southern border, children are being trafficked, and we must do everything possible to fix our immigration system once and for all,” Salazar said.

Moore said he believes in aspirational, pro-growth and inclusive proposals that both secure and strengthen the country.

“Any bills considered by Congress should offer functional and compassionate solutions while protecting American jobs,” he said.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, also weighed in Wednesday on the situation at the border.

“Right now, it’s easier to cross our southern border than it is to get through the fencing around Capitol Hill,” he tweeted.