Zolan Kanno-Youngs, New York Times, October 29, 2020
The leadership of the Department of Homeland Security gathered on Thursday under the shadow of 30-foot, black-painted, steel bollards to promote the near completion of 400 miles of President Trump’s border wall.
The politics of the moment, five days before the election, was lost on no one.
“The only reason we haven’t reached another crisis is because of the policies and procedures this administration put into place over the last several years, including the construction of an effective border wall system,” Chad F. Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary, told reporters, photographers and cameramen. “Abolishing these measures or reversing course is absolutely no way forward.”
Immigration has not been a central theme of the race between Mr. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, but the future of some of the president’s hard-line policies at the border will be determined by the results.
The Department of Homeland Security has been racing to deliver on Mr. Trump’s promise of 450 miles of border wall before the end of the year. The agency is still about a week away from the 400-mile marker, according to Customs and Border Protection officials, and nearly all of the construction has been in areas where dilapidated fencing or vehicle barriers already stood.
Department leaders in recent days have traversed the nation, including in battleground states, to emphasize routine arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, criticize Democrats and blast so-called sanctuary city policies. The agency has also erected billboards in Pennsylvania to warn of individuals who were previously arrested or convicted of crimes in the United States and released.
All of that has amplified criticism that the department has become an arm of the Trump campaign.
Standing in front of a line of Border Patrol agents, Mr. Wolf dismissed the criticism and defended policies that have effectively halted migration across the southwest border, leaving families in squalid tent camps in some of the most dangerous areas in Mexico.
The homeland security officials also attacked the policy proposals of Mr. Biden, who has pledged to immediately halt wall construction and end the Remain in Mexico program that has forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico for court hearings on asylum claims.
Mark A. Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said policies embraced by Mr. Biden would prompt a migrant “invasion,” though he acknowledged in a separate interview that most migrants who crossed the border last year were not criminals but rather Central American families fleeing poverty.
The Trump administration has secured about $15 billion to build 731 miles of border wall, with much of the money transferred from the Defense Department and funds that had been appropriated by Congress for military construction projects and narcotics interdiction.
Homeland security officials say the border wall is critical. It has allowed the agency to funnel migration into specific areas, where they can strategically place Border Patrol agents to apprehend migrants. They say it has freed those agents to make more arrests rather than respond to families seeking protection.
This month, the agency is expected to record the highest monthly total of illegal crossings for the year, Mr. Wolf said. But the blockade on asylum came not from a wall of steel but a web of policy changes, especially the Remain in Mexico policy, which has forced more than 60,000 migrants back to Mexico to await court dates to have their asylum claims assessed.
The department has also used a public health emergency declaration to rapidly return migrants, including unaccompanied children, to Mexico or their home countries without providing chances to have their asylum claims heard.