'The Cartels Are Free to Cross': South Texas Struggles Months After Biden Nixes Border Wall Construction
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All along the Texas-Mexico border, it's a scene frozen in time. Once busy work sites are silent and there are gaping holes where the wall would have been, the hallmark of a border wall gone bust.
With the stroke of a pen, President Biden brought an abrupt end to Donald Trump's four-year fight to finish this wall.
While the wall is mostly out of the national spotlight, the issue remains hot in the Rio Grande Valley which is the busiest spot for illegal immigration in the country.
"My audience generally is business-minded, business owners hardworking people, overwhelmingly, absolutely, they'd say yes to a wall," said local KURV radio host Sergio Sanchez.
During the Trump administration, the U.S. government paved the way for hundreds of additional sections of the wall to be built along the 2,000-mile border.
Biden ditched the project his first day in office which was a delight to Democrats and environmentalists. But it was a blow to outnumbered agents and officers tasked with slowing the flow of drugs and criminals increasingly able to bypass them and get deeper into the country.
"Without that infrastructure, that barrier, the cartels are free to cross their products anywhere they want," said Brandon Judd of the National Border Patrol Council.
Human smuggling arrests are skyrocketing in the Rio Grande Valley. In Hidalgo County alone, they are now making several a day.
"The numbers are going up, they'll go down one week, go right back up the following week. I don't see an end in sight," said Deputy Ivan Flores of the Hidalgo County Constable's Office.
Behind the scenes, there is a struggle of a different kind.
Sections of the border wall can be spotted all over the Rio Grande Valley. When the Biden administration stopped construction of the wall, an estimated 5,000 people lost their jobs.
"I took it a bit hard. I was counting on that job," said Javier Lopez who lost his job when Biden halted construction on the wall.
Granchelli Construction had to lay off 14 workers and lost millions after building a cement plant just to help build the wall.
"People came down from all over the country, hired local people," said Jim Granchelli.
But while the plant sits idle, the company is forced to keep leasing the land. The Biden administration will not allow him to use or sell the equipment.
"It's about $35-40,000 a month we're carrying. We are waiting. They say they are going to reimburse everyone. But it hasn't happened yet," said Granchelli.
Bills are also piling up for A.J. Steel LLC, which made steel panels for the wall.
"It's just a bad deal. I laid off 32 employees," said Alex Garza.
More than a thousand panels are piled up high on the lot he leased.
"I'm at right now, a little over $300,000. I sent a certified letter last week demanding payment from the contractor. Now the owners of the property are asking me for $20,000 a month until all of this is moved out of there. If I don't get my money soon, I'll just take all of this and scrap it," said Garza.
Like Garza and Granchelli, many south Texas contractors are hoping Governor Greg Abbott will make good on his promise to resume building the wall where Donald Trump left off.
Abbott is planning to use $250 million in state money and taking donations to fill holes along the 1,200-mile stretch of the border here.
"Texas is stepping up and doing what is truly the federal government's job," said Abbott.
Polls show Texans are split over whether Abbott should push to finish the wall. Meanwhile, the U.S. is on track to hit more than two million illegal crossings in 2021.
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