Biden halts border wall building after Trump’s final surge

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A man looks through the first wall at Friendship Park, near where the border separating Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego meets the Pacific Ocean Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. In the days before Joe Biden became president, construction crews worked quickly to finish Donald Trump's wall at an iconic cross-border park overlooking the Pacific Ocean that then-first lady Pat Nixon inaugurated in 1971 as symbol of international friendship. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO – In the days before Joe Biden became president, construction crews worked quickly to finish Donald Trump’s wall at an iconic cross-border park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which then-first lady Pat Nixon inaugurated in 1971 as a symbol of international friendship.

Biden on Wednesday ordered a “pause” on all wall construction within a week, one of 17 executive orders issued on his first day in office, including six dealing with immigration.

The order leaves billions of dollars of work unfinished — but still under contract — after Trump worked feverishly last year to build more than 450 miles (720 kilometers), a goal he said he achieved eight days before leaving office.

As of Jan. 15, the government spent $6.1 billion of the $10.8 billion in work it signed contracts to have done, according to a Senate Democratic aide with knowledge of the contracts who spoke on condition of anonymity because details have not been made public. The full amount under contract would have extended Trump’s wall to 664 miles (1,069 kilometers).

Biden, seeking to fulfill a pledge not to build “another foot,” gave his administration two months to determine how much it would cost to cancel contracts and whether money could be spent elsewhere. The Senate aide said fees would be negotiated with contractors and the administration would seek to spend whatever's left on related uses on the border, such as roads, lights, sensors and other technology.

Publicly, the Trump administration said it secured $15 billion for the wall. The Senate aide said it was actually $16.45 billion as of Wednesday, $5.8 billion of which was appropriated by Congress and the rest diverted from the Defense and Treasury departments.

The Trump administration notified the Senate aide on Jan. 14 that it was moving ahead with a contract for $863 million, but it was not awarded.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which has awarded wall contracts with Defense Department money, said Thursday that it told crews not to install any additional barriers and to limit activity over the next few days to what is “necessary to safely prepare each site for a suspension of work.”