The Department of Homeland Security canceled two contracts for further construction of the Mexico-U.S. border wall, part of which is seen at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry wall near El Paso, Texas, in June. File Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI
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July 26 (UPI) -- The Department of Homeland Security announced the termination of two contracts to build a 31-mile wall at the southern border, with Republican legislators raising concern about cancellation of the projects.
President Joe Biden, on his first day of office, ordered a pause in construction of the wall separating the United States and Mexico, pending a review of funding.
In June, $2.2 billion of funds previously set aside for was construction was redirected to Defense Department projects.
The cancellation, announced Friday, pertains to two DHS contracts totaling about $450 million, which will be redirected to environmental cleanup projects near where wall construction was completed.
"Construction has not yet started on the two Laredo Sector [near Laredo, Texas] projects, and no land acquisition has begun," a DHS statement on Friday said.
"CBP intends to engage in environmental planning concerning these barrier projects, including taking certain actions consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statues," DHS said.
The projects were scheduled to begin in September.
The announcement came two days after Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management released a report that was critical of Biden's plans to effectively cancel the border wall program.
"President Biden's efforts to suspend or terminate border wall construction have cost taxpayers between $1.837 billion to $2.087 billion since January 20, 2021," the report said in part.
"The Biden Administration is paying contractors at least $3 million per day to guard steel, concrete, and other materials in the desert," the report said.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the lead Republican on the subcommittee, was critical of Biden's decision.
"It is absolutely absurd that Americans are paying contractors to guard metal gates that President Biden refuses to install because he wants to 'study' the wall," Lankford said in a statement last week.
"Stubbornly refusing to spend money approved for the wall is not 'executing' the law. It's ignoring the law and ignoring the very real national security concerns posed by illegal entry across our very open southern border," Lankford said.
Noting that immigrants have illegally crossed the border into the United States, Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, similarly objected to the redirection of funds.
"Instead of doubling down on failed policies that have created the worst illegal immigration crisis in decades, the Administration should reinstate the policies that secure our border, support law enforcement, and keep our communities safe," Hinson said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently cancelling 20 more construction contracts pertinent to the border wall.
The Pentagon said in June that its funding for the wall would be redirected to 66 military projects in 11 states, three territories and 16 countries.
Among them is a $79 million project to overhaul an elementary school in Germany for U.S. military children, a $25 million radio battalion project in North Carolina, a $25 million upgrade to equipment and personnel at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, and $10 million for a missile field expansion at Fort Greely in Alaska.
Former President Donald Trump made construction of the border wall a priority of his presidential campaign and four years in office.
He declared the emergency in February 2019 in order to divert $600 million from the Treasury Department and $6.1 billion from the Defense Department to the Department of Homeland Security for border wall construction.
Overall, the Trump administration built approximately 450 miles of the wall, most of which was the reinforcement or replacement of existing barriers, along the 1,954-mile southern border.