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Democrats demand a halt to border wall construction amid pandemic

Democrats demand a halt to border wall construction amid pandemic
View of the border wall in Jacumba, California, that separates the United States and Mexico. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

April 8 (UPI) -- Four Democrat congressmen, three of whom represent districts along the U.S. southern border, demanded the Trump administration halt border construction amid the coronavirus pandemic and direct the funds instead to fight the outbreak.

In the letter dated Wednesday to the heads of the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security, Reps. Raul Grijalva, Filemon Vela and Ann Kirkpatrick and House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson demanded border wall construction immediately cease to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

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"At a time when we are all taking extraordinary steps to limit the death toll and economic devastation wrought by this unprecedented pandemic, it is deeply concerning to learn that government officials, contractors and construction workers in border communities will defy public orders and continue border wall construction unabated, perhaps even accelerating construction in our border communities," the letter read. The letter comes as construction of physical barriers along the U.S. southern border continues despite much of the country implementing social distancing guidelines and ordering people to stay home unless absolutely necessary amid the coronavirus pandemic that has caused more than 14,800 deaths and infected 432,132 people in the United States, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University. On Monday, Rodney Scott, chief of U.S. Border Patrol, tweeted that 151 miles of border wall have been completed, 199 miles were under construction and 403 miles were in "pre-construction."
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President Donald Trump has claimed the border wall will stymie the spread of the disease but the Democrats said in their letter that workers congregating in rural towns threaten to overwhelm their limited medical facilities and resources if an outbreak were to occur. "As the virus continues to spread and our healthcare system grows even more strained, all federal resources being spent on the wall are desperately needed to fight the pandemic," the congressmen said in the letter, pointing out that hundreds of millions of dollars funding the border wall construction were originally earmarked for emergency and disaster response. Construction of the border wall was made possible after Trump declared an emergency at the southern border in February of last year to divert more than $6 billion from the Department of Defense to fund the project. The Democrats said the least the government can do is not "additionally endanger" border residents by continuing with barrier construction during this crisis. "The continued construction of the border wall simply creates more opportunities for community spread as construction crews congregate, potentially exposing those who live along the border," said Vela in a statement. "Building a border wall was never a good idea, it is even worse during these times."
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