This story has been updated to include comment from U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar.
Attorneys General Ken Paxton of Texas and Eric Schmitt of Missouri visited the border wall at the western edge of El Paso Thursday to announce they filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration to force it to spend congressional funds allocated during the Trump administration to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the announcement, the pair stood downstream from a section of privately funded border wall that is at the center of a fraud case linked to the conservative nonprofit We Build the Wall, founded by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
“The fact that Congress appropriated large sums of money and directed that money be spent on the wall — our lawsuit is about forcing that expenditure to be spent the way Congress intended,” Paxton said.
The lawsuit argues that the Biden administration does not have the authority to refuse to spend funds that had already been appropriated by Congress for the border wall. The Department of Homeland Security was allocated $1.35 billion toward border wall construction in fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
President Biden issued a proclamation halting funds toward border wall construction on his first day in office.
“Wall construction along the Southern border in recent years is just one example of the prior Administration’s misplaced priorities and failure to manage migration in a safe, orderly, and humane way,” said a June 2021 White House press release about border wall funds.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush also filed suit against the Biden administration over construction of the border wall in July. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman are challenging Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary election for attorney general.
An odor of wastewater filled the air at the site of the press conference off Paisano Drive in West El Paso, a result of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage regularly dumped in the Rio Grande river by El Paso Water because of pipeline breaks. Paxton and Schmitt were backed by a cheering crowd of supporters who Paxton referred to as “brothers and sisters.”
It marks the second time in recent months the two states have filed suit against the Biden administration. Texas and Missouri sued the Biden administration in April for what they said was the “unlawful termination” of the Migrant Protection Protocols border policy, which forced most migrants and asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting their immigration court dates in the United States.
In August, a federal court ruled in the states’ favor, requiring the Biden administration to reinstate the controversial policy, also known as “remain in Mexico.” The ruling was then upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court after the Biden administration filed an appeal.
“We’re here to tell Joe Biden right now, if you are not going to do your job, we’re going to make you do your job,” Schmitt said, referring to himself and Paxton as the “duo that brought you the remain in Mexico lawsuit.”
Building a wall along the southern border was a focus of former President Trump’s time in office — more than 450 miles of border fencing was constructed during his presidential term.
In El Paso, a race to rapidly prop up additional border fencing prior to the end of Trump’s term led to a 2020 Thanksgiving Day standoff between construction workers and El Paso Water, who said the new fencing blocked their access to critical flood infrastructure for the city.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sought to dramatically increase state funding for a border wall in recent months. He signed a law in September to designate nearly $2 billion toward border security, $750 million of which will go toward construction of the border wall.
Abbott has argued that a wall is needed to stop migrants and illegal drugs from crossing the border.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, responded to the lawsuit on Twitter Thursday evening. “Lawsuits don’t stop migration and neither do walls,” she wrote. Escobar recently introduced legislation that would overhaul the way asylum claims are processed at the border.
Cover photo: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, accompanied by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, center, speaks at a press conference on the Rio Grande to announce the states’ lawsuit against the Biden administration on border policies. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)