Former President Donald Trump's border wall project has developed a spotty record of attracting organized crime to its many construction sites, leaving the incoming Biden administration with a financial, legal and bureaucratic mess that could take years to clean up.
The wall former President Trump promised to build on the US-Mexico border has, in some instances, led to illicit activity by border security personnel and by the construction companies hurrying to get it done.
In one of the most shocking examples, contractors last year blocked out cameras and built an illegal road to facilitate the passage of armed Mexican security teams, which were tasked with protecting the construction site. No one on the security team had been vetted before starting the job, creating national security risks.
The contractors also overcharged for the project, the legal complaint claims.
Earlier in the year, a Border Patrol agent working at a station in Tucson, Arizona was arrested after he was discovered moving 21 kilograms of cocaine, as well as small quantities of heroin and fentanyl.
This kind of criminal activity around the border is not entirely new. Former internal affairs chief for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) James Tomsheck, who served between 2006 and 2014, had expressed concern about the number of border officials trafficking drugs, often in coordination with Mexican cartels.
"Border Patrol brings to the position a strong paramilitary self-identity, believing they are not restrained by the same constitutional restraints placed upon all of law enforcement," Tomsheck told The Intercept last year.
US Border Patrol officials are arrested at around five times the rate of any other law enforcement agency in the country, according to internal reports. In 2019, the figure reached a five-year high of 286 officials.
InSight Crime Analysis
Former President Trump's wall initiative appears to have encouraged organized crime on the border. Rushed construction work and revisions to the hiring process for officials and contractors attracted noticeable cases of illicit activity that are going to take some time for President Biden to eliminate.
In one of his first executive orders, Biden halted the building of the wall. The stop of all construction could save the US government $2.6 billion, according to the Washington Post. Biden can try and redirect those funds elsewhere and enter into arbitration with the contracted companies. But it is going to take some time, and it's still unknown the costs for stopping work and whether he has the authority to cancel completion of wall segments already funded by Congress. Until those issues are cleared up, corruption and organized crime could continue to benefit from the border wall's uncertain status.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of US-Mexico border
Biden has also indicated that his administration will shift US policy away from polarizing strategies like the expansion and militarization of the border patrol, instead focusing on reuniting families and creating paths to legal status.
This slow, measured approach looks like the right decision. Experts claim that a surge in hiring on the border, which the Trump administration only managed to push through via a 2017 executive order, had some negative effects, such as expediting vetting procedures that are important for rooting out incompetence and individuals susceptible to corruption.
If Biden cuts border patrol numbers and reinforces strong vetting procedures, on top of stopping construction of the border wall, the number of cases of organized crime and corruption on the border should start to decline.