Donald Trump's new anthem: 'Paint the wall!'

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Amid the other curiosities of former President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the border was his peculiar complaint about the border wall: President Biden is refusing to paint it.

Not only did Mr. Biden order a halt to any new construction, but his border wall pause has also blocked maintenance like covering some of the wall with a protective coating that the Trump administration discovered preserves the steel, extending its lifetime.

“They’ve got to get a coat of paint on the wall,” Mr. Trump said during his border trip with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “Believe it or not, it does rust. Maybe that’s what they like — let it rust, let it rot.”

Mark Morgan, who served as acting commissioner at Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration, said they called it a coating — it is an epoxy-type material — and it did, in fact, prolong the life of the wall, according to their tests.

The coating also created a better contrast. Left uncoated, fencing along the border takes on a rust-colored patina, which is pretty much the color of the surrounding countryside along much of the border. The black coating, though, gives agents a better background to spot against.

“Painting increased the longevity and it provided some increase in the operational use by Border Patrol agents by providing that contrast,” Mr. Morgan told The Washington Times. “It wasn’t the highest priority, but it was still something … that could assist with the overall improvement of the wall system.”

Nearly 460 miles of wall panels were erected on Mr. Trump’s watch, though the Government Accountability Office says just 69 of those miles were deemed completed with access roads, lighting and other technology that made up what the Trump team called the “wall system” when Mr. Biden ordered a halt to all wall work on Jan. 20.

CBP told The Times that according to the contracts the Trump team signed covering 272 miles of wall funded under the Homeland Security Department, 134 of those miles were to have the black coating applied. Just eight miles of coating was actually completed.

CBP also asked the Defense Department, which was building the wall under an emergency order issued by Mr. Trump, to apply the coating to some of that mileage, too. It’s not clear how much of that was completed, and CBP referred questions about that Pentagon-funded mileage to the Army Corps of Engineers, which directed questions back to CBP.

The coating costs about $2 million per mile of fencing, which works out to slightly less than a tenth of the cost of an average mile.

While Mr. Trump complains about the wall being stymied by Mr. Biden’s halt, immigration activists say they fear the new administration hasn’t moved quickly enough.

The Texas Civil Rights Project said there are hundreds of cases involving Texas residents fighting attempts to use eminent domain to take private land for wall construction. The TCRP, which is representing about a dozen of those residents, said unless the Biden team agrees to revoke its claims to those properties, courts could start ordering them forfeited to the government.

“If they take no action in the next few weeks, these cases will just be closed, the compensation will be paid and there will be no case left to dismiss,” Ricky Garza, a staff attorney at the project, told reporters.

Some of the cases had been put on hold in the early weeks of the Biden administration, as the litigants awaited a promised plan for what the new team would do with more than $2 billion in border wall money that was unspent as of the end of the Trump administration.

The plan was due in March but delivered in June, and it didn’t solve very much. It suggested a go-slow approach to spending the money in the pipeline, with more environmental reviews, but said if Congress wants to stop new construction altogether it will have to claw back the money it already allocated.

“It ended up being a bunch of nothing when you drill down into the details,” Mr. Garza said.

As Mr. Biden delays, Mr. Abbott has said he’s moving quickly to have Texas step up and build a border wall where it can.

It’s not yet clear what that would look like nor whether it would include the coating.

At the federal level, the decision to apply a coating was made in 2019, several years after wall building began.

The decision drew derision from critics like Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who on Twitter called it “a disgraceful misuse of taxpayer $$.” He said Congress was told the “primary purpose is to improve the aesthetic appearance.”

Mr. Morgan suggested it was the other way around. The coating improved the longevity of the wall, and the bonus was that it made the barrier stand out more.

“What we were hearing from operators was it did help them with visibility,” Mr. Morgan said.

He compared the decision to add the coating to other improvements made in the wall design over the years, such as the addition of anti-climb plates at the top of the barrier.

Still, he said painting isn’t the No. 1 issue from Mr. Biden’s border wall halt.

Mr. Morgan said getting more steel and concrete in the ground and finishing the access roads, lighting and other technology attached to the wall is more critical.

Ken Cuccinelli, the former acting deputy secretary at Homeland Security, concurred.

“Of everything that has been stopped in terms of The Wall and border enforcement, the painting of The Wall is the least significant of all,” Mr. Cuccinell told The Times in an email.

Still, Mr. Trump seemed irked by Mr. Biden’s decision-making on the coating. He mentioned it during both of his public stops during the late-June visit to the border with Mr. Abbott.

“They have to paint it because if they don’t paint it bad things are happening,” Mr. Trump said.

He also suggested the painting could have a deterrent effect: “The best color to paint it is black because if you paint it black it’s so hot nobody can even try to climb it,” Mr. Trump said.

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