On Monday, Governor Doug Ducey announced that the border wall gap near Yuma, Arizona was closed. That section of the wall resembles more of a wall than the border fencing elsewhere: rather than slats, the state installed double-stacked cargo shipping containers welded together and lined at the top with razor wire standing 4 feet tall.
Each double-stacked shipping container block weighs 17,600 pounds and stands 44 feet tall without the razor wire. The new Yuma border wall section spans 1,000 feet. The state plans on filling three gaps totaling 3,000 feet in the coming weeks.
As AZ Free News reported, Ducey signed an Executive Order on Friday to finish the border wall. Ducey’s action occurred several hours before the U.S. Consulate issued a “shelter in place” advisory for Americans residing in Tijuana, Mexico. On Thursday, at least 11 people were killed amid a fight between factions of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The Friday advisory followed another, similar advisory from several days prior, marking another week of cartel violence in Mexico.
In his original announcement, Ducey declared that the Biden administration’s lack of urgency was a “dereliction of duty.”
Ducey said that the Tijuana violence prompted the immediate action to finish the border wall.
Ducey’s action far outpaced that of the Biden administration.
At the end of last month, the White House promised to finish the border wall. However, agency rules concerning environmentalism protocols, or “environmental stewardship reviews,” will likely delay that project by well over a year.
That could prove to be a snag for Ducey, who undertook construction without federal permission.
Earlier this month, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) data revealed that hard drugs topped marijuana for drug busts along the border for the first time ever.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels shared with radio host James T. Harris of “Conservative Circus” that the fentanyl crisis is a direct result of Biden’s border crisis. Dannels said that Arizona had over 5 million fentanyl dosage seizures in 2021, beating out all other states including California.
“They know exactly what’s going on. These are intelligent people. They just don’t care. This is intellectual avoidance at its worst. It’s almost like ‘American Second’ on our southern borders,” said Dannels.
Dannels added that the county has taken back some control, noting that the county jailed 617 individuals associated with border crimes from January to July. Dannels noted that so far, they’ve handled nearly 300 recognized victims of border-related crimes.
Dannels also lamented the number of illegal immigrant deaths that occurred. Since January, 126 illegal immigrants have died attempting to cross the border.
In similar remarks, Ducey blamed the Biden administration for giving cartels more power.
The governor’s remarks were part of a series of statements deriding the Biden administration for its inaction. Ducey declared that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has a “defeatist attitude” that worsens the border crisis.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed an Executive Order on Friday for the immediate fortification of a gap in the U.S. – Mexico border in Yuma, just hours before a U.S. Consulate issued a “shelter in place” advisory for Americans living and working in Tijuana south of the border from San Diego.
“For the last two years, Arizona has made every attempt to work with Washington to address the crisis on our border,” Ducey said. “Time and time again we’ve stepped in to clean up their mess. Arizonans can’t wait any longer for the federal government to deliver on their delayed promises.”
The executive order was issued by Ducey a mere two weeks after the White House announced it would address the unsecured border in Yuma once various reviews and studies were completed. However, there was no estimate provided as to when that may be.
Ducey’s decision to authorize immediate placement of 60 double-stacked, state-owned shipping containers to fill in a 1,000-foot gap long complained about by law enforcement officials will increase national security by ensuring border security, according to Jonathan Lines, Yuma County Supervisor.
“Border communities like Yuma bear the burden of a broken border while narcotics poison our youth, human smuggling rises and mass amounts of migrants wear on our nonprofits,” said Lines, adding that Ducey was coordinating with state and local resources “to do what the federal government won’t: secure the border.”
The project overseen by state contractor Ashbritt will utilize a 25-person team of heavy equipment operators and support personnel to link together and weld shut the containers, each of which weigh more than four tons. When completed on Monday, the new barrier wall will reach about 22 feet and be topped with concertina wire.
The move to close the large gap in Yuma also came just days after President Joe Biden lifted the Remain in Mexico immigration policy which has been providing one of the few immigration controls at the border.
The U.S. Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector under the leadership of Chief Patrol Agent Chris Clum experienced more than 235,000 migrant encounters from Oct. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. The governor’s office called it “an ominous acceleration” for the Yuma Sector, which had the highest annual increase in encounters of all USBP sectors for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2021.
Nonprofits and shelters in Yuma County set up to assist migrants have been operating for months at overcapacity. In addition, law enforcement, first responders, and local medical facilities have been overwhelmed by the influx, which includes extremely high quantities of fentanyl coming across the border Arizona lawmakers made a $335 million investment in the Arizona Border Security Fund to construct and maintain a border fence, of which $6 million will be used put the new barrier in place in Yuma.
“Republicans in the Legislature made border security a priority in this year’s budget, and I’m thankful to Governor Ducey for wasting no time in putting those funds to good use,” said Rep. Ben Toma. “Improvements to the border wall will make our communities safer by combating human trafficking and stemming the flow of fentanyl into the state.”
Just hours after Ducey signed Executive Order 2022-04 on Friday, the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico warned of cartel violence in several Mexican cities along the border with California, including Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate, Rosarito, and Ensenada.
The Consulate warning called on U.S. citizens already in those areas to seek secure shelter and remain aware of their surroundings. The warning also advised Americans on the Mexico side of the border to monitor local media for updates and “notify friends and family of your safety.”
The violence, which is due to internal strife within the Sinaloa Cartel as well as pressure from other cartels, is not limited to border communities near California.
Last Thursday, several killings occurred in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.5 million across the border from El Paso. The violence started with a deadly fight at a Mexican prison between factions of the Sinaloa Cartel. Within hours, several fires and frequent gunfire was reported throughout Ciudad Juarez, often targeting non-cartel interests.
A statement by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday confirmed that “innocent civilians were attacked as a kind of retaliation” in connection with the prison fight.
On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would close preexisting border wall gaps, but only after ensuring environmental stewardship. This is continuation of a departmental practice dating back well over a decade, one DHS hasn’t expedited or circumvented despite the ongoing border crisis. If DHS maintains similar pace from recent environmental stewardship reviews, it may be well over a year before these gaps are addressed.
The four gaps addressed will be along the incomplete border section in Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector.
The environmental stewardship in question has been a DHS goal since 2008, when Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) introduced an Environmental Stewardship Plan (ESP) and a Biological Resources Plan (BRP) to analyze the potential environmental impacts of border security construction, or tactical infrastructure (TI). Present protocol requires the development of an ESP before commencing the project. One of the latest ESPs was issued in November 2020 for construction announced in May 2019.
Included within an ESP are recommended construction practices to mitigate potential environmental impacts, or Best Management Practices (BMP) and Conservation Measures (CM).
Past DHS reports on environmental stewardship ultimately concluded that the positives of a border wall preventing foot traffic from illegal crossings, thereby preserving natural habitats and species, outlasted the negatives of construction.
Aspects of an ESP include factoring the biological and geographical conditions of the area, such as the vegetation and wildlife that would be impacted by construction efforts. Environmental stewardship also factors in cultural resources such as archaeological discoveries. (If artifacts are discovered, all work halts until an archaeologist clears officials to resume work).
The November 2020 ESP concerned 15 miles of fence replacement along the California border considered air quality; noise; land use, recreation, and aesthetics; geological resources and soils; groundwater; surface waters and other bodies of water; floodplains; vegetation; wildlife and aquatic resources; protected species and critical habitat; cultural resources; socioeconomics; and hazardous materials and waste.
Some of the ESP’s recommended BMP and CM included: wetting the soil to suppress dust, capping speed limits at 25 mph on unpaved roads, muffling equipment like generators, migratory bird surveillance and relocation, and cleaning of construction equipment (to prevent spread of non-native species).
Following completion of the border construction, DHS issues an Environmental Stewardship Summary Report (ESSR).
Another impediment for immediate border wall gap sealing comes from DHS obligations to engage with stakeholders.
Funding for the border wall gap closures will come from DHS fiscal year 2021 appropriations.
Both the Arizona House and Senate passed bills this week to supply hundreds of millions for Arizona to finish construction on its portion of the border wall.
On Wednesday, the Arizona House passed along party lines State Senator Wendy Rogers’ (R-Flagstaff) SB1032, appropriating $700 million. Rogers estimated during the Senate Appropriations Committee that the amount would cover the approximately 17 miles of construction that remains.
“This is our chance to continue to protect ourselves because we aren’t having this built by the federal government and since we have purview over approximately 17 miles of the wall, this money would be appropriated to build that,” said Rogers.
Then on Thursday, the Arizona House passed its version, HB2317, along party lines on Thursday. State Representative John Kavanagh’s (R-Fountain Hills) bill appropriates $150 million in 2023 to finish the border wall. Kavanagh relayed during the House Appropriations Committee hearing some data given to him by Border Patrol: the number of crossings reportedly quadrupled over the last year.
“The border is in chaos and it’s out of control. The Border Patrol, besides needing more personnel, would be helped by some physical barriers which do in fact stop crossers, or at least funnel them, making the area that needs to be patrolled smaller,” said Kavanagh. “I think it’s a reasonable investment in Arizona’s security and safety.”
Passage of the bill comes weeks after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) projected that the border crisis would only worsen this year. This prediction concurred with the latest data on border crossings from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
According to a report from AZ Free News this week, border patrol encountered almost 154,000 illegal immigrants crossing the border in January — the highest in over 20 years — with a low estimate of over 504,600 “gotaways” since President Joe Biden took office.
Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) hasn’t pressed President Joe Biden lately on the border, let alone a visit there, despite the number of illegal border crossings reaching an all-time historic high: 1.7 million. It was revealed that Biden hadn’t ever visited the border after Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy brought the topic up to Press Secretary Jen Psaki last month.
Psaki circled back to the topic in last Friday’s White House press briefing, in response to a follow-up by Doocy after Biden claimed he’d visited the border during a CNN town hall the day before. Psaki appeared to allude to a report by The Washington Post, which stated that the last time Biden visited the border was a “drive-by” in 2008. According to that report, he drove by the border while on the campaign trail for previous President Barack Obama.
AZ Free News inquired with Kelly’s office for comment. They didn’t respond by press time.
The most recent action from Kelly on the border concerns hearings for Biden’s nomination for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) commissioner. Last week, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus sat before the Senate Finance Committee for a confirmation hearing.
Both Kelly and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) vowed to the committee that Magnus would be an optimal choice for CBP commissioner. Sinema emphasized Magnus’ capabilities to protect the border; Kelly remarked that Magnus would be a “committed public servant,” not pointing fingers at the Biden Administration but rather stressing that “decades” of broken immigration laws and politician failures were to blame for the border.
In comparison to Kelly, Sinema has been more vocal in her discontent with Biden’s handling of the border. Sinema demanded that the Biden Administration “do more” to address the illegal immigrants.
“The reality is that this is a crisis and we all know it, and the federal government must do more to address this surge of migrants who are coming to the border in increasing numbers each year,” said Sinema.
Though Kelly hasn’t asked Biden to visit the border, both he and Sinema requested in April that Biden reimburse Arizona for their National Guard deployment expenses. Then in August, they petitioned Biden again to reimburse the state’s expenditures following a show of support for Governor Doug Ducey’s announcement that he would be extending the deployment of the 150 guardsmen for another year.
Biden hasn’t footed the bill.
In July, however, Biden did approve legislation to reimburse the National Guard $521 million for their deployment of 26,000 troops following the January 6 riot at the Capitol.