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Pima supes, Tucson City Council oppose border wall construction

The Tucson City Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved separate resolutions on Tuesday opposing the construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The two parallel resolutions denounce President Donald Trump's January 25 executive order, which charged the Department of Homeland Security with, among other things, taking "all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border."

Tucson declared a policy of divesting from companies that work on the border barrier.

Along with the financial costs, "border structures and militarization have created a human rights crisis in the border region" that has resulted in more than 6,000 migrant deaths, the resolutions said.  

Current border fencing has caused substantial environmental damage, "including catastrophic floods, erosion, degradation of public lands and facilities," and blocks the "normal wildlife migration corridors" of hundreds of species, including the endangered jaguar and ocelot, the resolutions said. 

The resolutions also noted that the legislative council of the Tohono O'odham Nation voted in February to oppose the construction of a border wall along tribal lands, arguing that the construction would "further divide historic tribal lands" and prevent tribal members from making traditional crossings.

Trump's order directed Homeland Security to "project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall" and devise a strategy to "obtain and maintain complete operational control of the southern border." 

In May, the Trump administration released a proposed budget seeking just $1.6 billion for construction, barely a down payment for total cost of a new wall. Cost estimates vary widely. One estimate, by DHS said the wall could cost as much as $21.6 billion and take three years to construct, however, an estimate by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee reported that the wall could cost up to $66.9 billion, with another $150 million in annual maintenance costs. 

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Pima County alone shares 125 miles of border with Mexico.

While the city and county resolutions are similar, the one approved by the City Council on Tuesday night by a unanimous 6-0 vote — Councilman Steve Kozachik was absent  — goes further, adding a section calling for the city to identify companies "involved with the designing, building or financing of the border wall" and "as soon as practicable" divest from those companies. 

An earlier version of the resolution stated that the Council would require the disclosure by "companies of their involvement with the border wall prior to city investment in those companies," noting that the city "does not wish to be associated with any company that participates in the design, construction or financing of the border wall in any way." 

Michael Varney, the president and CEO of the Tucson Metro chamber spoke against that clause, calling it "governmental overreach." 

"Many local companies, including many small businesses, compete for and frequently win, government contracts," Varney said. Penalizing a business for earning a contract, or a portion of a contract for the border wall, is "extreme and punitive," he said. 

"The Tucson City Council should remain focused on the issue of the propriety of the border wall and make whatever statement it chooses, but the city does not have to include punitive measures that will only damage local companies to make that statement," Varney said. 

Councilwoman Regina Romero defended the divestiture, saying that the section "is the teeth to this resolution."

Tucson Mayor Johnathan Rothschild called the border wall, a "terrible, terrible policy." 

"But, we need to start with the fact that Congress has not appropriated funds for border wall construction," Rothschild said. "The president can say whatever he wants, but it's Congress that makes the decisions." 

Efforts need to be continuous with congressional representatives and senators, showing the local sentiment against the border wall, Rothschild said. 

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"This resolution is just that, it's a statement of intent" that the border wall is a waste of tax dollars, the Democratic mayor said. 

Romero defended the divestiture, saying that it means taxpayer funds of the residents of Tucson will not be used to "condone" irreparable damage to the environment and native lands. 

Following a study session earlier that afternoon, parts of the resolution were softened, adding that the city would only divest from companies "as allowed by law."

County officials did not include an investment provision in the resolution passed by the supervisors.

City Attorney Mike Rankin said that while Tucson has "considerable authority" to choose where investments go, federal law limits how the city designs purchasing agreements. 

Following the meeting, Varney said that the Council had "homework to add clarity" to the resolutions' final language. "It will be interesting to see what that future homework and that clarity yields. It seems to be pointing in the direction we hoped it would, " Varney said. 

Earlier that morning, the Pima County Board of Supervisors passed their resolution 3-2, along party lines, with GOP Supervisors Ally Miller and Steve Christy voting against it. 

"We share the Sonoran Desert together with our neighbors, and the nation of Mexico has been a good neighbor to us," said County Supervisor Richard Elias. "Despite any immigration phenomena that's taken place, we've gotten along well. We share each other's infrastructure, we share each other's interests, our families intermingle." 

"Frankly, we have a broken immigration system that a wall is not going to fix," he added. "We have a broken immigration system that needs to be addressed by the Congress of this nation." 

Miller defended the construction of a border wall, arguing that there is "potential for terrorists to come across our border." 

"I'm very concerned and I can't believe that people in this room aren't concerned about terrorism," she said. "Terrorism is real and it's here, and if we don't take steps to protect ourselves, we're going to be experiencing what has been going on in Europe," Miller said. 

"I don’t believe that our border is militarized enough," Miller said. 

"Once again, this board is delving into areas that really are outside of its purview," said Christy. "I'm sure this resolution will pass, but can you just envision in Washington someone is pounding on Trump's gold-plated bathroom door 'President Trump, President Trump, we've got to stop the wall, the Pima County Board of Supervisors just voted a measure against the wall!'?" 

"This will have no effect on federal issue of border security. It might make us feel good, but it will have no effect," Christy said. 

Supervisor Ramón Valdez called the wall a "very, very expensive non-tool."

"The question becomes whether or not this is an effective tool, and that really needs to be the argument," he said. "Is it going to help us with the drug war? No. It is going to keep out criminals? No. It is going to deal terrorists a major blow? Well it might get them to change their tactics." 

"Barriers can be overcome, and they often are; just build a taller ladder, or go beneath it," said Supervisor Sharon Bronson, just before the vote carried the resolution forward. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Crews remove the old 'landing mat' fence near Naco, Arizona and install a new 'bollard-style' wall as part of a construction project to replace parts of the fence in Arizona and New Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates the cost to replace the fence at $6 million per mile.

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