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'We already have a wall' — Arizonans pan Trump's new plan to build border wall

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'We already have a wall' — Arizonans pan Trump's new plan to build border wall

  • The border wall east of Nogales, Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comThe border wall east of Nogales, Arizona.

Fulfilling a promise he made throughout his presidential run, Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he had signed an executive order, pushing the Department of Homeland Security to build a new wall along the 2,000-mile long border between the U.S. and Mexico.

While public polling showed that 47 percent of Arizona residents thought the proposal to build a wall is a "waste of money," Trump is pressing ahead on building a "great wall" along the United States' southern border.

"We already have a wall," said Dan Millis, a program coordinator with the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter. "At this point, we’ve seen nearly three decades of wall construction along the borderlands. Under President Clinton, we built walls, and then President Bush built more walls, and each time those walls failed to address the problem," said Millis.

"At this point, we’re tripling down on failure,” he said.

"The bottom line is this, the wall is a handout to the companies that profit in border security by selling weapons and infrastructure to the Border Patrol," he said. "It won’t solve problems, but it will make some people very wealthy."

Millis also noted that a little-known rule written by the Bush administration leaves Homeland Security nearly unfettered by environmental laws and those protecting sacred cultural sites. "We need to follow our own laws, but instead, we'll see construction and development in historical sites, in cultural sites, and we'll see environmental damage in the borderlands without any consequences."

"The minute that you lay eyes on the border is the minute that the border wall ceases to make sense," said Millis. "We already have 650 miles of fencing and concrete barriers, but if you build a giant wall, especially across the flood-prone Rio Grande River, you’ll have the world’s biggest dam—it’s total folly."

For Tony Sedgwick, whose 4,000-acre ranch butts up against the border east of Nogales, the wall is already there. "A wall won't make much difference because we already have one here."

"The wall that's here has been developed and established by the Army Corps of Engineers," Sedgwick said. "Do you think that Trump is going to find smarter engineers?"

Sedgwick said that its likely that Homeland Security will follow previous patterns, building walls and adding more "guys with guns" along the border. "We'll see a lot of noise and construction, and we may see some troops bivouacked where television cameras can see them, but the wall won't make much of a difference," Sedgwick said. "But, I can't imagine that they will try to concrete all the rivers."

Around 80 percent of the border in the Tucson Sector 262 miles has some kind of barrier, either pedestrian barriers, which include 18-foot high "bollard" fences topped with metal plates to make them difficult to climb over, or x-shaped vehicle barriers, designed to keep cars and trucks from crossing the border.

In 2009, the Government Accountability Office reviewed the cost of construction for the wall built under the Secure Fence Act, passed by Congress in 2006. The GAO found that the cost of construction for the wall varied depending on the terrain. While the average cost of the fence was around $3.9 million per mile, one difficult section near the Otay Mesa, just south of San Diego, cost nearly $16 million.

And, the fence that was built was largely completed in some of the easiest sections along the border. As Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of border patrol sold the Senate last-May: "It's a lot more expensive than we expected when we started, and it was much more difficult."

A supervisory Border Patrol agent, who asked not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, called the fence "unnecessary."

"In the right circumstances, tactical infrastructure like fencing can give us the time we need to make apprehensions, especially in cities where its easy for people to disappear in the crowd, but in the deserts we have time to make apprehensions," the BP agent said. "There's no silver bullet when it comes to protecting the border."

He pointed out that the agency has already built hundreds of miles of fencing, and installed new sensor towers in the Tucson Sector. "To protect the fence, we'll need roads and time, and that requires its own chain of infrastructure, along with more agents." requested a comment from Tucson Sector border officials, however, they said they were declining requests for interviews.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security, Gillian Christensen, also declined to comment, saying only "For now, we're letting the content of the executive order speak for itself."

"For the past 20 years, we've seen increasing militarization along the border, and yet, the reasons that people come to the border—because they're coming to work or reunite with family members, or because they're fleeing from violence at home—are still there," said Robin Reineke, executive director of the Colibri Center for Human Rights in Tucson.

"Despite an infrastructure of violence that sends thousands into the deserts to die, people still attempt to cross. So after 20 years of this, why would we expect a wall to change these problems? The root of the problem isn't at the border, the root of the problem in Mexico and Central America where poverty and violence push people to cross," she said.

She also said that a new wall will push people into the arms of human smugglers, who would control and enforce the routes that remain. "Whether those are tunnels, or people going into the oceans like they do in the Mediterranean, or trying to go around the wall, people will end up in the hands of powerful, dangerous and violent people."

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally called Trump's executive orders a "strong start in the right direction." 

"When it comes to barriers, they are important where appropriate, but only part of the equation. What we need is a comprehensive strategy to grow situational awareness, build operational control, and dismantle the cartels and their networks," the Republican congresswoman said.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva hammered Trump's plans to build a wall.

"To continue to militarize our border is to squander billions of taxpayer dollars on a scheme that is impossible from geographical and economic perspectives. It will achieve nothing more than the continued criminalization of immigrants and asylum seekers through mandatory detention," the Democrat said.

"At the same time, the wall is a literal barrier to the cross-border commerce that is so vital to border communities like mine in southern Arizona. Not only does it hamper local economies, but it also upends the migratory patterns of over 100 endangered species, and raises sovereignty concerns in tribal lands across the southern border," Grijalva said.

Recently, Border Patrol announced that it would begin replacing around 7.5 miles of "outdated" pedestrian fencing near Naco's port of entry, removing the current wire mesh and "landing-met" fencing and installing an 18-foot high bollard fence. The plans for the replacement began four years ago, and the funding for the project was approved last year.

Officials estimate that the Naco project will be completed in June.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Sedgwick’s first name.

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