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Nogales leaders demand removal of 'inhumane' razor wire, consider lawsuit

The city of Nogales may pursue a lawsuit against the federal government over the addition of extra layers of concertina wire along the border, as leaders unanimously approved a resolution condemning the "inhumane" wire and demanding it be taken down during a meeting Wednesday night. 

The resolution was proposed Monday after Army engineers added two to three loops of concertina or "razor" wire along the 18-foot high bollard walls that run both west and east from the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in downtown Nogales. From shops on Morley Avenue, the new loops of concertina wire were clearly visible. 

"I don’t know why we're being used as their concertina poster city," said Mayor Arturo Garino. "This is not right." 

After a short discussion on the wording of resolution, Garino and the other six Nogales city council members unanimously approved the resolution, which demands that federal officials remove all concertina wire from the border wall and fencing within city limits, and that no military force or the "use of military-type tactics designed to inflict indiscriminate harm" should be allowed in the city without an express declaration of war by Congress or a national emergency.

Garino told city attorney Luis Parra he should begin filing several Freedom of Information Act requests to see how many people have climbed over the wall in recent years, and after that, the city should consider a lawsuit. 

After the meeting, Parra said they would begin as soon as possible, beginning with the requests for information, and that he would review how, and even if, the city could file legal action against CBP. 

While the wall is within the city limits, and the new concertina wire violates city code on the use of the razor-tipped wire, the city may be stymied by a little-known easement called the Roosevelt Reservation. Created in 1907 to keep the area around the border "free from obstruction as a protection against the smuggling of goods between the United States and Mexico," the easment is a 60-foot strip of land that managed by federal officials. 

As CBP officials wrote in an emailed response to questions about the new wire: "These locations are outside the City of Nogales Charter and on United States Government property." 

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During the hearing, Garino told the audience that he walked out of a meeting between senior Border Patrol and city officials earlier that day, and was told that Customs and Border Protection asked the military to install the additional concertina wire.

"I was in shock," Garino told the audience. "I thought it was the military, but no, they asked for the wire because they were told to fortify the border of Nogales," he said. 

Border Patrol officials told Garino that they had installed signs warning people about the wire's danger, but Garino was not satisfied with that response, saying "Well, of course, they're going to put signs up; they want to cover themselves," Garino said.

"This is the attitude that Border Patrol had, and I don't appreciate that," he said. 

Garino said that in 2013, Border Patrol officials presented a similar plan to add concertina wire to the top of the fence, but this time, federal officials showed "no respect" and had the wire installed without meeting with city officials. 

Garino said that he was worried about children who play in the neighborhoods that are near the wire, and said, "I fear the day that one of our firemen or police officers have to get there, because someone fell into that wire and they need to extricate someone out of there — that is very dangerous," Garino said. 

Michael McKearney, the chief of the Nogales Fire Department, said that fire officials were already assessing the wire and how it was installed because "we have some concerns about the dangers to our patients and our first responders." 

McKearney said that the department said that it was working with CBP to conduct "joint training sessions," to "look at the tension [on the wire] and train on cutting it" when necessary. "This is all pretty new to us," he said. 

"We're looking at additional protective equipment, and of course tools for cutting the wire, and anything else we might need to help us," McKearney said. 

In part, the resolution came at an awkward time as city leaders were also approving a Justice Assistance Grant, and a grant for the use of Stonegarden money — both federal programs that give cities federal funds in part to help combat drug smuggling. 

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In an emailed response, CBP officials said that the new wire was added as "as subsequent request for additional support in high-risk urban areas commonly exploited by criminal smuggling organizations." 

"In these areas, referred to as concentrated areas, 4 to 6 additional strands of concertina wire are currently being installed," CBP officials said. "Currently there are no plans to remove the concertina wire," CBP officials wrote. 

In November, on Election Day, Army engineers installed two rows of concertina wire along the top of the bollard wall, as part of an overall "hardening" of the Nogales border crossing done as White House officials sounded the alarm that an exodus of migrants from Central America would attempt to rush U.S. ports. 

The caravan of people eventually landed in Tijuana after weeks of travel, and a new caravan that began a month later has arrived in Piedras Negras, just across the Rio Grande River from Eagle Pass, a small city in south Texas. 

Border Patrol apprehensions are increasingly driven by either family units, or parents traveling with children, or by unaccompanied minors traveling without parents or guardians. 

In October, more than half of all apprehensions along the U.S. border were either families or unaccompanied children, and that has only increased. In December, nearly 64 percent of apprehensions were one of those two groups, according to data from CBP. 

Similarly, roughly 49 percent of "inadmissibles" were families or children traveling alone from October to December, CBP said. 

'Beyond disgusting'

"It looks just like the Berlin wall, it's just terrible," said Karen Martin, 63, who stood in the shadow of the fence on International Street. Martin said she came along with her husband, Brooks, and friends to visit downtown Nogales. As Martin looked at the fence and sighed in the cold, two cats meandered beneath the fence and walked under the loops of concertina wire before slipping back into Mexico. 

"They didn’t ask us, did they?” said Sherri Dickson, who spoke to the council members before the vote. "They’re turning our town into a military base, it’s like the frontlines of some kind of war-zone." 

“Please take a stand, and have them get rid of the razor wire, it’s a public nuisance, and if someone gets tangled up in that they could be killed,” said Dickson. 

Victor Fontes said that he was urged to come to the meeting by "two very old aunts." 

"They’re very old, in their 90s, but they’re very astute, and they said that the razor wire on the vertical portion of the fence, 'it’s just asquerrosidad—it’s just beyond disgusting,' and they said ‘do something’ so I thought I would come over and maybe voice an opinion, or a suggestion." 

Fontes said that city buy ads in four major American newspapers with a photograph of a school bus driving along the new wall, with the caption, "Mr. Trump, please take down this wall." 

"We’re not going to get anywhere with the Border Patrol or Homeland Security, we’re going to be ignored—period—no matter what we do," Fontes said. "A lawsuit might be filed, and they’ll still ignore us, they’re autonomous and they could give a damn." 

"The additional wire is nothing more than a spectacle by the Trump administration to reinforce his twisted narrative of rampant lawlessness at the border," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva in a statement. "Border residents know that this mischaracterization couldn’t be further from the truth, and will not stand for the lies perpetrated by the Trump administration."

"This wire must be removed, and the Trump Administration must take responsibility for the humanitarian crisis its policies have created at the border," Grijalva said. 

Comment requests to Arizona's two new senators went unanswered. 

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"This is a voodoo crisis, it's something that is made up, contrived to get a point across," said city councilman Marcelino Varona. That concertina wire is no different that the 35 days of the shutdown, it's just to make a point at our expense." 

"It's ruining our economics, especially on Morley Avenue," Varona said. "People not from our community have to understand there's no property tax, we are solely dependent on sales tax. That Morley Avenue retail space, that's the livelihood of the city of Nogales, we have no other revenue. And all it's doing it hurting us." 

Varona said that the city faced a real crisis in the International Outfall Interceptor, a decades-old sewer line that carries effluent and other waste from Nogales, Sonora to a treatment facility north of Nogales. In recent years, the city has pushed to get the system repaired, but a significant cost of the $31.5 million project might fall on Nogales, which city officials say is unaffordable.

"We cannot afford to repair that, and that's what they want us to do," Varona said. "That's our crisis, here, and have we gotten any help?" 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The view through new layers of concertina wire added to the border wall in Nogales, Ariz. over the weekend.