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CBP seeks to maintain razor wire along border in Nogales

Despite calls for the removal of concertina wire since it was strung in Nogales and other areas by National Guard troops in 2018, officials are seeking a new contract to maintain and extend "tactical infrastructure" along the border.

The request for proposals comes just weeks after the Biden administration vowed to halt border barrier construction, and highlights how U.S. Customs and Border Protection is seeking to maintain Trump-era border defenses, especially infrastructure called divisive, or even "inhumane" by border residents.

In an RFP dated Feb. 12, CBP said it is seeking "contractor services" for "Tactical Infrastructure Maintenance and Repair," in the Tucson Sector, which covers the Arizona-Mexico border from Yuma County to the state's border with New Mexico. 

Among the services requested, a contractor would perform maintenance, repair and "improvement services" for fences and gates, including the concertina wire that was added to long stretches of the border by National Guard troops. 

The new contract will replace an expiring agreement and provide U.S. Border Patrol with "continued maintenance, repair and improvement services for Tactical Infrastructure (TI) assets in the Tucson Sector," said a CBP spokesman. "This includes roads and bridges; fence and gates (including concertina wire); vegetation control; debris removal; border lighting and electrical; drainage and grate systems; and tunnel remediation." 

"There is no requirement at this time to remove the concertina wire currently deployed in the Tucson Sector," he said.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said that even after more than two years, he's still struck by the wire along the border. "I see it every day as I drive in. I can't get used to it." 

Garino said that after its installation in November 2018, city leaders pushed to have the wire removed, citing concerns about safety and the wire's effect on Nogales' downtown, but that they never received a response from Department of Homeland Security officials. Even a resolution passed by city leaders demanding the removal of all concertina wire from the border wall and fencing within city limits fell on deaf ears.

"We're never going to get used to it, but we have to live with it," Garino said. 

In November 2018, on Election Day, U.S. Army engineers under the command of the 16th Military Police Brigade 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 reacted furiously to the possibility 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 second group landed in Piedras Negras, just across the Rio Grande River from Eagle Pass, a small city in south Texas. 

Even as Homeland Security officials said they were tracking the first group of about 3,500 people, the administration launched Operation Secure Line—a 7,000-strong deployment of National Guard troops—which included not just troops, but border defenses, intelligence analysts, and heavy aircraft adding "robust military capabilities" in Arizona's border towns. 

Weeks later, 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, prompting a furious response from city leaders who unanimously approved a resolution calling the wire "inhumane." 

Following the city council's vote, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva weighed in with a letter to officials with DHS and the Defense Department, calling the wire part of a "manufactured crisis." 

"Border communities remain some of the safest cities in the country, and the vast majority of those presenting themselves at our ports of entry are families seeking asylum after fleeing unimaginable violence in their home countries, the United States has legal obligations to asylum-seekers," he said. 

Along with Garino, the newly elected sheriff for Santa Cruz County, David Hathaway, also criticized the wire.

"The razor wire here in Nogales should be removed because it sends the wrong message about our community," Hathaway said. 

"Our crime rates are low and our relationship with Mexico is something special that we value and cherish. The razor wire is ugly and poses a safety hazard to our local residents," he said. "Instead of seeking bids to maintain the razor wire, U.S. Customs and Border Protection should solicit bids to remove it as soon as possible." 

In 2019 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." 

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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. 

Garino said Nogales Fire had extricated people from the wire a few times since the installation, but that effort was complicated, especially on a hill just to the east of downtown Nogales, which has a sharp rise. There National Guard troops used ladders and straps to climb the wall, and weld stakes to affix the razor wire on top of the 18-foot wall, which rises dozens of feet over parts of downtown Nogales.

Around 4,000 members of the National Guard remain on the border, and about 1,900 are detailed to drug interdiction operations. This despite President Joe Biden's announcement on Feb. 11 that he was ending the Emergency Declaration that built the Trump administration's case to pull billions from the defense budget for border barriers. Biden said the action was "unwarranted," in a letter to Congress. 

At the height of the deployment in about 5,815 troops were established along the border.

Dan Millis, Borderlands Program Manager at the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said he was "very concerned" about the wire, calling it "recklessly strewn" across the border.

"The razor wire is a relic of an outdated, outvoted and hateful agenda, and should be removed immediately, "Millis said. "The razor wire, especially the way it is sloppily layered up and down the wall, even on the ground in some areas, poses a danger to wildlife, pets and people. President Biden should instruct the nearly 4,000 troops already stationed along the Mexico-U.S. border to withdraw, and to take the razor wire with them."

Garino said that right after the wire was installed, it was a minor tourist attraction as people came down to be next to the razor wire, but that's faded away. 

"Really, no resident that was born and raised in Nogales can get used to it. It's an eyesore," Garino said. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The concertina or 'razor' wire installed in Nogales, Arizona in Feb. 2019.

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