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Arizona stacking cargo containers to block border in Yuma, Ducey says
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Arizona stacking cargo containers to block border in Yuma, Ducey says

CBP officials blindsided by state move to block asylum-seekers

  • Cargo containers were added to the U.S.-Mexico border Friday to block asylum seekers from entering the U.S. miles from the Morelos Dam near Yuma, Ariz.
    Arizona Governor's OfficeCargo containers were added to the U.S.-Mexico border Friday to block asylum seekers from entering the U.S. miles from the Morelos Dam near Yuma, Ariz.

Arizona began setting up its own border barrier Friday, filling gaps in the wall near Yuma with shipping containers topped with "razor wire," Gov. Doug Ducey announced.

The Republican governor said he issued an executive order directing the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs to "immediately fill the gaps" in the Yuma border wall,  "fortifying" it with 60 cargo containers stacked two high, creating a 22-feet high barrier "reinforced" with concertina wire at the top. 

Workers began placing containers near the thousand-foot gap in the border wall on Friday morning, and officials said the project will be completed by the weekend. Ducey's office included two photos in a press release, showing construction vehicles maneuvering cargo containers into position near an irrigation canal in the area.

Ducey's office said the effort will cost about $6 million, and is part of the $335 million authorized by the Arizona Border Security Fund passed by the state Legislature and signed into law earlier this year.

The effort will create a significant barrier for the hundreds of asylum-seekers who have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border near the Morelos Dam — including hundreds of families traveling with children, who have used the gaps to enter Arizona to request protection under U.S. law.

Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection were blindsided by the announcement.

"CBP has just received this information and is not prepared to comment at this time," said John Mennell, a CBP spokesman.

The container wall will plug gaps near the Morelos Dam, including one section north of the dam along the Colorado River near Yuma Levee Road and West 8th Street, while another section will fill a gap about 10 miles south of the dam near Main Street and Sality Canal Road near Gadsden, Ariz.

CBP has deployed cargo containers as barriers in the past, including using the metal boxes to buttress the defense of border crossings. For example, in Nogales, Ariz., CBP used containers to block vehicle lanes to keep people from attempting to run through the border crossing point into the U.S.

The containers are about 40 feet long, creating a linear barrier of about 1,200 feet. Ducey's office said the containers are "state-owned" and weigh about 8,000 lbs. each. The containers will be linked together and welded shut, the governor's office said. Ashbritt, a contractor for Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs is building the barriers, and the team includes 25 people, including heavy equipment operators, operation supervisors and a safety manager.

"Arizona has had enough," Ducey said. "We can’t wait any longer. The Biden administration’s lack of urgency on border security is a dereliction of duty. For the last two years, Arizona has made every attempt to work with Washington to address the crisis on our border. 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 announcement comes just weeks after the Biden administration said it would close four gaps in the border wall left by the construction during the Trump administration.

On July 29, officials with the Department of Homeland Security said they would close the gaps by the Morelos Dam, which straddles the Colorado River and feeds the Canal Alimentador Central. In recent months, the gaps have made the Yuma Sector one of the busiest corridor in Arizona, where people cross the U.S.-Mexico border and immediately turn themselves over to Border Patrol agents to request asylum under U.S. law.

The federal work near Yuma will protect migrants attempting to cross into the U.S., who can slip or drown walking through the Colorado River, DHS officials argued.

"Due to the proximity to the Morelos Dam and the swift-moving Colorado River, this area presents safety and life hazard risks for migrants attempting to cross into the United States where there is a risk of drownings and injuries from falls," said DHS. "This area also poses a life and safety risk to first responders and agents responding to incidents in this area."

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he authorized completion of the project near the dam to reflect the administration’s “priority to deploy modern, effective border measures and also improving safety and security along the Southwest border."

Ducey said his action came after the Biden administration lifted the Remain in Mexico policy. On Monday, DHS officials said they would wind down the program after the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit launched by Texas and Missouri—and joined by Arizona—that attempted to keep the program in place.

Remain in Mexico required people requesting asylum to stay south of the border while their applications for protection wind through the U.S. immigration system. DHS officials have said the program suffers from "endemic flaws."

Created in December 2018 as one of a series of policies designed to keep people from coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum under U.S. law, Remain in Mexico — more formally known by the euphemistic title "Migrant Protection Protocols" — was criticized by immigration advocates who argued the program subjects families and individuals to "squalid conditions" where they are under threat of rape, kidnapping, extortion and even murder.

As the American Immigration Council argued, the program also failed its legal requirements.

"Migrants often didn't "receive notice of their hearings, had little to no access to a lawyer in the United States, and were forced to travel through dangerous parts of Mexico in order to show up to the border to be transferred to courts for their hearings," the AIC said.

Ducey called the Biden administration's decision to end Remain in Mexico "the latest in a series of misguided decisions related to border security by the federal government."

"The White House continues to demonstrate failed border policies, all but encouraging transnational criminal organizations to import illegal drugs across an unrestricted southern border in Arizona," Ducey said.

Data from CBP continues to show that drugs largely come through the nation's ports, smuggled in semi-tractor trailers and personal automobiles, or strapped to people's bodies as they walk across. Last week, officials found 237 pounds of methamphetamine stashed in a railroad car in Nogales.

So far this year, Border Patrol agents have intercepted around 71,000 pounds of drugs nationwide, while officials at the nation's ports seized more than 432,000 pounds of drugs in the first nine months of the fiscal year, according to agency statistics.

Yuma officials weigh in

Yuma County Supervisor Jonathan Lines said 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." 

In June, CBP officials encountered more than 22,000 people in the Yuma Sector, which straddles the Arizona-California border. While those encountered along the border have historically hailed from Mexico, or three Central American countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras—in the Yuma Sector nearly 19,000 people were from other countries.

Around 13,700 people were single adults, and around 8,000 people were families traveling with children. Around 564 children traveling without parents or guardians also entered the Yuma Sector in June.

From Oct. 1, 2020 to June 2022, officials in the Yuma Sector encountered people 235,230 times, nearly tripling the number of encounters from the same period a year earlier. Ducey called this "an ominous acceleration for the sector."

Encounter numbers have been driven up by the implementation of Title 42 —a CDC order that allows CBP to rapidly remove people if they've traveled through a country with a high number of COVID-19 cases. In mid-July, CBP officials said they encountered people 207,416 times in June, however that represents about 153,000 unique individuals.

"The large number of expulsions during the pandemic has contributed to a higher-than-usual number of migrants making multiple border crossing attempts, which means that total encounters somewhat overstate the number of unique individuals arriving at the border," said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

Most people in Yuma were immediately processed under Title 8—either because they are seeking asylum in the U.S., or they face some form of prosecution under U.S. law including illegal entry or illegal reentry. Unlike most of the rest of the border, only a few people were immediately expelled under Title 42

"CBP continues to enforce U.S. immigration law and apply consequences to those without a legal basis to remain in the U.S.," Magnus said. "Current restrictions at the U.S. border have not changed; single adults and families encountered at the southwest border will continue to be expelled, where appropriate, under CDC’s Title 42 Order.  Those who are not expelled will be processed under the long-standing Title 8 authority and placed into removal proceedings."

"Under Title 8, those who attempt to enter the United States without authorization, and who are unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States (such as a valid asylum claim), will be quickly removed," Magnus warned. "Individuals who have been removed under Title 8 are also subject to additional long-term consequences beyond removal from the United States, including bars to future immigration benefits. " 

If people request asylum, they are released from CBP custody and must go through the U.S. immigration system. However, because of the large number of people who cannot be expelled to Mexico under Title 42 coming through Yuma, shelters in the area have been over capacity for months, with capacity ranging from approximately 115 to 160 percent, the governor's office said.

 "The Yuma community does not have the infrastructure to handle thousands of people crossing the border in need of food, shelter and medical services,” said Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls. "The surge of migrants the federal government has allowed to trek over the border has the grave potential to greatly impact and strain our community. Washington must send a clear message that this is not the way to immigrate to our country."

"Our border communities are being used as the entryway to the United States, overwhelming law enforcement, hospitals, nonprofits and residents," Ducey said. "It’s our responsibility to protect our citizens and law enforcement from this unprecedented crisis. With the resources and manpower in the right places, our Border Patrol and law enforcement will be better equipped to do their jobs well and prevent cartels from exploiting our communities. That’s exactly what our barrier mission will do."

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