Trump's border wall construction back on track under Joe Biden
The Mexico-US barrier that started during the presidency of Donald Trump was temporarily halted by Biden in January 2021, only to be quietly resumed in the last few weeks.
Myles Traphagen, the borderlands coordinator for the Wildlands Network, reported to The Intercept that he had witnessed the resumption of "Trump's wall" construction on a recent visit to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the Coronado National Forest, near the town of Sasabe in southern Arizona.
Part of his frequent visits to the area, the site was among many cited in an extensive report published in July that documents the environmental damages caused by the construction of the border wall expansion under President Donald Trump.
On one of his most recent visits, he saw a new area and water-holding tanks under construction. Fixed to the wall were new signs citing an Arizona trespassing law. A security guard at the scene told him construction was resuming. Later, a Border Patrol agent ordered him to leave the area.
“It’s feeling like it felt during border wall construction with Trump,” Traphagen told The Intercept. “I hadn’t felt that on the border in a year and a half, and now it’s like, oh, shit, here we go again.”
Six days after his visit, US Customs and Border Protection confirmed that work on the border wall that began under Trump is being resumed under Biden.
In an online presentation last Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detailed plans to address environmental damage brought on by the former President’s signature campaign promise and confirmed that the wall will remain a permanent fixture of the Southwest for generations to come.
The operations include repairing gates and roads to filling gaps in the wall that were left following the pause in construction.
The environmental damages have been particularly severe in southern Arizona, where CBP used explosives to blast through large swaths of protected land — including sacred Native American burial grounds and wildlife habitats.
According to CBP officials, contractors are scheduled to return to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona in the month of October to resume construction on the wall.
When the pause began in January 2021, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas approved several so-called remediation projects related to the border wall.
The first plan that CBP presented for public comment was in the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol’s largest area of operations and the site of Trump’s most dramatic and controversial border wall construction.
In early 2020, the press watched as Border Patrol and the Department of Defense blew apart chunks of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, south of Tucson, to make space for the Trump wall.
Months of protests ensued after the display as the administration tapped into a rare desert aquifer that feeds Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis that the Hia-Ced O’odham people have held sacred for thousands of years.
Two Hia-Ced O’odham women were later arrested, strip-searched, and held incommunicado after praying and protesting at the construction site.
Earlier this year, one of the two women, Amber Ortega, was found not guilty of the charges after a federal judge ruled that the prosecution violated her rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The controversial work, which included construction on federally designated wilderness, was permitted under the Real ID Act.
Created in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the act grants DHS the authority to waive any law, including bedrock statutes meant to safeguard the environment and areas of cultural significance, to build border barriers under the pretext of maintaining national security.
When CBP collected public comments on its proposed plans earlier this year, the vast majority were focused on Arizona, with most addressing the wall’s impact on wildlife migration and its exacerbation of flooding dangers.
“Many comments specifically noted impacts to the Mexican gray wolf, jaguar, Sonoran Desert pronghorn, bighorn sheep, ocelot, javelina, mountain lion, bear, and other wildlife,” CBP noted in a summary report on its Tucson Sector feedback.
“Some commenters suggested removing barriers and leaving flood gates open to address potential impacts.”
In the plans laid out last week, CBP said it would finish drainages and low-water crossings in southern Arizona and in some cases re-engineer border wall designs to allow for water flow.
Two contracts have already been awarded for work in the state, the agency said, adding that the work in Arizona would include filling “small gaps” in the border wall that remained following Biden’s pause. CBP described similar operations along the border in other states.
When asked if CBP envisioned a day when the barriers might be removed, the agency said it did not.
“At this point in time,” said Shelly Barnes, the environmental planning lead for the Border Patrol’s infrastructure portfolio, “there are no current plans to remove sections of the barrier.”