Rush to expand the border wall, which many are afraid of

DOUGLAS, Ariz. “Four years ago, with the promise of President Trump, he took office to build a tower wall on the U.S.-Mexican border — a symbol of his desire to stop immigration from the South and build a barrier that will survive for a long time.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he hopes to stop construction of the border wall, but the outgoing administration is trying to complete as many walls as possible in the final weeks of power, boosting one of the most forbidden terrain on the border.

The continued pace of construction, however, ensures that the wall, whatever Mr Biden does, will remain here for the foreseeable future, creating a controversial legacy for Mr Trump in places that were crucial to his defeat.

In southeastern Arizona, political divisions persist over the construction project of the president’s signature animal keeper against a farmer and a neighbor in a state that a Democratic presidential candidate has wore tight for the first time in decades.

The region emerges as one of the Trump administration’s most recent wall-building centers as blasting personnel feverishly tear through the distant Peloncillo Mountains, where ocelots and big-horned sheep roam the cotton and sycamore forests.

“Wildlife corridors, archeology, and history will all be forgotten or already destroyed,” said Bill McDonald, a fifth-generation feline and former lifelong Republican who voted for Mr. Biden. “Tragedy is the word I describe.”

Even those like Mr. McDonald who are disgusted with the wall, I look forward to the possibility that it could last for decades, basing their assessments on the signals from Mr. Biden’s transition team.

While the president-elect has said he will stop new wall construction, other immigration priorities, such as lifting travel bans, admitting new refugees and easing asylum restrictions, are overshadowing calls to tear down existing wall sections.

Advisers in the ad hoc working group, who spoke of anonymity to discuss planning for the incoming administration, rejected the idea of ​​trying to tear down the existing border wall, one of the advisers called the wall a “distraction”.

Customs and border officials continue to work to fulfill Trump’s mandate to build 450 miles of new wall construction during his tenure, nearly doubling the pace of construction earlier this year. On November 13, the administration built a 402-mile wall.

Of that, about 25 miles had no obstacles before Trump took office. The others replaced much smaller sections with ruined walls, or only vehicle barriers, which border officials said did not deter migrants crossing on foot.

The most expensive and invasive structures will unfold this month in Guadalupe Canyon, an oasis-like habitat for rare bird species such as the buffalo-collared nocturnal and tropical birds.

Until the bombers appeared this year, the canyon was so distant — about 30 miles from Douglas, the nearest town, mostly on a dirt road — that illegal crossing of migrants was extremely rare, according to nearby farm livestock farmers.

Parts of the canyon are reminiscent of an open-air mining operation. Workers blow up the side of the cliff daily to build the wall and the roads leading to it in one of the most expensive parts of the border and construction.

Jay Field, a spokesman for the Army Engineering Board, cited the canyon’s “4.7 miles of challenging, rugged and steep terrain” in a statement, explaining that the cost per mile for this segment is about $ 41 million, roughly double the estimated boundary wall per mile. contained in the CBP 2020 Status Report.

“It’s not just heartbreaking, it’s completely pointless,” said Diana Hadley, a historian whose family farm belongs to much of Guadalupe Canyon. According to him, natural barriers have long been a deterrent to intersections in remote areas.

Such critical views of the wall are by no means unanimous on this part of the border. One of the prominent supporters of the wall is Douglas Republican Mayor Donald Huish, whose family migrated from Mexico to the United States after the Mexican Revolution.

“Once the government has done something this big, it is very difficult for them to take them back,” Mr Huish said, adding that he thought the wall had made the city safer by forcing migrants to cross the border in the desert, relatively far from Douglas.

“We reached the saturation point that we came across illegal aliens in our back alley, and that situation has now changed,” Huish said, citing the impact of the ongoing wall construction and parts of the wall that were built in front of Mr. Trump took office.

Another outspoken wall supporter is 83-year-old Belva Klump, whose family has been farming on the Arizona border for generations.

“All I can say about the wall is that I want to see more of it,” Ms. Klump said. Asked in more detail what she meant, Ms Klump referred to people who cross the Mexican border without permission with slander.

“The wall is good for that,” she said.

One of his grandchildren, Timmothy Klump, 31, put it differently.

“The wall is common sense that improves our safety and prevents my cows from getting lost in Mexico,” Mr. Klump said. – Farmers facing the wall are in the minority.

For the remainder of their term, Trump government officials will help the wall while criticizing Mr. Biden’s immigration proposals.

Mark Morgan, Acting Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, said the wall would allow the agency to migrate to certain areas and strategically place agents in places where they may cause concern.

Morgan said Mr Biden’s plan to stop building the border wall would have a “dramatic negative impact”.

“It’s nothing but politics,” Mr. Morgan said of the debate around the wall. “It’s really unfortunate and actually very disgusting that it negatively affects the ability of the American people to protect because of politics.”

The border agency has so far focused construction on areas owned by the federal government, much of it in areas that are already hindering migration, such as in some parts of the Arizona border sections where workers are blasting. The government has accelerated the repeal of dozens of laws in some of these sites, including measures to protect Native American burial sites and endangered species.

Rodney Scott, chief of the Border Guard, said last month that the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, an area with historically high levels of illegal crossings, is a priority for the agency. But construction there was slow because the planned path of the wall was on privately owned land.

While a few miles of border walls were built in South Texas, it had a huge impact on landowners there. The administration has filed more than 117 lawsuits against landowners this year to survey, seize, or potentially begin construction of the property, which is higher than the 27 lawsuits filed in 2019 under the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Richard Drawe, a 70-year-old landowner near Progreso, Texas, voluntarily signed his land to the administration to avoid a lawsuit with the government and acknowledged that the administration could eventually use its prominent provincial authority to take the land.

A year ago, the wall was just a menacing presence in the distance. The steel bollards now stretch past his home, cutting him and his wife away from the sunset and the rosary spoon knots they loved to watch.

“I used to live outdoors, there are no fences, I do what I want,” Mr. Drawe said. “I don’t want to see a damn wall when I step out the door.”

But while Mr. Mr. Drawe, who voted for Trump earlier this month, doesn’t want a border wall on his property, he agrees that it will help border guard agents slow down illegal migration.

Brian Hastings, head of customs and border protection in the Rio Grande Valley sector, said the wall gave the agency more flexibility to strategically locate agents in areas where there are no barriers or surveillance technology.

“We will see the benefits greatly if this wall system is undoubtedly created,” Mr Hastings said in an interview. “It allows us to respond faster.”

Still, with the increase in construction, some say it is too early to accept the premise that the wall will remain here.

Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Coalition of Southern Border Communities, said the next administration could not only stop construction, but begin to demolish certain sections, especially those that are detrimental to indigenous traditions or endangered species.

“Look at how devastating the era of the ban was and how the country moved on,” said Ms. Gaubeca, whose group was part of a coalition that won the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision this year that the Trump administration had no authority 2.5 to transfer dollars. billion dollars for Pentagon wall construction, taking the case to the Supreme Court.

“New leaders,” Ms. Gaubeca said, “can turn away from bad ideas.”

But even if Mr. Biden wants to do so, he may face logistical and financial challenges, including paying termination fees to terminate certain contracts. In November 2019, a single contract to replace 33 miles of fencing in Arizona is currently kicking in at about $ 420 million, which could cost nearly $ 15 million in government termination, according to ProPublica, which first reported fees to change contract agreements.

If the project is halted, border authorities will likely have to carry out further work on the river where the wall was designed to be built to ensure flood resistance and which has been approved by the International Commission on Border and Water Protection. The wall was part of a flood protection plan previously approved by the Commission and parts of the dam have already been modified to prepare for the construction of the border wall.

While others seem to put up with living in the shadow of the wall, Karen Hasselbach, who lives in Arizona, near the San Pedro River, on another border, sees things differently.

He said staff had destroyed the solitude he was looking for when he moved from Maine to the border 23 years ago. Ms. Hasselbach can now look at the wall from her yard.

Ms. Hasselbach said she began to liken the border wall she despised to the work of Christo, a conceptual artist of Bulgarian descent, known for his epic-scale environmental projects.

“I try to consider it a temporary art installation,” said Ms. Hasselbach, 69, who runs a thrift store in Palominas. – I hope it breaks down.

Simon Romero reported Douglas, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs From Washington.