Arizona began placing shipping containers Friday to close a gap of about 1,000 feet (300 meters) in the border wall near the southern farming community of Yuma, and officials said they were doing so to stop migrants after the repeated and unfulfilled promises of the government of President Joe Biden to seal off the area.
The installation of the containers takes place without an explicit permit on federal land, and state contractors began putting the 18.3 x 2.7-meter (60 x 9-foot) containers in place and stacking them since morning.
They plan to complete the job in a matter of days, and the containers will be topped with 4 feet (1.2 meters) of barbed wire, said Katie Ratlief, deputy chief of staff for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
The state plans to close three gaps in the border wall built under former President Donald Trump that total about 3,000 feet (914 meters).
“The federal government has committed to doing it, but we can’t wait for them to act,” Ratlief said.
John Mennell, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman, said the agency had just learned of the Arizona action and “is not prepared to comment at this time.”
The decision to close the loopholes was made after it was announced that the “Remain in Mexico” program would end this week, said Ducey’s lead attorney, Annie Foster.
That program requires asylum seekers to return to Mexico and wait for their court date, though thousands of migrants who do manage to enter the United States are not returned.
In recent months, Arizona has sent asylum seekers from Yuma to Washington as the number of migrants arriving outstrips local resources.
Ducey launched the program in May and says everyone who travels to the capital goes voluntarily, with final destinations in cities on the US East Coast.
Texas is also busing migrants east, and last month the mayors of New York and Washington requested federal help to deal with the arrival of such migrants, a request welcomed by Republicans, who say it is evidence of that the United States faces an immigration crisis.
As of Aug. 11, the state of Arizona had sent 1,425 asylum seekers to Washington, according to the governor’s office.
For the border wall project, Ducey will use $6 million of the $335 million the legislature authorized in June to build virtual or physical fences along the border with Mexico.
Ducey, who co-chairs the Republican Governors Association, and other members of his party have used border security as a powerful political element in an election year.
“Arizona will not sit idly by while the Biden administration fails to do its job and protect our state and nation from the clear and present danger of an insecure border,” Ducey said in a budget signing letter.
The federal government announced late last month that it had authorized the completion of the Trump-funded wall along the border with Mexico near Yuma.
The area has become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings, so they planned to close four large holes. Arizona officials said they did not know the reason for the discrepancy between the three gaps they identified and the federal government’s plans.
During his campaign, Biden pledged to end any future construction of the wall, but the administration later agreed to some barriers, citing security reasons.
The Department of Homeland Security planned work to close four wide gaps in the wall near Yuma to protect migrants, who could slip down a slope or drown while walking down a lower Colorado River.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in July authorized the completion of the project near the Morelos dam, a move that officials say reflects the administration’s “priority to deploy modern and effective border measures, and also to improve security.” security along the southwest border.
Arizona points to the increase in the number of migrants arriving in the state and the accompanying drug smuggling as one of the main reasons for its decision.
Border agents made more than 160,000 migrant apprehensions between January and June in the Yuma sector, a figure almost four times higher than the same period last year. The only two most active Border Patrol sectors were Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley in south Texas.
Despite the federal promise to close the loopholes, Arizona officials said no action had been taken to actually close them. The federal government reportedly put the project out to bid this week, but that could take weeks or months.
Foster said the governor decided to take action even if the federal government later objects.
“Right now, we’re closing that gap and we’ll see the consequences as we go forward,” Foster said at a news conference. “But the bottom line is that the federal government has a duty to protect the states: that’s part of the contract, it’s part of the Constitution. They have not done it”.