The Biden administration is privately pushing Arizona leaders to take down its temporary wall along the Mexican border with the promise that the federal government will install a new temporary barrier sometime in 2023, according to a letter obtained by the Washington Examiner.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey ’s spokesman told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday evening that Washington’s latest proposal in the fight over securing the border in western Arizona is not something the state will even consider.
“The suggestion by any federal bureaucracy, that we take action to make the border easier to cross, is completely unacceptable. Gov. Ducey takes the responsibility to protect Arizona very seriously — that’s why we put up these containers,” said Ducey’s communications director, C.J. Karamargin, in a call Wednesday evening. “What they’re suggesting, that we take them down and make Arizona less safe, is a nonstarter.”
The outright refusal on Arizona’s part is the latest move in a game of chess between state and federal officials over border security, a matter that is the responsibility of the federal government.
President Joe Biden took office in January 2021 and immediately canceled all border wall construction nationwide. In the year and a half since, arrests of illegal immigrants have soared, including in Arizona’s border city of Yuma. Nationwide, more than 3.6 million people have been arrested for illegal entry — more than in all of former President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.
The Ducey administration had waited for the federal government to fill in the gaps between wall projects, but by mid-2022, Arizona took action to clog the gaps where nearly all illegal immigrants were crossing and surrendering in the region.
Over 11 days in August, construction crews installed stacks of shipping containers in the wall's gaps to block Mexican cartels from smuggling people and drugs into the country.
The Biden administration did not respond to the move for two months until late last week. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation on Oct. 13 ordered the containers be cleared out because they violated U.S. law and were not approved to be placed on federal land.
The state’s response on Tuesday chided Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Jacklynn Gould for her office’s lack of knowledge about its claims that the federal government was in the process of filling in the gaps. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) has also touted his pressuring the Biden administration to fill in the gaps as being a success, but the government has yet to award the contracts or begin construction.
“As its sister agency, and a partner on the southwest border, the fact that the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) does not 'know' whether a contract has been awarded to secure the southern border, let alone land under the control of your agency, is concerning,” Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Director of Emergency Management Allen Clark wrote in a letter shared with the Washington Examiner.
On Tuesday, a federal government official from the Border Patrol sent a generic letter to the state alerting officials of its intention to close four gaps in the border wall, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Examiner.
Shelly Barnes, the environmental planning lead within the Border Patrol’s program management office directorate, said the government would use “temporary mesh fencing and mechanized bollard vehicle gates” in place of the shipping containers and that it would start in early 2023.
“They want us to take down shipping containers and leave gaps open for who knows how long so they can put up what sounds like a chain link fence,” Karamargin said. “They’re asking to take down something so they can do something that we’ve already done. What Arizona needs is a permanent solution.”
Clark noted that the state was justified in its use of containers on federal land through an exemption in the law and that the containers would remain in place because he had seen no indication that the federal government intended to fill in the gaps.
"Since December 2021, numerous federal representatives have claimed that construction on the border would begin. However, to date, Arizona has not seen any action by the federal government to do so and was therefore required to take its own action," said Clark. "For this reason, the containers will remain in place until specific details regarding construction are provided."