DHS will begin fixing border wall problems in Arizona

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Tuesday, December 21, 2021 - 9:09am

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Border wall
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
The border wall was completed around the port of entry in Sasabe, replacing an 18-foot-high model erected under former President Barack Obama in 2008.

The Department of Homeland Security says it is moving forward with border wall construction remediation plans announced earlier this year. 

In a release Monday, DHS says this work will address "life, safety, environmental and remediation requirements" in border sections where wall construction was previously undertaken by the Trump administration's Department of Defense, the majority of which is says are in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. 

Myles Traphagen with the nonprofit group Wildlands Network has spent the last year documenting the wall's impact on the borderlands environment. In Arizona,  he says  much of that construction took place in open wilderness that saw little human traffic. 

"A lot of these properties were established and protected by the U.S. government because they have a very high value to wildlife and conservation," he said. "And the fact that we walled off 100s of miles of these areas, it’s really a crime against nature."

DHS says the new construction will close small gaps in the wall, finish drainage systems and complete access roads and other infrastructure in border wall sections including in places along the Tucson and Yuma sectors. It said the agency would carry out the work with local stakeholders including tribal and state entities. 

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said he wanted construction to include closing a gap in the barrier at the Morelos Dam in Yuma, where thousands of asylum seekers have presented themselves to Border Patrol agents in the last month. He also said he wanted to mitigation efforts to address environmental damage and flood risks at Guadalupe Canyon, a famed nature preserve in Cochise County where border wall contractors used dynamite to cut through steep mountainous terrain. 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva said the Biden administration should use existing funds to remove border barriers that have damaged the environment, pursue humane border policies and engage with local stakeholders. 

The Trump administration built just over 450 miles of wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. Traphagen says truly addressing damage caused by the project requires less, not more, infrastructure at the border. But while his group and others have made numerous mitigation recommendations since the Biden administration first halted border wall construction at the beginning of the year, DHS has not reached out for more discussion.

"At this point, DHS has not listened to any groups on the ground," he said. "Especially in the context of recurring drought and heat events ... wildlife  needs more space, not less, to thrive, and so, in a time when they need as much as possible, we're diminishing their options."