Arizona has told the U.S. government the state was within its rights to construct a border barrier of shipping containers on federal land in the Yuma area and will not remove it, the governor’s office said Wednesday, rejecting federal officials’ claim of trespassing.
Moreover, the state plans to continue placing border barriers on federal land and is “looking at all areas where containers may be appropriate,” said Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman C.J. Karamargin.
The state’s response comes just as a Tucson-based conservation group, the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a court notice of its intent to sue over Arizona’s planned use of shipping containers along a different portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, in Cochise County.
The standoff started when the Republican governor signed an executive order in August to place shipping crates in Yuma near the border where large numbers of undocumented immigrants were entering the country. The 130 shipping containers are placed on federal land where the state has no jurisdiction to construct a barrier, costing taxpayers about $13 million.
The U.S. asked the state to remove the Yuma containers last week, saying it was an “unauthorized placement” on federal property and on Cocopah Indian Tribe land.
But the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs responded in an Oct. 18 letter that the U.S. Constitution provides for protection of the states and specifically reserves the right of states to defend themselves.
Arizona rejects the legal analysis for the federal government’s argument that the state needs to remove the crates, Karamargin said.
“The state of Arizona has no intention to remove the containers. … The governor takes his duty to protect Arizona very seriously, so the containers aren’t going anywhere,” he said.
The barrier in Yuma does not immediately stop migrants from entering the country in that region, figures show. The number of migrants the Border Patrol apprehended only increased in the three weeks that followed placement of the barriers.
Arizona says the federal government incorrectly claims the state is trespassing, and cites several legal statutes and the U.S. Constitution to back up its claim, in the letter addressed to Jacklynn Gould, regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
As well, U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the state Oct. 18 that it will close four gaps in the border barrier near the Morelos Dam in Yuma in the area where the state put the shipping crates.
Customs and Border Protection would fill about 1,700 feet — the state says it has filled 3,800 — using a combination of temporary mesh fencing and mechanized bollard vehicle gates that allow for access to the riverside of the barrier, starting in early 2023, says a letter from the agency.
“This is completely unacceptable,” Karamargin countered. “The federal government does not seem to be acting, either with a sense of urgency or in good faith. We have a temporary solution. What Arizona needs is a permanent solution. So the notion that we’re going to reopen gaps in the border barrier and leave them open for months while the federal government puts its plans together to fill them with an apparently less secure, temporary solution — not going to happen.”
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue to stop the state from putting up a border barrier in the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County where there is a jaguar and ocelot migration corridor.
“These shipping containers are a shameless publicity stunt that will jeopardize the survival of endangered wildlife,” said Robin Silver, a co-founder of the center. “There are 3,700 agents covering the Tucson Sector alone, not to mention helicopters, drones and hundreds of cameras. We’re in an extinction crisis, and it’s reckless to sacrifice a critical wildlife corridor and harm endangered animals so Ducey can score political points.”
The state has put shipping containers immediately to the west of the Huachuca Mountains and plans to put them on the border there, which would block wildlife corridors, says the center’s Oct. 19 notice.
Karamargin said he can’t comment on the notice from the center because state officials haven’t seen it.
The center’s 60-day notice of intent to sue the governor, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs and the Arizona Department of Homeland Security for Endangered Species Act violations says the area is a critical migration corridor for jaguars and ocelots, which are protected under the act.
“These useless barriers do nothing to stop people from crossing the border, but they’ll stop wildlife in their tracks,” Silver said. “Unless Ducey wants his legacy to be driving Arizona’s most iconic animals to extinction, he needs to end this ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”
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