Construction workers have started taking down old corrugated steel border fencing near Yuma, Arizona, to make way for a 30-foot steel bollard fence, on the same day that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waived a variety of environmental, natural resource, and land management laws to allow for the construction.
The work is part of a $324 million contract to Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Montana, to replace 32 miles of border fencing in Arizona, The Arizona Republic reported.
Border Patrol’s Yuma sector covers 126 miles of border between the Yuma-Pima County line in Arizona and the Imperial Sand Dunes in California. It has seen the number of people caught after crossing the border illegally more than doubling in the first half of fiscal 2019, compared with the same period a year earlier.
Along the border, the Trump administration already has built or replaced 82 miles of fencing, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, said April 5.
Another 97 miles will be completed by the end of 2019 and another 277 miles roughly by the end of 2020, he said.
With a total of over 450 miles of new steel bollard fence, Trump will be close to his target of 500-550 miles of border wall.
Trump secured $1.6 billion for the wall project in the 2018 budget and another nearly $1.4 billion in the 2019 one. Earlier this year, he also redirected $3.1 billion from other departments toward the wall construction and declared the border situation a national emergency, which allowed him to redirect another $3.6 billion toward the wall.
Some of the effectiveness of the wall has been seen already.
In 2018, more than two miles of old fence in the Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector in California was replaced with the 30-foot bollard wall. Illegal entries then dropped by 75 percent in that area in the first quarter of fiscal 2019. In addition, incidents where border security agents needed to use force fell by 65 percent, said Gloria Chavez, Border Patrol chief for the sector, on April 5.
The DHS announced on April 26 it issued a waiver to “ensure expeditious construction” of about 7 miles of the wall in the Yuma sector as well as another waiver for some 46 miles of the wall in the El Paso sector. The waivers also cover road construction and improvement and lighting installation.
The agency has the authority to “waive all legal requirements … necessary to ensure the expeditious construction” of certain border barriers and related infrastructure under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
“While the waivers eliminate DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, DHS remains committed to environmental stewardship,” the agency stated. “DHS has been coordinating and consulting, and intends to continue doing so, with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure that impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the greatest extent possible.”
Border Patrol in the El Paso sector has seen the steepest increase in illegal alien apprehensions—more than 540 percent in the first half of fiscal 2019, compared with the same period a year earlier.
Trump said on April 10 that the migrants are drawn to the United States because of the improving economy and loopholes in the immigration system. About two-thirds of the migrants are families and unaccompanied children. Most of the migrants surrender to authorities and claim asylum, using loopholes in the immigration system that make it likely that they would be released to the U.S. interior.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.