Not Myles Traphagen needed a government presentation to tell him that construction of the border wall was getting under way again. On a recent visit to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and Coronado National Forest near the southern Arizona town of Sasabe, he saw everything he needed.
As the Frontiers Coordinator for the Wildlands Network, Traphagen had visited the area many times before. It was among the sites he examined in a comprehensive report published in July documenting the environmental impact of the border wall expansion under President Donald Trump — President Joe Biden suspended construction shortly after his inauguration.
“It feels like building the border wall with Trump.”
Traphagen discovered a new staging area and water tanks under construction. There were new signs on the wall that referred to an Arizona trespassing law. A security guard at the scene informed him that construction was resuming. A border guard later ordered him to leave the area.
“It feels like building the border wall with Trump,” Traphagen told The Intercept. “I hadn’t felt that at the border for a year and a half and now it’s like, oh shit, here we go again.”
Six days after Traphagen’s visit, US Customs and Border Protection confirmed that work on the border wall, begun under Trump, is picking up speed again under Biden. In an online presentation Wednesday, CBP — the Department of Homeland Security’s largest branch and home of the Border Patrol — detailed plans to address environmental damage caused by the former president’s signing campaign pledge and confirmed the wall will remain an integral part of Southwest for generations to come.
The resumption of operations will range from repairing gates and roads to filling gaps in the wall left after the pause in construction that Biden initiated in January 2021. The wall’s environmental damage was particularly acute in southern Arizona, where CBP used explosives to blow up large swaths of protected land — including sacred Native American burial sites and unique wildlife habitats — in the service of Trump’s most extensive border wall extensions.
Beginning next month, contractors will return to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert to resume work on the wall, senior CBP officials said in a public webinar. In the months since Biden’s hiatus began, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has approved several so-called redevelopment projects related to the border wall. The first plan that CBP submitted for public comment concerned the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol’s largest area of operations and the site of Trump’s most dramatic and controversial border wall construction.
early 2020, The press was invited to watch as Border Patrol and Department of Defense officials blew up portions of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument south of Tucson to make way for Trump’s wall. The exhibition followed months of protests when the administration tapped a rare desert aquifer that feeds Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis held sacred to the Hia-Ced O’odham people for thousands of years.
Two Hia-Ced O’odham women were later arrested, searched and held incommunicado after praying and protesting at the site. Earlier this year, one of the two women, Amber Ortega, was found not guilty of the charges after a federal judge ruled that prosecutors had violated their rights under the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act.
The controversial works, which included building federally designated wilderness, were approved under the Real ID Act. The law, created after the September 11 attacks, gives DHS the power to forgo any law, including basic laws protecting the environment and areas of cultural importance, in the name of national security to erect border barriers.
When CBP solicited public comment on its proposed plans earlier this year, the vast majority focused on Arizona, with most addressing the wall’s impact on wildlife migration and its exacerbation of flood hazards. “Many comments specifically noted the impact on the Mexican gray wolf, jaguar, Sonoran desert pronghorn, bighorn sheep, ocelot, javelina, mountain lion, bear and other wildlife,” CBP said in a summary report on the feedback from the Tucson sector. “Some commenters suggested removing barriers and leaving floodgates open to counter potential impacts.”
In plans drawn up last week, CBP said it would complete drainage and low-water crossings in southern Arizona and, in some cases, remodel boundary wall structures to allow water flow. Two contracts for work in the state have already been awarded, the agency said, adding that work in Arizona would involve filling in “small gaps” in the border wall that remained after Biden’s hiatus. CBP described similar operations along the border in other states.
When asked if CBP envisioned a day when the barriers could be removed, the agency said it didn’t.
“At this time,” said Shelly Barnes, director of environmental planning for the Border Patrol’s infrastructure portfolio, “there are no current plans to remove any portion of the barrier.”