By Bethany Blankley
The Department of Homeland Security has begun to close gaps in a border wall in Arizona after President Joe Biden pledged in January 2021 to not build “another foot.”
DHS says it plans to complete the Yuma Morelos Dam Project and close four wide gaps in the border wall near Yuma, Arizona, to “address operational impacts, as well as the immediate life and safety risks.”
The gaps are located in the former Yuma 6 project area, in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector. The project was previously funded by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) military construction appropriations and is now being funded through DHS’s FY21 appropriations.
“Due to the proximity to the Morelos Dam and the swift moving Colorado River, this area presents safety and life hazard risks for migrants attempting to cross into the United States where there is a risk of drownings and injuries from falls,” DHS said. “This area also poses a life and safety risk to first responders and agents responding to incidents in this area.”
Prior to construction, DHS will engage in standard environmental planning and “move as expeditiously as possible, while still maintaining environmental stewardship” once construction begins, it said.
The project was operational under the Trump administration but halted shortly after Biden came into office. On his first day in office, Biden issued 17 executive orders, including one pausing all border wall construction within a week. The order left billions of dollars worth of work unfinished. Because the government was still under contract, not completing construction initially cost taxpayers $6 million a day. After construction crews were let go, the cost dropped to $3 million a day.
The president also returned $2.2 billion in border wall funds to the Department of Defense, which was reallocated to fund 66 projects in 16 countries, three U.S. territories, and 11 states. According to a DOD memo, the majority of the funds, $1.26 billion, was allocated to secure the borders of other countries like Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and others.
The Yuma Sector encompasses the southeast corner of Arizona, including 181,670 square miles of primarily desert terrain, and 126 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border from the Imperial Sand Dunes in California to the Yuma-Pima County line.
It’s traditionally been the third-busiest sector behind two sectors in Texas. In June, more than 23,700 people were apprehended entering the U.S. illegally. Another 2,000 were recorded as gotaways – those who intentionally evade law enforcement after entering illegally without making immigration claims. From January to June 2022, 160,482 people were apprehended in the sector, nearly four times more than the number apprehended from January-June 2021, according to CBP data.
The majority of the illegal foot traffic in the sector comes through the Morelos Dam. Since Biden’s been in office, hundreds of thousands of people from over 150 countries have flown to Mexicali, Mexico, then take a bus or taxi ride to Algodones, Mexico. They then walk across a concrete ledge on the dam to illegally enter the U.S.
Under new Biden administration policies, once they surrender to Border Patrol agents and are processed, many are released into Arizona instead of being deported or returned to Mexico to begin their immigration claim process.
When asked about the fact that walls work as a deterrent at a news briefing on Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jeane-Pierre said, “We are not finishing a wall. We are cleaning up the mess that the prior administration made. We are trying to save lives. This is what the prior administration left behind that we are now cleaning up.”
After overcoming legal challenges, the Trump administration built more than 450 miles of border wall in a short period of time. The Morelos Dam project had yet to be completed.
On July 1, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a $564 million border security bill into law allocating $335 million in state sales tax revenue to build and maintain a wall along the Arizona-Mexico border. When signing it, he said Biden’s policies created “the worst border crisis in over 20 years” and Arizona was “standing up for the rule of law.”