Arizona stacks shipping containers across the border


Gaps in fences along the US-Mexico border can be a dramatic and sometimes shocking sight.

Thousands of steel bollards end at once, providing much smaller barriers designed to prevent open spaces or vehicles from crossing, but not people.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey says he’s tired of waiting for federal authorities to fill potholes.

Crews sent under his command began stacking shipping containers along parts of the border in August. Now the Bureau of Claims is asking the state to remove them — a request Ducey’s office calls “unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, Arizona begins placing shipping containers on another part of the border.

Here’s what we know about what’s going on, and a look at the big picture.

Ducey, a Republican, issued an executive order in August telling the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs to use shipping containers to fill gaps at the border. The first project: closing a 1,000-meter span near Yuma, Arizona.

“Arizona has been enough,” he said then. “We can’t wait any longer.”

The 8,800-pound, 9-by-40-foot containers are about 22 feet tall when stacked, welded together and topped with four feet of razor wire, the governor’s office said, adding that the border fence built during the Trump administration is about 30 feet tall. .

Shortly after starting the project, two shipping containers have crashed. A Univision reporter who shared photos of the fallen containers said the contractor in the area he told her that the strong winds were to blame. Ducey’s office said they suspected foul play. Since then, no similar incidents have been reported, spokesman CJ Karamargin said.

In late August, 11 days after the first shipping container project began, officials announced that 130 stacked shipping containers were filling four gaps and more than two-thirds full at the Yuma County border in Arizona.

That effort, Karamargin said, cost $13 million.

Building a bigger border wall was one of former President Trump’s signature priorities, and among the initiatives most criticized by opponents. President Biden quickly halted construction of the border wall when he took office.

But the Department of Homeland Security plans to close small gaps in the wall, he said. And in July, the Biden administration announced a plan to fill some gaps in the border wall near Yuma.

This May photo shows a gap in the border wall in Yuma, Arizona.  This gap is one of four the state's governor filled with shipping containers in August.  US Customs and Border Protection has said it plans to fill the gaps with its own project starting next year.

The Claims Bureau mentioned those plans in a letter to Arizona officials earlier this month. The letter, obtained by CNN affiliate KYMA, calls on the state to remove most shipping containers to fill gaps in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s plans.

The letter states that 80 containers were placed on Bureau of Reclamation land near Morelos Dam and 42 were placed at the Bureau of Reclamation on the Western Reservation of the Cocopah Indian Tribe.

“The unauthorized placement of these vessels is a violation of federal law and an attack on the United States,” said the letter from Jacklynn L. Gould, regional director of the Bureau of Claims.

Gould urged Arizona officials to remove the vessels and “work with Reclamation, in consultation with the Cocopah Indian Tribe, to move forward with CBP’s project without unnecessary delay.”

The Claims Office did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on the letter.

So far Arizona is not backing down on the effort.

The state’s emergency management director sent a scathing response to the Bureau of Claims, disputing Arizona’s allegations of trespassing on federal land and saying the shipping container would remain in place “until concrete details of construction are provided.”

“Since December 2021, numerous federal representatives have claimed that construction would begin on the border,” wrote Allen Clark. “However, to date, Arizona has not seen any action by the federal government to do so and therefore had to take its own measures.”

Karamargin told CNN that state officials had received a letter from CBP describing plans to use net fences to fill the gaps, which he described as “absolutely unacceptable.”

“From Governor Ducey’s point of view, the idea that we would remove a temporary measure so that we could replace it with a less effective temporary measure,” Karamargin said.

On May 22, US Border Patrol agents arrest migrants in Yuma, Arizona.

A description of the project on CBP’s website says construction will begin in early 2023, with the intention of filling the gaps “using a combination of mechanized barrier vehicle gates that allow access to the riverbank of the fence and the fence.”

The fact that CBP construction won’t begin until next year and the timing of the Bureau of Claims letter, he says, show how seriously federal officials take the border situation.

“In 11 days we managed to fill the gap of 3,800 meters in Yuma. … It took these guys six weeks to write a letter,” he said. “They don’t seem to have any urgency about this.”

Ultimately, he said, Arizona wants a permanent solution to fill the gaps: a 30-foot-tall steel border fence extension. And until that happens, he said the state will continue its efforts.

Ducey announced The next phase of the shipping container project started this weekthis time in Cochise County, Arizona, with plans to use 2,770 containers to fill the 10.25-mile gap in the wall.

The cost of the project is about $95 million, Karamargin said, coming from a state border security fund.

Ducey has been the governor of Arizona since 2015.

He is part of a vocal chorus of GOP governors – along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – sharply criticizing the Biden administration’s border strategy.

As the midterm elections approach, criticism has intensified, along with efforts by these governors to take matters into their own hands, such as state-funded buses and flights transporting migrants north to other parts of the US. The White House has called these efforts a political headache.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, shown here in 2020, is among a group of GOP governors who have criticized the Biden administration's border policies and announced efforts to curb illegal immigration.

And Arizona’s top federal prosecutor has mocked the state’s border wall.

“We’re not throwing out a bunch of buckets and calling it a wall to get cheap press.” US Attorney Gary Restino he wrote in an August tweet after a meeting between federal prosecutors and his Mexican counterparts. “It’s about developing comprehensive data-driven strategies.”

Karamargin says there was a clear reason why the government started the ship container initiative this year: the significant increase in migrants crossing the border.

“All of this wouldn’t be happening if the federal government took border security seriously. And they clearly aren’t,” Karamargin said.

Redoubling his efforts, Ducey filed a border land control lawsuit this month, asking a federal judge to effectively block efforts by federal agencies to regulate the shipping container project. Ducey says a 60-foot-wide strip of land known as the Roosevelt Reservation should remain under state control.

This aerial photo taken on September 27 shows shipping containers filling a gap in the US-Mexico border wall in Yuma, Arizona.

The governor’s office cites numerous local officials as praising the efforts of the shipping containers, and a Border Patrol official said in a recent comment that having more gaps in the wall through which migrants can get through makes things more difficult for agents.

According to CBP data, the agency’s Yuma sector has seen the largest increase in migrant encounters over the past year – more than 170%.

The number of migrant encounters in the month following the placement of the shipping containers in the sector It grew by about 5%, from 24,226 in August to 25,495 in September.

Efforts to erect border fences have previously run afoul of federal authorities.

In 2019, another federal agency, the International Boundary and Water Commission, forced open a gate on a privately funded wall near the US-Mexico border, saying the team that built it did not follow proper permitting procedures.

In the end, the commission filed a lawsuit, but allowed the work to go ahead.

In recent years we have seen many conflicts over the construction of border fences, from lawsuits to political sparring.

And as large numbers of migrants continue to cross, and as debates over how to manage the situation grow, they are likely to continue to explode.