Resistance is mounting to a controversial plan from Arizona’s governor to build a wall of shipping containers along the US-Mexico border. The makeshift barrier is being built by Governor Doug Ducey in his waning days in office.
Construction began earlier this year, with Mr Ducey saying it was an attempt to “secure” the border. Critics say the project unlawfully cuts through tribal and federal lands.
With just weeks left until Mr Ducey leaves office, work crews operating along Arizona’s eastern border with Mexico have been making progress on the barrier, which consists of double-stacked shipping containers and razor wire.
That progress has recently been slowed by days of protests from environmental groups, who say that the barrier poses a danger to native species and natural water systems in the region.
Incoming governor Katie Hobbs has yet to decide what to do with the containers.
In Arizona’s Santa Cruz county, Sheriff David Hathaway said that he plans to arrest construction crews working on the barrier if they reach his county. “The area where they’re placing the containers is entirely on federal land, on national forest,” Mr Hathaway told local news station Fox 10.
“It’s not state land, it’s not private land, and the federal government has said this [is] illegal activity.”
Still, the initiative has the support of the sheriff of nearby Cochise county, who said in a statement that he believes it will “deter crime and stop criminal behaviour”.
Federal agencies have called the barrier unlawful and ordered state officials to stop the work. In response, in late October, Mr Ducey filed a lawsuit claiming that the state has the right to take action to put an end to an “unprecedented crisis” in which “countless migrants” are crossing the border.
“The result is a mix of drug, crime, and humanitarian issues the state has never experienced at such a significant magnitude,” the lawsuit reads. The federal government is asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
The governor-elect, Ms Hobbs, has been opposed to the barrier but it’s unclear if she plans to remove the containers after her inauguration on 5 January.
While she had previously suggested that the containers would be re-used to create affordable housing options for low-income residents, last week she said she was looking at all options and warned that she “doesn’t know how much it will cost to remove the containers and what the cost will be”.
The debate about Mr Ducey’s border barrier comes amid record-breaking numbers of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. In the 2022 fiscal year that ended in September, a total of 2.38 million migrants were detained at the border, marking a 37% increase over the prior year.
Officials in a number of mostly Republican-led states have harshly criticised the Biden administration’s handling of what some have termed a migrant “crisis”. Earlier this year, three states – Texas, Arizona, and Florida – announced initiatives to move migrants to Democratic-led ones, which they have accused of being “sanctuary” jurisdictions that fail to enforce immigration laws.