$335M AZ Border Wall Could Be Virtual

FRIDAY, JULY 1, 2022

Last month, Arizona lawmakers passed a bill that budgeted $335 million for a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but according to reports the barrier could potentially be a “virtual wall” instead of a physical one.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s spokesman C.J. Karamargin told reporters that a virtual wall could include motion sensors, infrared cameras, mobile towers and aerial drones. Border Patrol and other law enforcement currently use this type of surveillance technology.

“All of these things are being analyzed right now, where barriers, both actual and virtual, could be the most effective,” Karamargin said. “There’s infrastructure and private property that is on or adjacent to that line that is also being looked at as a place where additional barriers, actual and virtual, could be deployed to reduce the flow of illegal traffic into the United States.”

Additionally, the border wall funding could go towards protecting critical infrastructure, such as canals, wastewater treatment plants and defense installations like the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Ranger or Fort Huachuca. $209 million in funding was also approved for a border security fund.

According to reports, less than 20 miles of the 226 miles for the Arizona-Mexico border wall needed to be completed when President Joe Biden stopped federal construction of the wall in January 2021. Data provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notes that those unfinished areas are near Sasabe and Nogales in Pima County, Naco in Cochise County, and areas in Yuma County.

However, due to 60-foot-wide federal easement that runs adjacent to the entire Arizona-Mexico border, the structure also would not be constructed directly on the border. The easement was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 to keep all public lands along the border in California, Arizona and New Mexico “free from obstruction.” 

The state could reportedly build on land it owns that is north of the easement, but a majority of public land against it is federally owned. Areas on private land could be constructed with permission, but privately owned parcels by acreage along the border account for just 3.7% and some of these areas already have a border wall.

Karamargin said that the state is in talks with private property owners about building some type of barrier on their land.

“We’re going to put up barriers based on the input from local officials and private property owners where we think they would have the most impact. That could include virtual barriers,” he said.

Environmental regulations would also play a hand in the decision—where the federal government was able to wave regulations through the Real ID Act, the law does not apply to states. Arizona taxpayers would also likely be responsible for the maintenance of the wall.

Rep. John Kavanaugh told The Arizona Daily Star that lawmakers arrived at the the $335 million figure from information they got from the state Land Department and the Governor’s Office, “in terms of balancing what areas need and what is a reasonable amount that can be constructed within a year based on the availability of materials and construction personnel.”

He said he didn’t know how many miles of wall the state could build or where those miles are.

“It really varies by terrain,” he said. “It also is determined by whether we can get existing materials that the federal government’s not using so it’s really impossible to do any kind of reasonable judgment that wouldn’t potentially be way off.”

Border Wall Saga Background

In September 2017, the first border wall contracts were awarded to four different companies to develop prototypes that would work in conjunction with the border in the San Diego area. At the time, U.S. special forces spent weeks attempting to breach the eight prototype models of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which proved to withstand jackhammers, torches and climbing tools.

In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that any environmental regulations regarding the construction or repair of a section of the border wall for certain areas in Texas would be waived, drawing ire from environmentalists and private property owners alike. The announcement detailed exemptions in Cameron County; another announcement made the following day detailed similar measures for Hidalgo County.

Through the course of late 2018 and into 2019, construction began on section of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector, with several million in border wall contracts being awarded for work elsewhere.

However, at the beginning of 2019, reports revealed that all eight border wall prototypes were susceptible to breaching. According to NBC News, testing conducted by the Department of Homeland Security showed that all prototypes, including the steel slat design, were vulnerable to damage from easily accessible tools. For example, the steel slat prototype could be cut through with a saw.

In mid-2019, a judge blocked the president’s use of money originally intended for military funding, for work on the border wall. The injunction only accounted for roughly $1 billion in funding for the border wall, money that the Department of Defense had funneled away from Army personnel to the Department of Homeland Security.

In July, over a week after a federal judge blocked the Trump Administration from using $2.5 billion in funding for the border wall, the CBP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $33 million contract for four miles of border wall work in Texas. Environmental regulations for that section of structure were also waived. August also saw the award of another $305 million in contracts.

In September, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper approved $3.6 billion in funding—largely pulled from military construction projects, including housing—to go toward building 175 miles of the border wall. At the end of that same month, Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, reported that roughly a mile of border wall is being built every day.

By December 2019, the project saw additional funding stemming from canceled military projects being assigned to three new contracts for the construction of over 30 miles of replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, totaling $316 million in work.

That same month, a federal judge blocked the Trump Administration from transferring $3.6 billion in Pentagon funds for new border wall barriers when it attempted to commander funds for the border wall that had already been authorized by Congress for other purposes.

The following month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based out of New Orleans, ruled 2-1 that a certain set of Department of Defense funding could be used for border wall construction and lifted the injunction. The Washington Post reported that due to this ruling, the President and his administration viewed the matter as an invitation to take money again in 2020.

However, it was announced later in January 2021 that Trump was gearing up to divert $7.2 billion of military funds to use for barrier construction in the U.S.-Mexico border wall project. To break down where the funds will come from, the President intended to use $3.5 billion from counternarcotic programs and $3.7 billion intended for construction projects.

In June 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump wouldn’t be permitted to divert $2.5 billion of military funds to the construction of the wall, as the action was considered an attempt by the president to skirt Congress. Even though the funds were transferred under a declaration of national emergency, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas penned the ruling, proclaiming that the action was a violation of the Appropriations Clause and therefore considered “unlawful.”

Despite the ruling on funding, the July 2019 stay granted by the Supreme Court allows construction to continue on the wall.

And in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court’s dismissal of House Democrats’ lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s authority to use Defense Department funds for construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. In a 3-0 decision, the appeals court issued a decision permitting Democrats in Congress to challenge Trump’s use of military funds for the construction of the border wall.

That same month, United States Customs and Border Protection officials reported that the Trump Administration was considering having more than 80 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall located in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, Texas, painted black.

Agency officials told CNN an epoxy coating was being considered for when future barriers are built and could cost the project an extra $1 million per mile.

In December, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved the Trump administration’s plan in a 2-1 decision to divert $3.6 billion in funding from more than 100 military construction projects for border wall construction.

The decision overturned the lower court’s decision made by U.S. District Judge David Briones in 2019.

Biden’s proclamation from January 2021 redirected the funds and paused the construction, but did not shut down the project.

Despite federal court rulings and Biden's proclamation, Texas lawmakers have pushed to continue construction of the border wall. In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a $250 million down payment for construction of hundreds of miles of border wall just months after Republican House Rep. Bryan Slaton introduced House Bill No. 2862.

The legislation intends to create a fund to pay for the projects and would also allocate the earnings on the balance of the fund and reimbursement of related expenditures. Around the same time, Congressman Clay Higgins, a Republican from Lousiana and ranking member of the House of Homeland Secuirty Subcommittee on Border Secuirty, introduced the Finish the Wall Act. 

In August, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that it was set to pay nearly $25 million for the construction of a roughly two-mile-long concrete border barrier. Slated to be constructed in Eagle Pass, the project also calls for a temporary fence near the right-of-way along State Loop 480, which the Department of Public Safety has reported to be a high-traffic area for immigration.

By the end of the month, the Texas House was reported to approve nearly $2 billion for the Texas-Mexico border wall project. The approval of funding is expected to triple the state's allocation for border security during the last biennium.

And in September, the Texas Facilities Commission announced that they had completed the evaluation phase for the Program Manager for the border wall. In reviewing the competing contractors for the project, the Commission stated that they would be recommending the joint venture of Dallas engineering firm Huitt-Zollars and Pittsburgh-based engineering firm Michael Baker International.

The following month, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a 2020 lower court ruling that blocked an estimated $3.6 billion of U.S.-Mexico border wall funding proposed by the Trump Administration and returned the case to a judge for reassessment.

The Supreme Court granted the appeal to vacate the initial ruling from a federal district judge in California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the funding shift was unlawful.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, co-lead with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, filed a lawsuit in November against the Biden Administration for halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. According to the lawsuit, Congress has refused to spend funding appropriated in the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act for construction of the wall.

“The Biden Administration’s flat refusal to use funds that have already been set aside by Congress to build the border wall is not only illegal and unconstitutional. It’s also wrong, and it leaves states like Texas and Missouri footing the bill,” Paxton said in his statement.

The lawsuit also stated that the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement in October to “terminate the remaining border barrier contracts” is unconstitutional.

At the beginning of the year, Arizona Senator Wendy Rogers introduced legislation to appropriate $700 million in state funding to pay for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill would take approximately 5% of the state’s almost $13 billion 2022-2023 fiscal year budget towards these actions. According to reports, the senator did not respond to questions about where it would take place or how the cost could be justified. 

The proposal came days before the Department of Homeland Security announced that Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas authorized U.S. Customs and Border Protection to move forward with activities necessary to address life, safety, environmental and remediation requirements for border barrier projects. These projects were previously undertaken by the Department of Defense and fall in the Centro, Tuscon, El Paso and Del Rio Sectors.


Tagged categories: Construction; Funding; Government; Government contracts; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Technology

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