A majestic view of unspoiled nature on the border with Mexico has for many years been the reward for hikers who have traveled the Arizona Trail, a 1,300 mile route that winds through deserts, canyons and forests.
But a few weeks ago, something different appeared at the inhospitable lookout of the Huachuca Mountains: an isolated segment of the border wall, disconnected from everything, in an area where migrants rarely attempt to cross the border into the United States.
“There was this totally useless piece of wall, right in the middle of this magical place,” said Julia Sheehan, 31, a nurse and former army mechanic who visited the scene with three other veteran soldiers who run the Arizona Trail. “It is one of the most insignificant things I have ever seen in my life.”
The 400-meter-long wall fragment is one of a series of new barrier segments erected along the border, some of which are bizarre in appearance and of no apparent use, which outsourced contractors have been quick to erect in the last days of the Trump administration. . – long after President Joe Biden made it clear that he would suspend construction of the border wall.
Now the incomplete wall, which is already one of the most expensive megaprojects in US history, with an estimated final price of over US $ 15 billion (R $ 84 billion), is making the problems worse again. tensions, critics urging Biden to demolish parts of the wall and Republican leaders are asking the president to complete construction.
The most recent controversy over the wall comes amid a huge increase in migration across the border that prompts US officials to seek additional places to welcome newcomers, especially unaccompanied children and adolescents. More than 9,400 migrant minors arrived at the border without their parents in February – nearly three times the number seen at the same time last year – creating a serious humanitarian problem.
The Biden administration suspended construction of the border wall on January 20, the president’s first day in office, announcing a 60-day period during which authorities determine how to proceed.
Former President Donald Trump has made the border wall a symbol of his administration’s efforts to curb immigration. Many sections of the border, 3,100 km long, already had low barriers erected by previous governments, but the project has been mired in controversy from the start.
Only a few kilometers of wall have been erected in South Texas, the region where most illegal crossings take place. Instead, much of the work, particularly in the final days of the Trump administration, has been done in remote areas of Arizona where, in recent years, cases of illegal border crossings have been. relatively rare.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the body responsible for selecting sites for the construction of the border wall, said in a statement released last week that the points chosen for the new construction barriers have entered “.
“Border barriers delay and prevent illegal activity,” CBP spokesperson Matthew Dyman said.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s Homeland Security secretary, has been tasked with deciding whether work should be “resumed, amended or closed” at the end of the 60-day suspension period this month. But last-minute construction efforts left a curious situation for the new administration to assess. Much of the accelerated construction activity took place in the days between the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill by Trump supporters and Biden’s inauguration on the 20th of this month.
Some sections of the border, especially on relatively flat federal land, now have long, continuous segments of nine-meter-high steel barriers that can last in the wilderness for many decades.
In other areas, migrants can easily bypass isolated sections of wall, some of which look more like works of conceptual art than towering barriers.
There are semi-dynamite peaks where teams of workers put down their tools in January, creating an increased risk of rapid erosion and even dangerous landslides, now that the summer monsoon season is approaching.
In some places, abandoned workplaces include colossal piles of unused steel poles, alongside idling bulldozers and tankers. In Arizona, farmers are complaining that makeshift roads opened by teams of workers on the slopes near unfinished segments of the wall now serve as easy access routes for smugglers and others seeking to enter these once isolated areas. along the border.
“There are so many access roads now that people can walk to where a section of the wall ends and someone can pick them up then,” the defender said. environment Valer Clark, who has purchased and seeks to preserve approximately 150,000 acres of land around the border, both in the United States and in Mexico.
Clark said a farm manager recently resigned after his house was broken into – a type of crime that was rare in the area until new roads emerged.
The Trump administration has completed a total of about 730 km of wall on the road since 2017. Almost $ 4 billion (22.6 billion reais) used in construction has been diverted from funds originally allocated to the Ministry of Defense.
Most of the work involved reforming and improving smaller barriers that already exist. In places where there were no barriers before, such as the inhospitable region where the Arizona Trail ends, the Trump administration has erected a total of 75 km of new main wall.
Matthew Nelson, executive director of the Arizona Trail Association, asked why Nebraska construction company Kiewit Corp, which had the lucrative contract to build the wall in the area, rushed to erect a small stretch in January – in an area that conservationists struggled with. to preserve – when construction was likely to be halted anyway after Biden came to power. He questioned whether this was an attempt to pressure the new administration to proceed with the new construction on the site.
Nelson said the Coronado National Memorial Trail, a protected area administered by the National Parks Service, was chosen because of its natural beauty and because it is located along a relatively safe section of the river. border, where few migrants cross.
“Why rush to build a quarter-mile wall in the middle of nowhere, in an area that has never been identified as a point where many crossings occur?” Asked Nelson.
Kiewit officials did not respond to requests for comment on the stretch of wall the company erected in January at the end of the Arizona Trail.
CBP declined to provide specific information about border crossings at the site.
Border Patrol chief Rodney S. Scott admitted in November that building the wall in South Texas, not Arizona, was “a higher priority for border patrol.” But, he explained, “I chose to go ahead and move on to lower priority areas because I could make a difference right away.”
The area near the Arizona Trail was not the only place with intense construction activity in the last days of the past administration. It was only between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8 that CBP began building an additional 19 km of border wall, he said.
In parts of the border, such as Guadalupe Canyon in southeastern Arizona, crews blasted mountain slopes on the day of Biden’s inauguration.
The Biden administration did not specify precisely what its plans for the wall were. But in February, after temporarily halting work on the wall, Biden canceled the national emergency his predecessor had used to justify construction.
Democratic lawmakers from border states, including Veronica Escobar, of Texas, and Teresa Leger Fernández, of New Mexico, wrote to Biden this month asking him to cancel all remaining construction contracts and use the remaining funds to remove sections of the wall in places “where particularly destructive environmental damage has occurred and destruction of sacred sites”.
At the same time, Republicans have positioned themselves – sometimes literally – around breaches in the border wall, in an attempt to portray Biden as being too lenient with immigration.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, after visiting the Arizona border in February, said a breach in the wall at this point allowed illegal migrants to enter through a dry riverbed.
“Nothing in this area makes sense unless the breach is closed,” Graham said.