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Border Wall Made of Shipping Containers Comes Down in Arizona, Rises in Texas

The Wall Street Journal · 01/07/2023 05:30

By Elizabeth Findell

Texas has erected a barrier made of shipping containers along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, following a similar move by Arizona, which has begun dismantling its makeshift wall after legal threats from the federal government.

The container barriers mark the latest skirmishes between the U.S. government, which has authority over the international boundary, and border-state leaders frustrated with illegal immigration. The tension comes as border communities brace for a potential new surge of migrants.

Both walls were built on federal land on orders from two GOP state leaders, Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas and then-Gov. Doug Ducey in Arizona. In Arizona, Mr. Ducey's administration spent more than $80 million to build about 4 miles of the barrier, his office said, before agreeing last month to remove it after a legal challenge from the federal government. His successor, Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has called the barrier a political stunt and is following through with its removal.

Arizona's decision to remove its barrier came after Mr. Abbott announced in November that Texas had begun using large shipping containers to create a steel wall on the banks of the Rio Grande near downtown El Paso. The Texas Division of Emergency Management said it had contracted to place about a dozen containers in the area, at the governor's direction.

Emergency-management spokesman Seth Christensen said the containers would remain in place "as long as necessary to impede the flow of illegal immigrants into Texas communities." Their placement came as an influx of migrants in the El Paso area strained local resources. The state didn't provide the cost of the barrier construction, which is part of Mr. Abbott's Operation Lone Star effort to deploy National Guard troops to the border, arrest migrants on state misdemeanor charges and build a state border wall.

President Biden is set to visit El Paso on Sunday, his first visit to the border as president.

The state placed the containers on land managed by the International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational agency tasked with enforcing treaties between the U.S. and Mexico and evaluating projects that could affect the Rio Grande.

State officials didn't notify the commission of the project or receive a permit, said Sally Spener, U.S. secretary of the agency.

"If you don't have a permit, your structure should not be on someone else's land," Ms. Spener said. She added: "You also don't want infrastructure in flood plains that could deflect flows and change the international boundary." Barriers in the river's flood plain can exacerbate flooding and cause loss of life and property, she said.

Ms. Spener said the commission has made efforts to get in touch with Texas officials and has received some limited information in response, but said the state needs to submit permit requirements immediately.

Representatives for Mr. Abbott, who has championed the container barrier in news releases, didn't respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department declined to say whether the department was considering action against Texas similar to that regarding Arizona.

The Arizona case arose after months of back-and-forth between federal and state authorities. An August executive order from Mr. Ducey instructed the state's Department of Emergency and Military Affairs to close any gaps in the existing border wall immediately.

Within weeks, state officials had placed more than 120 shipping containers on federal land, without authorization, according to the U.S. challenge filed. The construction continued, with shipping containers placed in Coronado National Forest in October, when Arizona told the Forest Service it would continue work without seeking a permit.

Mr. Ducey had previously said the container wall was meant to be a temporary solution to a border crisis. "Arizona has had enough," he wrote on Twitter when he announced the project in August. "We can't wait any longer."

The Justice Department sued Mr. Ducey and other Arizona officials in federal court in Arizona in December, accusing them of trespassing.

"Arizona has entered Reclamation and Forest Service lands along the Arizona-Mexico border and installed -- and continues to install -- hundreds of double-stacked multi-ton shipping containers that damage federal lands, threaten public safety, and impede the ability of federal agencies and officials...to perform their official duties," the lawsuit said, referring to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Arizona officials agreed Dec. 21, shortly before Mr. Ducey left office, to cease installing shipping containers and to remove the existing ones.

The move is a victory for some environmental advocates, who had raised objections to the impact of the barrier on local flora and fauna.

Write to Elizabeth Findell at elizabeth.findell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 07, 2023 05:30 ET (10:30 GMT)

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