The governor of the US state of Arizona, which borders Mexico, has agreed to remove shipping containers that were erected as a temporary barrier on the border, in defiance of the federal government.
According to court documents filed Wednesday, Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey reached a deal with the Biden administration to remove the containers from federal areas, including national forests.
In a lawsuit filed last week by the federal government, the Department of Justice described the barrier as “hundreds of double-stacked, multi-ton shipping containers that damage federal state, threaten public safety, and hinder the ability of federal agencies and officials, including law enforcement personnel, to perform their official duties.”
Ducey responded that the containers were a temporary measure to pressure the federal government to build a permanent wall on the southern border.
Wednesday’s agreement to remove the containers comes at a time when the United States is struggling with a record number of border crossings by undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.
For fiscal year 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection documented 2.76 million “enforcement actions” taken to turn away migrants, up from approximately 1.96 million the previous year.
Ducey has denounced what he calls the Biden administration’s “inaction” in dealing with the influx of migrants. A press release from the governor’s office in October described the shipping container wall and similar measures as exercising the “right of the state to defend itself.”
However, the plan to spend $95 million to place 3,000 shipping containers at the border was met with criticism from conservation and immigrant rights groups. They argue that the temporary wall is not only ineffective but also damages sensitive ecosystems.
In December, the Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release saying that the containers were a “shameful political stunt” that would impede the flow of rivers and threaten numerous species. The makeshift wall blocked key wildlife corridors for endangered jaguars and ocelots, the center argued.
Ducey is expected to leave office in January after serving the state as governor for a maximum of two terms. His successor, elected Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, said she was against construction.
Efforts to build the temporary wall were about a third complete when the deal was reached with the Biden administration on Wednesday. The deal called on Arizona to remove containers parked in the remote San Rafael Valley in southeastern Cochise County by January 4 without harming natural resources.
Despite campaign promises to stop building the border wall during his term in office, the Biden administration had previously announced that it would close existing gaps in the border wall in Arizona.
“For more than a year, the Federal Government has been promoting its efforts to resume the construction of a permanent border barrier. After the situation on our border developed into a full-blown crisis, they have finally decided to act,” said CJ Karamargin, spokesperson for Ducey. “Better late than never.”
Ducey’s administration has also spoken with the Biden administration about the future of Title 42, a controversial policy that has prevented many migrants from seeking asylum for reasons related to fighting COVID-19.
Trump-era policies have been criticized by human rights groups for expelling millions of asylum seekers without due process.
Title 42 was due to expire on December 21, but the U.S. Supreme Court intervened on Monday to temporarily halt the expiration, in response to an appeal from Republican-led states.
Ducey has previously called on the Biden administration to extend Title 42, saying it offers “important protections.”
The policy dates back to a rarely used 1944 law that allows the government to turn away asylum seekers in order to protect public health. It was first claimed by the Trump administration in March 2020, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, although experts have raised doubts about its usefulness as a public health measure.
The Biden administration’s efforts to end politics were met with fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers. They believe that a withdrawal could lead to an increase in asylum seekers on the US border with Mexico.