The Future Of The Border Wall In Arizona
LAUREN GILGER: Arizona's shared border with Mexico has become the proving grounds for the Trump administration's push to build new border fences. Proponents say the fence is needed to keep out not only asylum seekers, but also illicit smuggling in the U.S. border region. Locally, the border fence is also criticized for the long-lasting effects it will have on the Sonoran desert's ecosystems. And joining us now from the Fronteras desk is KJZZ's Michel Marizco, who's been reporting on the fast-moving border buildup there. Good morning, Michel.
MICHEL MARIZCO: Hey, good morning.
GILGER: So let's start with the lay of the land here. Give us a breakdown. What are we losing here in Arizona as this border wall, these fences, are built?
MARIZCO: OK, so right now we're standing to transfer over to the Department of the Army 228 acres along the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. That's down at ... right at 85, a budding Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. And that's a replacement project. And that project is identified as Yuma Three. And then Yuma Six, which is even more interesting, so this is closer to Yuma County. And this is 73 acres of new pedestrian fence and secondary fence. This is the type of almost like alleyways or gallows that the U.S. Border Patrol created in the past year where people would literally have to jump over two segments of a very high fencing to get into, or any further into the US.
GILGER: So in your previous reporting, you've really been able to show how the U.S. government wanted to replace vehicle barriers with complete fences. The idea being to keep out not only cars, but people from crossing illegally into the country. A few days later, though, I understand that all changed?
MARIZCO: Yeah, yeah it did. Because, all of a sudden, the Interior Department came out to announce that they were having this land transfer. It's happening in El Paso, in California and a big part of it here in Arizona, those two segments of Yuma. So what they said was that these areas have cultural resources that are being damaged by smuggling, that no national parks are going to be affected, that the transfer is only good for three years, so, as of now until 2022, ostensibly, could be extended. We don't know. And, at that point, this frees up the Department of the Army, and then the Homeland Security Department and the Army Corps of Engineers, to do whatever that they need to do there without any limitations or any restrictions.
GILGER: So these so-called border walls were the cornerstone, as we know, of Trump's last campaign. So what is Arizona's border consist of now?
MARIZCO: So about 50 miles of Arizona's border doesn't have anything, or it's just barbed wire. That barbed wire was put up in the 1950s to stop an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease from cattle. The border's length is about 375 miles. Tucson had twice as much vehicle barrier up recently as it did border fence. Yuma had about an equal amount of vehicle barrier and border fence. And the push for it now is to eliminate that vehicle barrier and replace it all with even higher border fence.
GILGER: But Yuma was also lauded for years as an area where basically walls work, right?
MARIZCO: Yeah. That secondary fence that we talked about there in Yuma Six, that area closer to Yuma County. So there in Yuma, the sector have been facing an influx of undocumented immigrants at the time, mostly Mexican. And they tested this idea of having this, what they call a secondary, or even tertiary, fencing, and kind of creating these like 100-yard-50 to 100-yard-wide branches where people needed to cross through in order to, before they can get anywhere to hide from the Border Patrol. Now that type of fencing became like a very much lauded point for the Border Patrol, and they've showed that it did work. So now they're going to expand on that.
GILGER: And one last story we want to touch on this morning with you as well, Michel, is this one about the acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. He announced yesterday that the administration is ending its so-called catch and release program. Tell us what that means.
MARIZCO: So if immigrants are caught by the Border Patrol, they haven't claimed asylum with the Border Patrol, they're looking for a way to further their route into the U.S. and they haven't asked to speak to an asylum officer there at the border, they would normally be given a court date in order to do so. That's ended. Right now, there's a lot of questions about this, but the basic idea, they just sort of announced this yesterday, was that if people have a credible fear, they can go ahead and make that claim with the U.S., but then they'll be returned to Mexico. If they don't, they'll be deported back to their countries of origin. This has been a huge point of President Donald Trump since he was a candidate in 2015, and the Homeland Security Department is, they've left out a lot of details about how they're going to implement this. But that's what they're projecting.
GILGER: Alright. That's KJZZ's Michel Marizco joining us from the Fronteras desk in Tucson. Michel, thanks as always.
MARIZCO: Hey, thank you. Thank you.