Border officials received the green light Thursday to close four remaining openings in the US-Mexico border wall near the town of Yuma, Arizona.
The Department of Homeland Security reported in a statement that the work to complete the project near the Morelos Dam is in order to protect the safety of migrants and their own agents. Some border crossers in the area have died or been injured after falling down a slope or drowning while walking through a shallow section of the Colorado River.
A five-year-old migrant girl wading through the water with a group drowned near the dam on June 6 when she became separated from her mother. Her body was later found in the river.
Federal authorities did not release the identity or nationality of the victim. But Jamaican newspapers have said that she is believed to have been originally from that country.
Yuma is a popular crossing area for migrants, in part because they can easily walk across the river, surrender to border agents and claim asylum.
“Due to the proximity to the Morelos Dam and the strong current of the Colorado River, this area presents security and life risks for migrants who try to cross into the United States,” said the statement announcing that the secretary of National Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas had approved the works of the Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP for its initials in English). He also highlighted the dangers to his own agents.
Arizona environmentalist Myles Traphagen, who has been mapping ecological damage from border wall construction under former President Donald Trump, said closing gaps won’t be much of a deterrent to migrants.
Traphagen said the Yuma area “has become the new Ellis Island for Arizona, where people come from places like Ethiopia, Cuba, Russia, Ukraine, India, Colombia and Nicaragua.
“There are people who cross halfway around the world by plane, train and car,” he said, “so it’s a huge mistake to expect that the closure of four small openings will make them turn around and book a return flight on Air Ethiopia.”
It is currently unknown when the work will begin. The statement says officials will act “as expeditiously as possible, while maintaining environmental protection” through consultation with affected parties.
The openings are within an area for a barrier project previously funded by the Department of Defense and will be funded from Department of Homeland Security appropriations for fiscal year 2021.
Arizona Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly has been pushing the Joe Biden administration to close openings near the dam over safety concerns. The work also has the support of local officials, including the mayor of Yuma, Republican Douglas Nicholls.
Faced with pressure to close these openings, environmentalists such as Traphagen have called for the removal of other sections of the barrier that they say have harmed local wildlife, such as lynxes, cougars, wild boars and deer.
Wildlands Network, a Tucson-based organization, this week released a new report on places along the US-Mexico border that it believes require the most environmental restoration.
Traphagen, the group’s borderlands program coordinator, has scoured international boundaries through New Mexico, Arizona and California over the past year to identify damaged wildlife corridors and other environmental damage.
The group calls for the replanting of native vegetation in areas that were completely cleared during the construction of the wall, as well as widening the gaps between the steel piles, a gap that is currently 10 centimeters (4 inches), to allow the transit of more wild animals.
It also calls for the removal of 180 miles (290 kilometers) of barbed wire installed along bollards in all border states between 2019 and 2020, both for aesthetic reasons and for safety reasons for people and wildlife.
Source: diario libre