Arizona built a border fence against its will

SAN DIEGO — The Cocopah Indian Tribe said Friday the state of Arizona acted against its will by piling shipping containers on its land to prevent illegal border crossings.

The tribe determined that the state had placed 42 double-stacked containers on its land near Yuma, said Michael Fila of its emergency management office.

The tribe wrote to state officials on Tuesday to inform them of their findings and concerns. Fila said the containers blocked half of a two-lane road, closing a “vital escape route”.

The containers pose other safety concerns, including if they fall over, Fila wrote. Two containers overturned during construction last month for reasons that are unclear.

“The integrity of the road itself was then damaged by the heavy machinery used to place the shipping containers” and created the danger for first responders of getting stuck, Fila said in an email shared with the Associated Press.

The tribe told state officials at a meeting Aug. 17 that it does not want the barriers and is awaiting a response to its findings, said Jonathan Athens, a spokesman for Cocopah.

“We had made it clear before that we didn’t want any containers on our land,” he said.

The tribe’s findings are a potential setback for Governor Doug Ducey, who last week said the barriers were “a big step forward in securing our border.” Despite his claims, the barriers have so far failed to make a significant dent in illegal crossings in an area where hundreds of people enter the country daily.

Ducey’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin, said Friday the governor’s office was reviewing the tribe’s letter but had no immediate comment.

The state installed 130 double-stacked containers in the Yuma area last month in a bid to fill gaps in the massive wall built under President Donald Trump that was incomplete when he left office last year. last. The Biden administration said in July it would fill in the gaps, but Ducey said he couldn’t wait and hired AshBritt Inc. to install shipping containers the length of 13 football fields in five areas. .

The containers that the tribe says have been set up on tribal land stretch out into the desert, ending abruptly in an area where migrants can easily drive around.

The area includes rights of way allowing people outside the tribe to travel, which may have caused confusion, Fila said. In any case, the tribe said state officials did not consult with them before building.

The episode recalls the obstacles the government faces with border barriers: difficulty building on tribal lands, particularly in the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona, and opposition from landowners, particularly in Texas, where, unlike other border states, much property is privately owned. Migrants circumvent the walls.

About half of the encounters with migrants crossing the border illegally in the Border Patrol sector of Tucson, Arizona, occur in the Tohono O’odham Nation, up from 20% to 30% before the construction of walls just in off tribal lands, said area chief John Modlin.

The Cocopah expressed strong opposition to a wall in a letter to U.S. officials in May 2020, saying the barrier would cut off access to the river and to tribal people in Mexico.

The tribe recently released a video showing its acting police chief, Arlene Martinez, describing other measures to cooperate with Border Patrol, such as surveillance cameras and ground sensors.

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Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed.

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