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Arizona border mayors say new fencing project is only part of solution

(Getty Images Photo/Scott Olson)

PHOENIX — The mayors of two Arizona cities near the U.S.-Mexico border are welcoming a project announced by the federal government Monday to build 57 miles of fencing, but they say work on the border can’t end there.

“I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s one of the things that needs to happen in the long term. It’s part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution,” Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

“However, we’ve had a wall since ’05, but it’s not necessarily up to today’s standards, so this construction project will replace that wall … and meet today’s requirements.”

San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez told KTAR News on Tuesday that if this project makes the existing barrier better, “so be it,” but he wants to make sure ports of entry are not neglected.

“It’s so easy to just build a barrier and isolate ourselves — that’s not the solution. Let’s fix the problem, OK, let’s look where the demand is, let’s try to fix that,” he said.

“If you want to build a nice, beautiful wall, let’s build that wall. But then again, let’s also build those really nice, state-of-the-art ports of entry, which are very important for economic development.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and building 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing near Yuma and El Paso, Texas, on Monday.

The Pentagon said it will divert up to $1 billion to support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. The funding would also go toward installing lighting and constructing roads in those areas.

Shanahan said the focus will be on blocking “drug-smuggling corridors.”

Nicholls said some of the construction will be an expansion near the Colorado River and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, but most of it will be replacing an existing barrier.

He said the location of the expansion is important because the distance from the border to those areas of civilization is about 20 miles, and in the summer, that distance can be deadly to people attempting to cross there.

The Yuma sector has witnessed a jump in illegal crossings, particularly Guatemalan families in remote areas.

Nicholls said right now the large number of migrants crossing the border hasn’t caused problems in Yuma, but he is aware that conditions could worsen.

“At this point the Border Patrol and ICE have done a pretty great job of containing and making sure that the process is followed and all the immigrants that come through the area aren’t really impacting the community day to day,” he said.

“However, there is a strong potential in the near future as the numbers continue to grow that the releases of the people that have been interdicted will be released in our community, and that would have a dramatic negative effect on our community.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer and Peter Samore and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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