ARIZONA NEWS

US government sues Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey over shipping container border wall

Dec 14, 2022, 3:00 PM

Shipping containers can be seen blocking water along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona. (P...

Shipping containers can be seen blocking water along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona. (Photo by Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity)

(Photo by Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity)

PHOENIX – The U.S. government is suing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey over the shipping container barrier he’s building along the state’s southern border.

The federal complaint filed Wednesday by the Department of Justice asks the court to halt placement and remove the containers in remote San Rafael Valley in easternmost Cochise County.

It also calls for Arizona to cover the costs of removing the containers and restoring the sites to their prior condition.

The work placing up to 3,000 containers at a cost of $95 million is about a third complete, but protesters concerned about its impact on the environment have held up work in recent days.

“Officials from Reclamation and the Forest Service have notified Arizona that it is trespassing on federal lands,” the complaint reads.

The suit was filed three weeks before Ducey, a Republican, steps aside for Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, who has said she opposes the construction. Ducey, Arizona Adjutant General Kerry L. Muehlenbeck and Emergency Director Allen Clark are listed as the defendants in their official capacities.

Ducey’s office sent a response Tuesday after being previously notified that the complaint would be filed.

The response from Anni Foster, general counsel for the governor’s office, notes that the Department of Homeland Security said a year ago it would close gaps in the border but hasn’t taken any action since then or provided a timeline.

“Arizona’s border barrier was always intended to be a temporary solution until the federal government erects a permanent solution,” the response says. “In fact, following our previous discussion, construction has ceased.

“Arizona agencies and contractors stand ready to assist in the removal of the barriers, but the federal government owes it to Arizonans and all Americans to release a timeline on when the construction will begin and details about how it will secure the border while construction is underway.”

At Ducey’s direction, crews have been installing shipping containers to close off gaps along the Arizona-Mexico border since August.

U.S. agencies have told Arizona the construction on federal land is unlawful and ordered it to halt. Ducey responded Oct. 21 by suing federal officials over their objections.

“Arizona is taking action to protest on behalf of our citizens. With this lawsuit, we’re pushing back against efforts by federal bureaucrats to reverse the progress we’ve made,” Ducey said in a press release at the time.

“The safety and security of Arizona and its citizens must not be ignored. Arizona is going to do the job that Joe Biden refuses to do — secure the border in any way we can. We’re not backing down.”

The construction efforts began in Yuma, a popular crossing point with scores of asylum-seekers arriving daily and often finding ways to circumvent barriers. The containers filled areas left open when former President Donald Trump’s 450-mile border wall was built. But remote San Rafael Valley — the latest construction site — is not typically used by migrants and was not contemplated in Trump’s wall construction plan.

Also on Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental group, filed notice that it planned sue the Ducey administration and contractor AshBritt, Inc., over damage to the natural water system in the Coronado National Forest.

“These giant pieces of trash are damming streams that feed the San Pedro River, a desert oasis that’s already in danger of drying up,” Robin Silver, a co-founder of the center, said in a press release.

“Ducey’s shameful political stunt will starve the Southwest’s last free-flowing river of water, further jeopardizing one of Arizona’s crown jewels and an international birding mecca.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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US government sues Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey over shipping container border wall