TUCSON - Crews building a seven-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border near Sasabe are nearing completion of the project, but critics say a land swap between federal agencies that paved the way for one section sets a bad precedent.
The Department of Homeland Security was able to avoid roadblocks on the final eight-tenths of a mile of the fence by brokering a land trade with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and acquiring 5.8 acres of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge land. Homeland Security will later find a piece of land to acquire in exchange. A Phoenix contractor is expected to complete the fence in the next few weeks, about four months after breaking ground on the project. The fence is designed to prevent people from walking across the border into the refuge, which has become a prime crossing point for illegal immigrants in recent years.
The fence consists of 12-foot steel posts filled with concrete and set four inches apart. A road parallels the fence on the U.S. side.
Environmentalists are concerned that Homeland Security is rushing to build fencing without appropriate review of impacts on wildlife and habitat.
In another battle over the environment, a judge last month temporarily blocked fencing on about seven miles of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Naco.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff then stepped in and issued an environmental waiver under powers Congress gave him under a 2005 law. Chertoff had used the power twice before.
“The theme for border-wall construction in Arizona seems to be to rush these projects through, permit minimal public input in the decision-making process and construct the wall at all costs, including the costs to our wildlife refuges and conservation areas and the democratic process,” said Matt Clark, southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s outrageous that there’s hasn’t been more transparency.”
Homeland Security officials say quick construction is vital for national security and is required by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. That law calls for 700 miles of fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border.