- Myles Traphagenborderlands program coordinator for Wildlands Network.
- Alejandra Gomezexecutive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA Arizona.
Outgoing Republican Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona is spending nearly $100 million in his final weeks in office to erect a makeshift border wall along the state’s southern boundary with Mexico made of shipping containers and razor wire. Ducey has described it as an effort to complete former President Donald Trump’s border wall, but the shipping containers are being placed on federal and tribal lands without permission. Protesters who have tried to block construction warn the wall is destroying precious desert biodiversity and forcing asylum seekers to take even more dangerous routes along the border to seek refuge in the United States. Meanwhile, it is unclear what Democratic Governor-elect Katie Hobbs will do with the container wall once she is sworn in. “It’s quite amazing that there’s simply been no [federal] law enforcement response,” says Myles Traphagen with Wildlands Network, who coordinates the group’s borderlands program. “Why aren’t they mobilizing a federal law enforcement response when this is a blatant disregard of the law?” We also speak with Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA Arizona, who says immigrant communities in Arizona are responding with aid and compassion despite “the fueling of hate against migrants” by Ducey and other Republicans.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We turn now to the U.S.-Mexico border. The Biden administration has asked Congress to greenlight more than $3 billion to further militarize the border as the Trump-era Title 42 pandemic policy, that expelled over 2 million migrants without due process, is set to end a week from today. A record number of asylum seekers have been apprehended along the southern border in recent months, including more than 2,400 over the weekend in El Paso, Texas. The three-day daily average of migrants coming over the border is about 2,400 per day.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, immigration and environmental activists are denouncing the illegal construction of a makeshift wall along its border with Mexico built with hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers and razor wire. The project is led by outgoing Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who says he’s trying to fill up the gaps left in former President Donald Trump’s unfinished border wall. The shipping containers snake through part of the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona’s Cochise County. And construction has continued despite an ongoing legal battle between Governor Ducey and the federal government, with crews continuing to stack more shipping containers, reportedly working at night to avoid protesters, even as some of the containers erected earlier have already fallen over. Now activists are increasing efforts to block the construction, which they say is destroying precious desert biodiversity and is forcing asylum seekers to take even more dangerous routes along the border to come to the United States for refuge. Meanwhile, it’s unclear what incoming Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs will do with the container wall.
For more, we go to Arizona to speak with two guests. In Tucson, Myles Traphagen is with us. He is the borderlands program coordinator for Wildlands Network, has worked in the deserts, mountains and grasslands of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands for over 20 years. He’s a tribal member of the Chickasaw Nation. With us in Phoenix, Arizona, is Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA Arizona.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Myles, let’s begin with you in Tucson. Talk about this, what many have described as a monstrosity along the border, two shipping containers high — going on for how far, and what parts of the border? And what’s happening to the land around it? And we’ll then talk about the migrants.
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: Well, thank you, Amy.
Currently there’s 3.5 miles of shipping containers that begin at Coronado National Memorial, which is a National Park Service-managed property. And they snake through the Coronado National Forest, and this happens to be federal land, owned by the federal government and you and me. And this is in designated critical habitat for the endangered jaguar. In addition to that, there’s the endangered ocelot, which the northernmost breeding population lies just 30 miles to the south. So the environmental consequences in regards to wildlife and wildlife migration and connectivity could not be more severe in this particular location, which has exceptionally high biodiversity and probably, arguably, some of the highest in the West as far as number of species and endangered species on the Coronado National Forest.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what gives Governor Ducey the authority. Where is the money coming from? And what are people doing around this wall that are resisting it?
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: Well, Governor Ducey does not have the authority, because this is on federal land. And so it’s totally illegal, what’s happening. The Department of Emergency Military Affairs has provided the funding for this, which is a $95 million contract that was given to AshBritt, which typically does a FEMA type of disaster relief projects.
The Coronado National Forest was established in 1902. Five years later, the Roosevelt Reservation was established by President Theodore Roosevelt. This is a 60-foot-wide strip that begins just west of El Paso on the Rio Grande and goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This allows the federal government to have control over this area for border security and commerce purposes. The secretary of homeland security has the authority under the REAL ID Act of 2005 to waive all laws for the construction of border barriers. This is a very scary thing that Americans should be very concerned about, this law. But the Arizona governor does not have this authority. The establishment of the Coronado National Forest and the Roosevelt Reservation predates the Arizona statehood, which took place in 1912. So, the Department of Justice has ordered the shipping containers to be removed and the construction to stop, yet the governor continues to disregard those orders.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do the shipping containers come from?
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: And currently there’s also a — well, it’s hard to say where they come from. I mean, shipping containers are ubiquitous. It’s very ironic that, you know, most of these have Chinese labels on them. So, they are just — they have these scattered at various storage yards around southern Arizona, and they’re basically being trucked on flatbed pickup trucks, towed by your standard heavy-duty pickup truck, and being stacked on the national forest. However, due to the terrain in this area, there’s a lot of undulating topography and washes and drainages. It’s a very incomplete and somewhat permeable barrier, although in many places it’s completely impermeable to wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, mule deer, javelina, jaguar, ocelots, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are the federal agents and authorities on this federal land trying to stop this?
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: This is what we are all wondering. It’s quite amazing that there’s simply been no law enforcement response. You know, where are the U.S. marshals? Where is Secretary of Interior Thomas Vilsack on this? Where is secretary — or, excuse me, agriculture secretary? Same goes for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. You know, why aren’t they mobilizing a federal law enforcement response, when this is a blatant disregard of the law?
AMY GOODMAN: You have said this is a real threat to democracy, Myles, that it is a slippery slope towards fascism. Why?
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: That’s totally true, and I don’t throw that around lightly. Let’s begin with the REAL ID Act of 2005. This was passed in the wake of 9/11. And, you know, you ask yourself: How can the secretary of homeland security, which is a politically appointed unelected official, have the ability to waive laws dating back to 1890 and up to almost the present? These laws include the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Native American Graves Protection Act, etc. Up to about 60 laws have been waived for the construction of border barriers. It’s quite amazing that both houses of Congress passed these laws, and signed into law by whoever the sitting president was, and then surviving a century of judicial review. I think Americans need to be very concerned about this, because this pertains to — probably about 80% of the whole U.S. population would lie in the jurisdictional zone of border security, which is 60 miles from the border, both on the Canadian side and the Mexico side. So, we need to be vigilant about protecting our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is in El Paso today. I wanted to bring Alejandra Gomez into this conversation, with LUCHA Arizona. Can you talk about what this means for migrants coming over the border?
ALEJANDRA GOMEZ: Yes. You know, what we have seen for our communities is that there has been, from Governor Ducey and also the Arizona Legislature, over $300 million that were allocated in this past legislative session for extending the border wall, for the criminalizing and the targeting of migrants that are simply coming over in search of a better life for their families.
And so, we have been vigilant, you know, in this past election cycle. We knocked on over 450,000 doors, and a good portion of them were along the Yuma and the Cochise border. And what we’re seeing is that right now our communities are responding with aid — we have been seeing that for the past year — and that our communities are also — you know, the border has always been painted as — from the past governor, Jan Brewer, and now Ducey also — as a place where terror is happening. And what we have found is quite opposite. And so, we’re trying to signal that there needs to be federal solutions to, you know, the immigration, humanitarian both aid and communities that are just seeking a better future.
AMY GOODMAN: We just reported in headlines today that, according to POGO — that’s the Project on Government Oversight — over 300 people listed on the Oath Keepers membership rolls — that far-right white supremacist group led by Stewart Rhodes, who just got convicted of seditious conspiracy — over 300 people listed on their membership rolls have worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, taking up jobs with the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, ICE and the Secret Service. Does this surprise you, Alejandra?
ALEJANDRA GOMEZ: It does not. You know, Arizona has had a long history of militias. And, you know, it’s concerning because this is something that has been fueled by extremist Republicans for the past decade here in Arizona. And we need real attention to it. And the fueling of hate against migrants was something that, unfortunately, Ducey continued under Trump’s biddings.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Myles Traphagen, we’re going to keep Alejandra with us for our discussion about Senator Sinema, but you’re a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Indigenous people responding, and have Indigenous people and nations, tribes been consulted on what’s happening on the border, on their land?
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: This rarely happens. There’s two tribes that have land on the Arizona border, and that would be the Tohono O’odham and the Cocopah Reservation. In the case of the Cocopah, they were not consulted when Governor Ducey placed shipping containers near the Morelos Dam in Yuma. Part of the shipping containers are on Bureau of Reclamation easements that are on the Cocopah Reservation. So they were simply ignored in this case.
So, everything that Alejandra was saying runs very deep here in Arizona as far as a long history of militias, and dating back to also union busting in 1918 in Bisbee. There’s a lot of, I guess I would call it, you know, just inherent racism and authoritarianism built into a lot of the actions that have occurred in the state for a long time now. So this is of grave concern to me.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Myles, not only ignored but —
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: Because the —
AMY GOODMAN: — in a number of cases, arrested.
MYLES TRAPHAGEN: Exactly, yeah. There was a case of two Tohono O’odham women who were protesting against the border wall several years ago, and they were run through federal court quite severely. And they didn’t even do anything to specifically damage property or injure anybody; they were just simply exercising their right to defend their homeland.
AMY GOODMAN: And in that case, if people want to go to democracynow.org, you can see our interviews around those arrests. Myles Traphagen, we want to thank you for being with us, Wildlands Network’s borderlands program coordinator. And, Alejandra Gomez, executive director of LUCHA Arizona, please stay with us.
When we come back, we’re going to look at Kyrsten Sinema saying she’s leaving the Democratic Party. Ryan Grim will also join us. Back in 30 seconds.