The White House is completing more sections of former President Donald Trump’s border wall, with the Department of Homeland Security closing four gaps in the barrier near Yuma, Ariz., that have become a major migrant thoroughfare.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas authorized Customs and Border Protection Thursday to seal the openings near the Morelos Dam just west of downtown Yuma.
The department said the area “presents safety and life hazard risks for migrants attempting to cross into the United States where there is a risk of drownings and injuries from falls. This area also poses a life and safety risk to first responders and agents responding to incidents in this area.”
The dam sits in a section of the border that runs north-south along the Colorado River before turning on an east-west track at the California-Arizona state line.
Border officials have reported 235,230 migrant encounters in the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector since Oct. 1 of last year. Only the Del Rio (326,177) and Rio Grande Valley (377,194) sectors have reported more encounters in the same period.
President Biden ordered a halt to border wall construction shortly after taking office in January 2021. While the move was praised by liberal activists, it also left holes in the barrier that critics — including Biden’s fellow Democrats — say have been exploited by individual migrants and human traffickers smuggling groups of people across the border.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly insisted Friday that the Biden administration isn’t “finishing” the border wall, which Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 to build before later winning congressional appropriations for the project.
“Why is the Biden administration building a border wall in Arizona?” Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asked Jean-Pierre at her regular briefing.
“We’re not finishing the wall,” Jean-Pierre answered. “We are cleaning up the mess the prior administration left behind in their failed attempt to build a wall.”
“But President Biden, when he was a candidate, said, ‘There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration,’” insisted Doocy, referencing a statement by the Democrat in August 2020. “So what changed?”
“We are not finishing the wall,” Jean-Pierre repeated.
Doocy went on, “If walls work in that part of Arizona, is this the administration trying to get migrants to cross somewhere else, like in Texas? What is the point?”
Jean-Pierre again replied, “We are not finishing the wall. We are cleaning up the mess that the prior administration made. We are trying to save lives. This is what the prior administration left behind that we are now cleaning up.”
“By finishing the wall, is this —” Doocy continued.
“We are not finishing the wall,” Jean-Pierre interrupted.
“By filling in, finishing —” Doocy said.
“We are not finishing the wall,” Jean-Pierre again interjected.
“By filling in [the wall], is this racist?” Doocy asked cheekily. “Because in 2019, when the former guy [Trump] was proposing a wall, you said that it was his racist wall. So how is this any different?”
“I’m not even sure how you get [from] your first question to this question that you just asked me,” Jean-Pierre said. “A border wall is an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars … Just recently, CBP reported that new bollard fencing along the Southwest border was breached 3,272 times between fiscal year 2019 and 2021, requiring $2.6 million in repairs. It’s ineffective. We are not finishing the wall. We are cleaning up the mess that the last administration made.”
A day earlier, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) praised DHS for filling in the openings.
“For too long, the Morelos Dam area has been an operational challenge for Border Patrol agents to properly secure the border and keep our communities safe,” Kelly said in a statement.
“I’m glad that the Department of Homeland Security has listened to Arizona and is going to close these gaps,” Kelly added. “This is a step forward and I’ll keep working to ensure that Arizona has the tools needed for a secure and orderly process at the border including fencing and barriers where they make sense.”
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, a Republican, also hailed the move, calling it “an important first step to getting this border crisis under control, supporting our law enforcement, and keeping border communities safe.”
The project will be funded by DHS’ fiscal year 2021 appropriations — which were approved during the Trump administration.
Earlier this month, the department approved similar border wall construction to replace a “deteriorated barrier” located near the cross-border Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, Calif.
In December of last year, Mayorkas OK’d funding to close unfinished construction gaps that would “address life, safety, environmental, and remediation requirements for border barrier projects” in California, Arizona and Texas.
The move to close the openings in Yuma comes as record numbers of migrants have tried to cross into the US.
June was the fourth straight month in which border officials encountered more than 200,000 migrants (207,416). It also brought the total number of stops recorded since Oct. 1 to 1,746,119 — the most in any fiscal year since 1960.