Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn
The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) has sued the state of Arizona and four state officials, including Governor Douglas Ducey, over the placement of shipping containers along the U.S.-Mexico border. In their filing, the DoJ asked the judge to require Arizona to stop placing new shipping containers and immediately begin removing the containers. DoJ lawyers have also asked for financial damages to cover the cost of clean up and removal.
In August, Governor Ducey ordered the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) to begin placing large steel shipping containers along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to construct a border wall. The containers were placed on land owned by the federal government and on Cocopah tribal lands without permission. KWTX reported the total cost of this smaller project could be $13 million. In early October the U.S. Bureau of Land Reclamation demanded that Arizona remove the containers. Instead, Governor Ducey, who will be out of office in January, sued the federal government and began a larger project placing shipping containers on other federally owned lands, this time allotting $95 million to the work. Ducey argued that the Arizona should have full or at least partial control over the land in question, saying the federal government unlawfully acquired it over 100 years ago.
The Department of Justice disagreed with Ducey’s arguments in their court filing. DoJ lawyers pointed out that, among other things, the national parks and other federal lands were created years before Arizona became a state. Not only that, but as a condition of statehood, Arizona’s State Constitution specifically gave up all claim to the land Ducey is now trying to say he can control. Even if Ducey wanted to challenge the Roosevelt Proclamation, which gave permanent control of the border to the federal government, the DoJ argued that the deadline to do so passed in 1913, nearly 110 years ago.
The final weeks of Governor Ducey’s administration are likely to have long-term consequences for Arizona. His attempt to build a border wall out of shipping containers seemed doomed to failure from the start. PBS reported that the 3,800 foot wall built in August has large gaps throughout that range from three to approximately 300 feet wide. Univision Reporter Claudia Ramos took photos of shipping containers that had already fallen over in the first week. The newer construction in Coronado National Forest was slowed down when activists began climbing on top of the containers with their camping chairs, revealing how easily the wall could be scaled. The one thing the containers will stop is the migration of endangered wildlife, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
In spite of this, Ducey appears determined to commit Arizona to costly legal battles with the federal government before his Democratic replacement can be sworn in. The state is already in two lawsuits with federal agencies and is spending tens of millions of dollars on poorly-planned projects. The Center for Biological Diversity has also filed a notice of intent saying it will sue Arizona for violating the Endangered Wildlife Act.
“I don’t know how much it will cost to remove the containers and what the cost will be,” Governor-elect Katie Hobbs said in an interview with Phoenix PBS TV station KAET. Governor Ducey may not be able to build an effective wall on the border, but he has set up a legal maze for Governor-elect Katie Hobbs to navigate.