YUMA — As U.S. Senator Mark Kelly spoke about his efforts to help close the gaps along the Arizona-Mexico border wall, he acknowledged that border efforts were far from over.
Kelly was standing near one of the gaps in the border wall near Morelos Dam, an area that has become a frequent crossing point for migrants entering the United States from Mexico. Closing the gaps will help U.S. Border Patrol and reduce security risks to migrants, he said.
But the Cocopah reservation is about six miles from where Kelly spoke, a part of the border that’s only divided by vehicle barriers. Kelly and Yuma Sector Border Patrol Chief Chris Clem discussed the likely possibility of migrants and asylum seekers adapting to the closure of the gaps and showing up on or near the reservation where they there is no border wall.
The fix is like the border policy itself: incomplete. Kelly described the border situation as a “crisis” and said comprehensive immigration reform is something the United States “definitely” needs.
Kelly was in Yuma on Wednesday to meet with U.S. Border Patrol officials to discuss its efforts to help close four gaps along the Arizona-Mexico border wall while addressing concerns from humanitarian groups about the closures.
Kelly, D-Arizona, spoke with Clem about the operational challenges facing Border Patrol and the positive effects of increased personnel and technological resources on border security. Kelly also addressed environmental, humanitarian and logistical concerns that have arisen since the announcement that the border wall breaches were to be closed.
“After a long process of working with the administration, we were able to shut them down,” Kelly said. “This is an operational problem for Border Patrol and it will make the work of officers easier.”
On July 28, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas authorized U.S. Customs and Border Protection to close four gaps in the unfinished border barrier project.
Kelly first pushed President Joe Biden to close the gaps in December and has since had numerous calls with the White House and mayors seeking their approval, according to a press release from Kelly’s office.
“There will be an adjustment for asylum seekers on the other side, and that’s likely to happen,” Kelly said. “There are cameras there. They’re ready to deal with that, but orderly immigration where we treat asylum seekers fairly is really important.
The request for proposals for construction to fill the gaps has just been released and the first contract could potentially be in place by the end of September, Kelly said. The cost of the closure depends on the proposals the government receives and is not yet known, he added.
The initiative, known as the Yuma Morelos Dam Project, is intended to address operational impacts as well as immediate risks to life and safety, according to a press release from the US Department of Homeland Security.
“Due to the proximity of the Morelos Dam and the fast-moving Colorado River, this area presents risks to the safety and lives of migrants attempting to cross into the United States, where there is a risk of drowning and injuries from falls,” the statement said. .
In June, a 5-year-old migrant drowned in the Colorado River after the child was separated from his mother while trying to cross the US-Mexico border near Yuma.
The project also aims to address the life and safety risks posed to first responders and officers responding to incidents in the area, DHS said. The Yuma Morelos Dam Project will be funded by DHS appropriations for fiscal year 2021, according to the news release.
Colorado River drowning: Migrant child drowns crossing Colorado River near Yuma; ongoing investigation
The area near the Morelos dam has become a frequent crossing point due, in part, to its lower water levels. The reduced levels allow migrants to walk or wade across the Colorado River and report to Border Patrol agents after crossing the spacious spaces of the border wall.
Aid workers worry: ‘It’s not something that should be done’
On a recent morning, more than 300 migrants were waiting to be processed by a handful of Border Patrol agents near the Morelos Dam along the Arizona-Mexico border. Migrants from Peru, Cuba, Colombia and Russia all lined up early in the morning as the 30ft border barrier towered over them.
It’s a daily occurrence, say advocates.
Border Patrol agents have encountered more than 235,000 migrants in the Yuma sector, which covers southwestern Arizona and a small part of California, so far this exercise.
Nathalie Hernandez Barahona, volunteer coordinator for the organization Humanitarian Coalition AZ-CA, arrived at the border wall near Yuma at 3 a.m. Wednesday. Hernandez Barahona works daily with the organization to provide migrants and asylum seekers waiting at the border wall with water, food and heating.
Closing the breaches in the border wall will hurt the organization’s efforts to reach people in need of essential supplies, she said.
“It just doesn’t work for us as a humanitarian group,” Hernandez Barahona said. “It’s not something that should be done.”
Kelly and Sinema call for more funds for Border Patrol and aid programs
Wednesday’s event was Kelly’s seventh visit to the Arizona-Mexico border since taking office. In May, Kelly visited Yuma to meet with local leaders and law enforcement to discuss Title 42, a pandemic health rule implemented in March 2020. It has been used to return thousands of applicants from asylum along the US-Mexico border for the past two years. . A federal judge’s injunction prohibits the Biden administration from ending the policy.
Asked about Title 42 on Wednesday, Kelly stressed the need for a safe and orderly process that treats migrants fairly, but is also safe for law enforcement along the border.
“The best approach to claiming asylum is to go to a port of entry,” Kelly said. “That’s where we’ll see the process work best. Not walking in the desert is not safe for anyone.
Kelly urged the federal government to do more to prepare before repealing Title 42. In May, Kelly, alongside U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and a bipartisan group of senators, presented a legislation that would require the Biden administration to have a comprehensive plan in place before rescinding Title 42.
Title 42: Judge’s ruling blocks repeal of Title 42 and divides Arizona politicians and communities
In March, Kelly, alongside Sinema, secured funding to improve border security technology, nongovernmental organizations, and border patrol hiring and retention.
Funding includes $150 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program which helps non-governmental organizations and communities mitigate costs associated with an influx of migrants, including food, shelter and transportation .
On August 4, Kelly helped introduce bipartisan legislation to give the Border Patrol a pay raise and create a reserve force of Border Patrol agents.
DHS said the agency would move as quickly as possible to close the gaps while maintaining “environmental stewardship.”
“Prior to construction, DHS will engage in standard environmental planning and conduct outreach and stakeholder consultation activities,” the agency wrote in the written statement.
In the past, conservationists have raised concerns about closing gaps along the border wall, as the closure could still affect the future of wildlife whose territory crosses the international border.
Environmental Concerns: Feds push to close Arizona border wall ‘gaps’ as environmentalists raise concerns
Environmental planning and outreach will begin after a gap-filling contract is in place, Kelly said Wednesday.
The gaps along the Arizona-Mexico border are located in the former area of Project Yuma 6, a previous border barrier initiative funded by Defense Department military construction appropriations, according to DHS.