Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
With his term almost over, outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is leaving a monument, of sorts, behind. Ducey’s administration has been placing enormous empty shipping containers along an eastern stretch of the Grand Canyon State’s border with Mexico. Topped with razor wire, this makeshift barrier is supposed to help stop illegal immigration.
“Arizona is going to do the job that Joe Biden refuses to do – secure the border in any way we can,” Ducey said in October. “We’re not backing down.”
Ducey began erecting his border wall in the summer, near Yuma, in the southwest corner of Arizona. Another section is now going up in Cochise County.
But not only is Ducey’s project likely illegal, it is also expensive, ineffective and dangerous. Instead of cooperating with the federal government or Arizona’s Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, Ducey is staging a massive border stunt which will not address any of our immigration issues.
Legally, Ducey’s “wall” is problematic. The Supreme Court has been clear, most recently in 2012 with Arizona v. US, that immigration policy is the jurisdiction of the federal government. In other words, states and governors cannot take such matters into their own hands, no matter how frustrated they may be with federal immigration policy. Some of the borderlands where Ducey has placed empty containers actually belong to the federal government and native American tribes.
Ducey brushes aside these facts in a lawsuit that he filed against the government. He feels that his actions are justified because of what he terms an “unprecedented crisis” at the border with “floods of illegal border crossings.” Nice try.
Just because the governor asserts his right to build a border wall does not mean he has legal authority to do so. Plus, Ducey will only be in office until January 5, and Hobbs hasn’t decided how she will get rid of the multi-ton containers. So he’s saddling her with the task of cleaning up his mess.
The Associated Press estimates that Ducey’s current efforts will cost about $95 million. That’s a lot of money to spend on a structure that is really no barrier to potential border-crossers. Photos of protesters atop the wall show that it is easily scaled, and there are gaps between the containers in multiple places.
Ducey’s wall is also potentially dangerous. In August, Univision reported on two of the containers near Yuma tipping over, probably from strong winds. This represents a danger to migrants, border patrol agents and firefighters in the area. Would Ducey take responsibility if another container tipped and injured or killed someone?
Then there is the environmental impact of Ducey’s wall. Conservation groups say that it imperils wildlife, endangered species and public lands. As a co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out in a statement, “There are 3,700 [border] agents covering the Tucson Sector alone, not to mention helicopters, drones and hundreds of cameras. We’re in an extinction crisis, and it’s reckless to sacrifice a critical wildlife corridor and harm endangered animals so Ducey can score political points.”
There is no question that the southern border has lately seen record numbers of unauthorized border crossers. Border agents encountered more than 2 million migrants during fiscal year 2022, up from 1.7 million in 2021, according to US Customs and Border Protection statistics. These numbers are likely to rise in December, once the Biden administration lifts Title 42, a Trump-era policy that expelled migrants on public health grounds.
Still, Ducey does not have the right to commandeer border policy, let alone interfere with migrants’ lawful right to claim asylum. In fact, the Biden administration has its own plans to close some of the gaps along the border near Yuma, and Ducey’s structures there are in the way.
The only person to benefit from Ducey’s wall is the governor himself. It has thrust him into the national spotlight, and perhaps given him more name recognition with conservative voters. Sadly, that’s what his version of a border wall is all about: himself.
Get our free weekly newsletter
This is reminiscent of the actions taken by Republican governors this summer who transported migrants from red states to blue states. We are looking at political theater, not legitimate immigration proposals.
Our country’s dysfunctional immigration system is sorely in need of an overhaul, and possible solutions exist. Consider the bipartisan proposal from Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. It would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people brought to the US as children, while extending Title 42 and increasing border security. Though it may be imperfect, it is a serious proposal and worthy of consideration.
In contrast, Ducey’s wall amounts to a large-scale publicity stunt. It causes problems, instead of solving them – and represents a monument to misguided thinking.