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The US will close gaps in the border wall in Arizona

The administration of President Joe Biden on Thursday authorized the completion of the border wall between the United States and Mexico in an open area of ​​southern Arizona near Yuma that has become one of the busiest places for migrants to cross.

During his campaign, Biden had promised to end all wall construction projects, but the administration later agreed to erect some barriers, citing security concerns. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Thursday that work to complete four large unfinished sections of the wall near Yuma will provide greater protection for migrants, who can slip or drown walking through a section of the wall. shallow Colorado River.

The agency said in a statement that Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas authorized the completion of the project near the Morelos Dam, reflecting “the (government’s) priorities of deploying modern and effective border measures, and also improving security along the southwest border.” ”. Initially, the work would be funded by the Department of Defense, but will now be paid for with the 2021 DHS budget.

The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector has quickly become the third busiest of the nine sectors along the border, with the majority of traffic passing through the Morelos Dam area. The migrants arrive in the town of Algodones, Mexico, and walk unhindered over the dam’s concrete ledge toward US soil, where they wait to be detained by Border Patrol agents.

Finishing the wall was high on former President Donald Trump’s agenda, and border security remains a top issue for candidates from both parties heading into this year’s primary election. President Biden put new work on the wall on hold after taking office, but he has since prioritized completing the unfinished portions just south of Yuma.

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Arizona Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, who next week will seek his party’s nomination to defend his seat in November, has pushed the federal government to close the loopholes, which he describes as a challenge to agents trying to secure the border.

Border agents made more than 160,000 migrant apprehensions between January and June in the Yuma sector, a figure almost four times higher compared to the same period the previous year. The only two sectors with the most activity were Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley, in South Texas.

The area has become particularly attractive to Colombians and Venezuelans, among others, who fly into Mexicali, Mexico, and then take a short bus or taxi ride to Algodones to walk across the border before being released in US territory.

But Arizona environmentalist Myles Traphagen, who has been mapping ecological damage from border wall construction during the Trump administration, said closing gaps won’t be much of a deterrent to migrants.

Traphagen said the Yuma area “has become the new Ellis Island for Arizona, where people come from places like Ethiopia, Cuba, Russia, Ukraine, India, Colombia and Nicaragua.”

“There are people who cross halfway around the world by plane, train and car,” he said, “so it’s a huge mistake to expect that the closure of four small openings will make them turn around and book a return flight on Air Ethiopia.”

A 5-year-old migrant girl who was crossing the water with a group drowned near the dam on June 6 when she became separated from her mother. Her body was later found in the river.

Federal authorities did not release the identity or nationality of the victim. But Jamaican newspapers have said that she is believed to have been originally from that country.

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It is currently unknown when the work will begin. The statement says officials will act “as expeditiously as possible, while maintaining environmental protection” through consultation with affected parties.

Activists in San Diego say local Border Patrol has told them of plans to erect two 30-foot bollard fences through the iconic Friendship Park. Like the Yuma project, additional construction was funded during the Trump administration but could not be completed before he was out of office.

The new barriers will replace lower-height walls and greatly impede views across the border, including to the downtown San Diego landscape from Tijuana, said the Rev. John Fanestil of Friends of Friendship Park, a group that advocates for access. binational park inaugurated in 1971 by then First Lady Pat Nixon.

Meanwhile, environmentalists such as Traphagen have called for the removal of other sections of the barrier that they say have harmed local wildlife, such as lynxes, cougars, wild boars and deer.

Wildlands Network, a Tucson-based organization, this week released a new report on places along the US-Mexico border that it believes require the most environmental restoration.

Traphagen, the group’s borderlands program coordinator, has scoured international boundaries through New Mexico, Arizona and California over the past year to identify damaged wildlife corridors and other environmental damage.

The group calls for the replanting of native vegetation in areas that were completely cleared during the construction of the wall, as well as widening the gaps between the steel bollards, a gap that is currently 10 centimeters (4 inches), to allow the transit of more wild animals.

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It also calls for the removal of 180 miles (290 kilometers) of barbed wire installed along bollards in all border states between 2019 and 2020, both for aesthetic reasons and for safety reasons for people and wildlife.

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Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report from San Diego.

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