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N4T Investigators: Border Build

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Federal officials have asked private groups if they want to build a second layer of border wall along the 40-miles of the U.S.-Mexico border near Tucson.

In early June, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) posted a notice asking federal contractors for border wall-related anti-breaching and anti-climbing suggestions.

In doing so, CBP invited proposals for "private party construction" which means investors would potentially be allowed to buy land along the border, build a barrier on it and sell that barrier back to the federal government.

The request for suggestions is a part of the federal government's effort to make the existing border wall more secure.

Ceasar Lopez's family has lived in Nogales, Ariz., for five decades. He said he is against walls in general but he is especially against privately built border walls because it allows private companies to make private choices that the local public must live with.

“It’s a very, very clear neglect when you say that anyone from the outside, a private contractor can build a wall or build a barrier with this new proposal," Lopez said.

However, CBP officials said private contractors still have to follow federal regulations. Although in February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waived federal contracting laws and regulations for the construction of border barriers in 11 counties across New Mexico, Texas, California and Arizona, including Santa Cruz County.

“Walls have never solved the problem," Tony Estrada, Santa Cruz County Sheriff said.

Estrada said additional border walls may slow people down, but drug and human smuggling problems exist with or without them, as criminals always find other ways to get their loads across.

DHS disagreed, citing the need to "immediately prevent unlawful entry into the U.S." as reason for waiving laws and regulations which were delaying barrier construction.

According to DHS, in 2019 Border Patrol seized nearly 60,000 pounds of marijuana, more than 150 pounds of cocaine, more than 155 pounds of heroin, more than 12 pounds of fentanyl and nearly 3,000 pounds of meth from drug smugglers in the Tucson Border Sector.

“The issue of drugs coming into this country, it’s not gonna stop," Estrada said. "The majority of those drugs are coming through the ports of entry.”  

Border rancher, John Ladd said he supports publicly built barriers. He said they make a big difference to people living on both sides.

“The Mexican rancher deals with the Cartel one-on-one," Ladd said. "If he doesn’t do what they want him to do, they kill him.” 

Ladd said the stronger the barrier, the more likely the cartel has to find a different smuggling route away from Mexican ranchers living across the border from Ladd.

Ladd said razor-wire wrapped already along portions of the wall near Bisbee, Ariz. must undergo repairs by Border Patrol daily since it is constantly being cut by people trying to breach the wall while attempting to illegally cross into the U.S. from Mexico.

 “In the last 30-years, Border Patrol caught half-a-million people just on our ranch," Ladd said.

Since the border wall was built, Ladd said that number dropped to less than 5,000 people over the past five years.

“It’s (the border wall is) a national security tool and I’m in favor of it," Ladd said. 

But he said he does not want private companies building the new barriers to sell back to the federal government.

“If the contractor buys the property from an individual and gives it back to the federal government, I am against giving any private land back to the government," Ladd said.

A spokesperson for CBP said it will not know the types of barriers proposed by contractors until responses are received and evaluated.

Responses were due on June 12 and are now undergoing evaluation.

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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