Myles Traphagen didn’t need a government presentation to tell him that border wall construction was kicking back up. He saw everything he needed on a recent visit to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the Coronado National Forest, near the town of Sasabe in southern Arizona.
As the borderlands coordinator for the Wildlands Network, Traphagen had visited the area many times before. It was among the sites he examined in an extensive report published in July documenting the environmental impact of the border wall expansion under President Donald Trump — President Joe Biden paused the construction shortly after his inauguration.
“It’s feeling like it felt during border wall construction with Trump.”
Traphagen spotted a new staging area and water holding tanks under construction. Fixed to the wall were new signs citing an Arizona trespassing law. A security guard at the scene told him construction was resuming. Later, a Border Patrol agent ordered him to leave the area.
“It’s feeling like it felt during border wall construction with Trump,” Traphagen told The Intercept. “I hadn’t felt that on the border in a year and a half, and now it’s like, oh, shit, here we go again.”
Six days after Traphagen’s visit, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that work on the border wall that began under Trump is revving back up under Biden. In an online presentation Wednesday, CBP — the largest division of the Department of Homeland Security and home to the Border Patrol — detailed plans to address environmental damage brought on by the former president’s signature campaign promise and confirmed that the wall will remain a permanent fixture of the Southwest for generations to come.
The resumed operations will range from repairing gates and roads to filling gaps in the wall that were left following the pause on construction that Biden initiated in January 2021. The wall’s environmental harms have been particularly acute in southern Arizona, where CBP used explosives to blast through large swaths of protected land — including sacred Native American burial grounds and one-of-a-kind wildlife habitats — in service of Trump’s most expansive border wall extensions.
Starting next month, contractors will return to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona to resume work on the wall, senior CBP officials said in a public webinar. In the months since Biden’s pause began, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas approved several so-called remediation projects related to the border wall. The first plan that CBP presented for public comment was in the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol’s largest area of operations and site of Trump’s most dramatic and controversial border wall construction.
In early 2020, the press was invited to watch as Border Patrol and Department of Defense officials blew apart chunks of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, south of Tucson, to make way for Trump’s wall. The display followed months of protests, as the administration tapped into a rare desert aquifer that feeds Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis that the Hia-Ced O’odham people have held sacred for thousands of years.
Two Hia-Ced O’odham women were later arrested, strip-searched, and held incommunicado after praying and protesting at the construction site. Earlier this year, one of the two women, Amber Ortega, was found not guilty of the charges after a federal judge ruled that the prosecution violated her rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.