By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Arizona has agreed to pay the Biden administration $2.1 million as part of a settlement for a lawsuit the Department of Justice had filed against the state over a makeshift wall made of shipping containers at the Arizona–Mexico border.
The state was given a bill of $2.1 million on Aug. 22 by the U.S. Forest Service, Judy Kioski, a spokeswoman for Arizona’s Division of Emergency Management said, the Arizona Republic reported on Aug. 30.
The funds would by used by the Forest Service, which indicated that addressing the damage done to federal and tribal territories by the containers would necessitate millions of dollars in funds.
Once Arizona pays the bill, the case will be dismissed, pending a final judicial order.
Unless dismissed ahead of time, the lawsuit is set to continue until Sept. 26. In the event it’s not dismissed, a joint progress report will be required from both parties.
Under former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, storage containers were positioned at gaps in the wall that had been built by the Trump administration, to mitigate illegal border crossings.
But it resulted in a lawsuit filed by the DOJ in December 2022, after which Mr. Ducey agreed to take down the barrier. Court filings said the federal government would, once the containers were taken down, commit to building a permanent border barrier at Yuma sector, Arizona’s busiest illegal border crossing. The project was announced on Jan. 6 this year.
Makeshift Border Erected to Combat Illegal Immigration
Mr. Ducey had ordered the building of the makeshift wall in late 2022, intended to help stem the tide of illegal border crossings until a permanent solution could be found.
“We can’t wait any longer. The Biden administration’s lack of urgency on border security is a dereliction of duty. For the last two years, Arizona has made every attempt to work with Washington to address the crisis on our border,” Mr. Ducey said in a press release in August 2022.
Arizona used more than 120 shipping containers to plug over 3,820 feet of gaps in the border wall in Yuma County. In late October 2022, the state started to erect a separate shipping container barrier in Cochise County, in the Coronado National Forest, to cover a 10-mile gap that would take some 2,770 containers.
Mr. Ducey, in response, sued the federal government (pdf) in the same month after receiving the notice. His lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, asked the court to affirm the state’s right to defend itself, citing an “unprecedented crisis” regarding illegal immigration that has arisen in Arizona and “that is the creation of the federal government.”
The DOJ in December 2022 filed a separate federal lawsuit against the state, Mr. Ducey, and other state officials, saying the containers were illegally placed on federal land. The land could only be used if Arizona had been given permission by the government, but the state hadn’t sought permission and didn’t have the proper federal permits, the department said. It also said the makeshift wall had harmed federal lands and threatened public safety, as well as hindered federal agencies from carrying out their jobs.
By Dec. 21, 2022, Mr. Ducey’s administration agreed to dismantle the shipping container border barrier. Court documents showed that the two sides entered into the agreement “to avoid the United States moving for an immediate temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction.”
Under the agreement, the state of Arizona said it would stop putting in any more containers, and would remove all of the ones previously installed “to the extent feasible” and so as not to cause damage to U.S. lands, properties, and natural resources by Jan. 4, 2023—one day before Democrat Gov. Katie Hobbs was sworn in. Ms. Hobbs had been critical of Mr. Ducey’s wall project, calling it ineffective and a political stunt.
A spokesperson for Mr. Ducey told The Week that he had agreed to remove the containers because the Biden administration agreed to put up a permanent barrier in gaps near Yuma.
The shipping containers have all since been removed from federal land in Cochise and Yuma counties near the border, and “extensive remediation efforts” have been executed to address the environmental harm caused by the project, the Arizona Republic reported, citing a joint status report from Aug. 23 submitted by the federal government, Arizona, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Shipping Containers for Sale
Mr. Ducey had initially promised to build about 10 miles of makeshift border barrier. Ultimately, roughly 4 to 4.5 miles of wall were erected, costing the state about $95 million in fees to Florida contractor AshBritt Management & Logistics. The money came from a $335 million Arizona Border Security Fund that state lawmakers approved in 2022.
Ashbritt was ultimately paid a total of about $194.7 million to erect and later dismantle the shipping container barrier, as well as transport away the containers not used, AZPM reported in late June. That comes to “roughly $40 to $50 million per mile, including the cost to take the containers away,” according to the outlet.
More than 2,000 shipping containers have been put up for sale from June 1 through Sept. 30 for government and nonprofits. If there are any left over by Oct. 1, the public will have a chance to purchase them. Costs range from $500 to $2,000 depending on the size and condition of the container.
Katabella Roberts and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.