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Arizona agrees to dismantle shipping container border wall

Outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey said he installed the barrier because the federal government wasn't doing enough to stop illegal migrant crossings.
A border wall constructed of shipping containers on federal land along the US-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest near Hereford, Ariz. on Dec. 20, 2022.
A border wall constructed of shipping containers on federal land along the U.S.-Mexico border in Coronado National Forest near Hereford, Ariz., on Tuesday.Patrick T. Fallon / AFP - Getty Images

Outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to dismantle a makeshift border wall that triggered a lawsuit by the federal government and rankled environmentalists.

In an agreement reached Wednesday with the Biden administration, Ducey said he would stop installing shipping containers on federal land along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

The agreement comes one week after federal officials filed a lawsuit against Ducey’s administration saying the border project was illegally built on federal land.

It requires Arizona to remove containers installed in the Coronado National Forest by Jan. 4. State agencies must consult with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure materials are removed safely and without further damaging natural resources.

"We're ecstatic," said Robin Silver with the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a notice of intent to sue Ducey’s office earlier this month over the wall because of ecological concerns.

Protesters spent weeks camping in freezing temperatures along the border wall, and had vowed to stay there until the containers were removed.

Ducey's successor, Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has said she opposes the container project but has stopped short of saying she would dismantle it when she takes office in January.

C.J. Karamargin, Ducey’s spokesman, said the project was always intended to be a temporary solution until the Biden administration agreed to resume completion of a wall started under President Donald Trump.

With just a few weeks left in office, Ducey has doubled down on securing his state's border with Mexico as local officials say they are seeing an uptick in illegal crossings due to confusion over Title 42, which set limits on asylum-seekers hoping to enter the U.S.

The Trump-era policy had been set to expire this week, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered a temporary stay. It’s unclear when the court might rule on the matter. 

In the meantime, Ducey's office said it is working with local and state officials to deploy additional resources to places like Yuma County, which extended an emergency declaration Wednesday ahead of the lifting of Title 42. Details are still being worked out, Karamargin said.

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas authorized U.S. Customs and Border Protection to move forward with border projects in several regions, including in Arizona's Yuma County.

Karamargin said the assurance from federal officials paved the way for Ducey to agree to remove the shipping containers.

"For more than a year, the federal government has been touting their effort to resume construction of a permanent border barrier," he said. "Finally, after the situation on our border has turned into a full-blown crisis, they've decided to act. Better late than never."

Ducey's office is working with the Biden administration to "ensure they can begin construction of this [new] barrier with the urgency this problem demands," Karamargin added.

Final details are still being worked out on how much a new project will cost and when work will begin. The shipping container project cost Arizona at least $82 million, Karamargin said.