Az Gov. Ducey, feds battle over shipping containers at U.S.-Mx border
Using old shipping containers isn’t a permanent or effective solution
to secure the southern border, as state and Yuma officials know. Now,
the political stunt is embroiled in a legal battle with the federal
In August, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order to place empty
shipping containers in several gaps in the border fence near Yuma. The
containers, stacked two high, are topped with razor wire. The goal isn’t
to stop everyone, which Ducey said is impossible, but he’s confident
the big metal boxes will slow the flow of border crossings.
“The idea behind the shipping containers is that they’re available,”
Ducey said in a news conference in September. “They are affordable and
they’re effective. I think the ideal situation is more of a permanent
solution, and there’s no perfect solution.”
At the border later that month, the multicolored containers sat while
steel beams that were to be installed in the gaps over the years were
loaded onto 18-wheelers and shipped to other parts of the border where
gaps exist in the fence. As the trucks crawled along a dirt path
adjacent to the border, Ducey stood proudly in front of the shipping
Javier Flores, who was driving one of the trucks, doesn’t think the containers work as even a temporary solution.
“Do you think they are of much use? I have a video of the people on top of the containers yesterday,” he said in September.
In August, some of the containers toppled over, which the governor’s
office attributed to people knocking over the 8,800-pound metal boxes.
To date, 130 containers have been placed on the border.
Rafael Martinez Orozco, assistant professor of Southwest Borderlands
at Arizona State University, said policy and security involving the
U.S.-Mexico border is too complex to respond to simplistic solutions.
“I think it’s part of a Band-Aid solution that is only thinking about
the border wall as this regiment – as this standalone – that’s going to
solve our issues,” Orozco said.
The containers also are controversial for environmental reasons.
Sierra Club borderlands director Erick Meza said the bulky containers
could be obstacles for migrating animals in the Yuma area.
“I think no wall is the solution,” Meza said. “Remove some of the
segments of the walls on these priority areas using technology if you
want. But really, I think the keys on the solutions are on addressing
root causes” of migration.
On Oct. 14, the Bureau of Reclamation sent an email to the Arizona
Department of Homeland Security and the Arizona Division of Emergency
Management saying that the placement of the containers is trespassing on
federal land and requesting the state stop placing containers on
federal and Cocopah tribal land.
In the same email, the bureau said Customs and Border Protection
already had awarded a contract to fill the gaps along where Arizona
placed the containers. It also said the state was actively interfering
with the process the bureau had underway to fill the gaps – and that it
was a violation of federal law.
Ducey responded with a lawsuit Oct. 21, claiming he had the power to
make the decision to place the containers on the border through his
gubernatorial “emergency powers.” In August, Ducey declared a state of
emergency regarding the increased flow of migrants crossing the border
illegally, and as a result, he authorized the placement of the
According to CBP data, the Yuma sector of the U.S.-Mexico border saw
more than 300,000 with Border Patrol officers in fiscal 2022. This is an
increase of over 170% in encounters in fiscal year 2021, which leads
the nation by a wide margin. It also is the third busiest corridor for
illegal border crossings in the country, according to CBP.
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls said in September that despite the state’s
stopgaps, they still “won’t have a dramatic impact” until federal help
comes in and fills the gaps with steel beams.
The sentiment that Yuma is powerless in its immigration problem is
shared by both city and county officials. Yuma County Supervisor
Jonathan Lines knows the federal government is the only entity that can
create a permanent border barrier.
“We really need them to step in and resolve this situation,” Lines
said. “It’s their responsibility to take care of the borders. It’s not a
state responsibility, and it certainly isn’t a county responsibility or
a city responsibility.”
Lines, Nicholls and Ducey said the state stepped in because of the
increased demand and lack of resources that Yuma and other border cities
have been facing as a result of migrant influx. Plugging holes in the
border fence with the containers gives them more “operational control,”
“Until you maintain control, you can’t really address the overall
problem of legal immigration. You have to get control of the border of
the situation first,” Lines said.
Orozco said that because of this year’s midterms, the phrase
“operational control” is being used to appease voters’ anxieties about
the border, which becomes a “figurative character” to voters around
election time and the complexities around border policy go ignored.
“I think the idea of having control of the border is very mythical,”
he said. “Operational control, I think, is just playing to a lot of the
particulars or massaging a lot of anxieties during this election cycle.”
Lines said Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., has been the lone voice in the
federal government who has acknowledged the help needed to secure the
border, but no official timetable has been set for when help will
arrive. Kelly’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
In August, Kelly, along with fellow Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten
Sinema and two other senators, introduced a bipartisan bill to increase
the wages and ranks of Border Patrol agents. Kelly also has sponsored a
bill to use newer technologies to deter drugs, including fentanyl, from
coming across the border.
Although Lines and Ducey highlighted drugs as the reason for plugging
gaps in the fence, Nicholls said overall safety and control of the
situation were top priorities. The only option is to rely on the federal
government, he said, and the permanent solution can only come from
“The ball is in their court,” Nicholls said. “We’re always willing to be at the table.”