KOLD Investigates: Arizona taking border security into its own hands, invests millions in security

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:37 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Gov. Doug Ducey wants Arizona to take border security into its own hands, and has invested millions of dollars to do it.

Ducey signed House Bill 2317 which dedicates $335 million in state sales tax revenue to border security.

“Inaction by President Joe Biden has led to the worst border crisis in over 20 years,” Ducey said.

President Joe Biden halted border wall construction on his first day in office, rescinding the national emergency declaration authorized by former President Donald Trump.

A year and a half later, the Tucson border sector still piles of unused steel, unpaved roads, incomplete lighting structures, and a wall that just stops.

In August, the Biden administration authorized Customs and Border Protection to close gaps in the border wall in the Yuma sector near the Morelos dam to help protect migrants from drowning.

“We in Arizona have told Washington for the last year and a half that they were making a mistake and they were neglecting this issue and it was going to boil over and get so much worse, and it did,” said Tim Roemer, Director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security.

Roemer said there is no word from the federal government on picking up construction in the Tucson border sector, but with the signing of House Bill 2317, state resources are on the way.

“This is the most significant step that the State of Arizona has ever taken in order to protect our state from this border crisis,” Roemer said.

The legislation calls for physical and virtual barriers including cameras, sensors, and drones.

Roemer said technology would help with the increase in human smuggling cases that have led to deadly high-speed pursuits in the Tucson border sector.

“We have seen far too many people die on our interstates in car accidents from human smugglers trying to evade capture. With the proper technology, you can follow those trying to evade capture, and you can pullback your law enforcement so you don’t have to get into those high-speed chases as often,” Roemer said.

House Bill 2317 puts the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs in charge of the money.

Major General Kerry Muehlenbeck is the Director of DEMA and said the Division of Emergency Management is currently working with various agencies like homeland security, local law enforcement and DPS to determine the needs of each locality.

“We are taking the money to give it to the experts in the field, so they purchase what’s needed. They will determine the demand; they are the tactical operators. We are the managers of the money and administrators of the fund,” said Muehlenbeck.

The legislation also requires DEMA to use existing infrastructure and fence materials for the construction of the physical border fence when feasible.

But with a diverse patchwork of landowners at our southern border, where can the state realistically build?

Our KOLD investigates team used this map from the Arizona State Land Department to measure just how many miles of state property are within yards of the border. The length of the Arizona-Mexico border is roughly 370 miles, the state owns nearly 36 miles of that.

“The vast majority of it is federal property, reservation Native American land, and private property. State land and the land the state actually controls is quite small in the grand scheme,” Muehlenbeck said.

“We have an entire team of agency directors throughout our government working with federal partners, private ranchers along the border with state land trusts. We are literally looking at every possible option for us to put physical and virtual barriers along the border,” Roemer said.

So, what about all of the unused material still lying next to the border?

“We will absolutely rely on professionals on the ground to help and assist us to utilize existing resources, that includes anything that is left over that we can purchase at a better cost from our federal government partners or hopefully get for free. We are open to anything and everything. The bottom line is getting the best deal and securing our state and our nation,” Roemer said.

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