Outgoing Arizona Governor Doug Ducey thanks to a legislative appropriation of half a billion for “border security” has used a reported $95 million of it to erect some 3,000 shipping containers along a 10 mile stretch of border near Yuma on federal land to plug the hole in the wall. The federal government has sued to have them removed and Arizona will ultimately lose–and be forced to pay for their removal and the damage wrought. Gov.-elect Hobbs will no doubt try and use some of the appropriated dollars to fix Ducey’s boondoggle–Republican legislators will sue…

Let’s go back a bit here. Originally Arizona was part of Mexico, as it became part of the United States, the border was permeable. People flowed back and forth, and there was no sense of illegal aliens. Mexico’s economy grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, but the steep decline in oil prices combined with Mexico’s debt owed to lenders, led to major economic issues in the 1980s (Mexico effectively went bankrupt in 1982) and Reagan supercharged proxy wars in Central America involving El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in the supposed battle against independence communism. People fled for economic reasons and due to gross human rights violations by militaries or militants backed by the United States.

Ultimately this led to efforts in El Paso and San Diego in 1994 called Operation Gatekeeper to erect a significant border and force people into the hostile desert territory, expecting that would be a strong disincentive. Thousands have died crossing, but the policy failed. We keep adding more border patrol, keep deporting folks (Obama was nicknamed deporter in chief) and with Trump came a 30 foot border wall. Yet they still come.

Surely the missing ingredient was shipping containers. Arizona has no port, so surely shipping containers on the border would be a fix.

Shipping containers unlike the fencing nearby provides hiding locations inside (they can be cut through) or scaled, and, as the block the view, they also hide whatever might be occurring on the other side.

So has this border wall been successful? We only have data through October 2022…and you can see the clear downward trend in Title 8 encounters occurring with the erection of the shipping containers…actually NOT. There’s no downward trend association (Title 8 refers to folks crossing the border, not at a point of entry, without authorization. Title 42 currently applies to people seeking asylum who are not permissible to enter the country at a port of entry. This mostly occurs at ports of entry). Folks like Ducey conflate this to gin up the numbers–most encounters are Title 42, not Title 8. Did it make some discernable dent in the crossings?….good luck finding it! These statistics are for the Yuma sector where Ducey’s containers have been placed.

Yuma Sector Title 8 Encounters FY2020-FY2023YTD

As you can see the number of encounters has risen significantly since FY2020 and now is bit over 20,000 per month in the Yuma sector where Ducey’s 3,000 containers sit. There, however, is no clear drop related to Ducey’s $95 million construction project. In other words, a pretty lousy Return On Investment.

Historically Mexico and Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador would be the primary origins of border crossers. But here’s the same graph with just those countries (severe political repression is occurring in Nicaragua–so setting that aside right now).

Notice only about 1 in 10 border crossers come from these countries.

Title 8 encounters Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras citizens only

Now let’s look at countries that have some level of repression going on: Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. We can see that about half currently of the border crossers come from these countries (and sometimes more in the past). The rest are coming from other countries that are not close to the border.

Title 8 Encounters Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela Yuma sector

So the “surge” has a lot more to do with political repression in other countries.

So does spending about $100 million to put a bunch of shipping containers on the border make much sense? Apparently the Venezuelans did not get that memo.

Or to quote Phil Boas’ column on this stunt:

And 100 years from now some hikers in the desert will stumble upon the shipping containers that fell between the jurisdictional cracks and wonder how they got there.

I’m almost tempted to get out in front of them, to put up a plaque today that would speak to their generation a century from now:

“To all who pass here: If this seems stupid …

“It was.”

-Phil Boas, Arizona Republic columnist

If Ducey’s run to be Vice President does not pay off, he may have a post-Governor career as a stunt man.

By Dave Wells

Dave Wells holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Public Policy. He frequently sought out for his political and policy expertise. He is now a retired teaching professor at Arizona State University where he taught American government regularly. He co-founded and serves as research director for the Grand Canyon Institute. The views expressed are his own.

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