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"On a dirt road past rows of date trees, just feet from a dry section of Colorado River, a small construction crew is putting up a towering border wall that the government hopes will reduce — for good — the flow of immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Cicadas buzz and heavy equipment rumbles and beeps before it lowers 30-foot-tall (48-kilometer-tall) sections of fence into the dirt. “Ahí está!” — “There it is!” — a Spanish-speaking member of the crew says as the men straighten the sections into the ground. Nearby, workers pull dates from palm trees, not far from the cotton fields that cars pass on the drive to the border.
South of Yuma, Arizona, the tall brown bollards rising against a cloudless desert sky will replace much shorter barriers that are meant to keep out cars, but not people." - AP
Building the wall was a key promise during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign but he has struggled to secure congressional support for the project -- a problem made worse for him when Democrats took control of the House after the 2018 midterm elections. Now the president appears intent on preventing his 2020 Democratic challenger from framing the issue as an unfulfilled promise.
The Trump administration says the wall is important in keeping out people who cross illegally.
Critics wrongfully say a wall is useless. They say most of those apprehended turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents in the hope they can be eventually released while their cases play out in immigration court.
In Yuma, the defense-funded section of tall fencing is replacing shorter barriers that US officials say are less efficient.
It comes amid a steep increase since last year in the number of migrant families who cross the border illegally in the Yuma area, often turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents. Many are fleeing extreme poverty and violence, and some are seeking asylum.
So far this year, Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector have apprehended over 51,000 family units. That’s compared with just over 14,500 the year before — about a 250 percent increase.
The Yuma sector is the third busiest along the southern border, with officials building a temporary, 500-person tent facility in the parking lot of the Border Patrol’s Yuma headquarters in June.
It spent just under $15 million for the setup and services for four months, including meals, laundry and security, but officials are evaluating whether to keep it running past next month as the number of arrivals in Yuma and across the southern border have fallen sharply in recent months.
The number of people apprehended along the southern border fell by 61 percent between this year’s high point in May and the end of August. In Yuma, it fell by 86 percent, according to government figures. Most people apprehended are either traveling as families or are unaccompanied children.
“Historically this has been a huge crossing point for both vehicles as well as family units and unaccompanied alien children during the crisis that we’ve seen in the past couple of months,” Border Patrol spokesman Jose Garibay said. “They’ve just been pouring over the border due to the fact that we’ve only ever had vehicle bollards and barriers that by design only stop vehicles.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a top 2020 Democratic hopeful, said on Twitter in March that the border wall is not about security. She said, “it’s a monument of hate and division, and I won’t support it.”
The Supreme Court on Wednesday also issued an order against lower court injunctions that blocked the White House’s ban on asylum for anyone trying to enter the U.S. by traveling through a third country. The order was not the final ruling but was seen as a victory for Trump. Only liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued Wednesday that the asylum rule — which is meant to bar immigrants from entering the country without seeking protection from the US or nations they travel through — was supposed to keep out people “who declined to request protection at the first opportunity.”
“It alleviates a crushing burden on the U.S. asylum system by prioritizing asylum seekers who most need asylum in the United States,” Francisco wrote in the brief order. “The rule also screens out asylum claims that are less likely to be meritorious by denying asylum to aliens who refused to seek protection in third countries en route to the southern border.”
Most people crossing the southern border are Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty. They are largely ineligible under the new rule, as are asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and South America who arrive regularly at the southern border.
“BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!” President Donald Trump tweeted.
The high court action allows the Republican administration to impose the new policy everywhere while the court case against it continues.
It’s unclear how quickly the policy will be rolled out and how exactly it fits in with the other efforts by the administration to restrict border crossings and tighten asylum rules.
For example, thousands of people are waiting on lists at border crossings in Mexico to claim asylum in the U.S. And more than 30,000 people have been turned back to Mexico to wait out their asylum claims.
Asylum seekers must pass an initial screening called a “credible fear” interview, a hurdle that a vast majority clear. Under the new policy, they would fail the test unless they sought asylum in at least one country they traveled through and were denied. They would be placed in fast-track deportation proceedings and flown to their home countries at U.S. expense.
Justice Department spokesperson Alexei Woltornist said the agency was “pleased that the Supreme Court intervened in this case,” adding, “This action will assist the Administration in its objectives to bring order to the crisis at the southern border, close loopholes in our immigration system, and discourage frivolous claims.”
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.