More than two years after the U.S. Army hung coils of barbed wire on the border fence in Nogales, the mayor says he is still pushing to take it down.

The wire runs at least eight miles along the local border fence – more than a mile beyond the Mariposa Port of Entry on the west side of the city and east to where the Santa Cruz River crosses the border, about five miles past downtown. It’s particularly visible along East and West International streets and near Morley Avenue, where a now-closed pedestrian port of entry used to usher Mexican shoppers into Nogales’ once-thriving downtown shopping district.

At the end of East International Street, a block from the closed port, six rows of barbed concertina wire cover the fence from the anti-climbing plate at the top of the 18-foot bollards to the ground. Vines have grown among the coils, and the sharp barbs have caught trash – plastic bags, empty water bottles – and a jacket.

Fence wire

The wire has proved accommodating to some plant life.

The wire hasn’t just ensnared trash. In 2019, local law enforcement reports included an incident in which a man cut his hands on the barbs, and another in which Nogales firefighters freed a man who had become caught in the wire, after which the man jumped back into Mexico.

In a call with U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly last month, Mayor Arturo Garino said, he brought up the issue of the wire and what might be done to take it down. Speaking at a Nogales City Council meeting last week, Garino mentioned the phone call, but didn’t sound overly optimistic, even with a new president in the White House.

“I said (to Kelly) that I know that the government has a tendency of, when they put something up, they always keep it up, doesn’t matter what administration is there. But let’s see how this administration is,” Garino said at the Feb. 3 meeting. “And I said, if anything, remove the wire that’s all the way down to the ground.”

That was in reference to the more recent installation of the lower rows of wire, which were placed along the local fence in February 2019. The two coils along the top of the border fence were installed beginning on Nov. 6, 2018 – Election Day – in response to a caravan of Central American migrants making their way north through Mexico to request U.S. asylum.

Both moves were widely panned by local officials and state Democratic leaders, with many complaining that the Trump administration was playing politics – throwing fuel on the flames of what some called a “border crisis” and damaging the image of one of the city’s primary commercial areas.

When the military returned to Nogales in 2019, local groups rushed to condemn the low-hanging wire, which the city council called “lethal” in a sharply-worded resolution. Then-Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. said the wire was added “just to make a point at our expense.”

Fence wire

The barbed coils are a magnet for trash, which has accumulated most heavily on the ground-level row of wire.

The Border Patrol, on the other hand, called the wire “absolutely beneficial” to agents’ efforts to stop illegal activity at the border, in a statement made shortly before the lower rows of wire were installed. The Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, later said it had asked the Army to install the wire.

That was two years ago. Now, with a new presidential administration, Garino is returning to the issue and said on Feb. 3 that he plans to send letters to officials in Washington D.C. talking about removing the wire. But it’s unclear whether others will make the issue a priority.

Kelly’s office said in a statement that it’s “aware of this concern and looking into the issue” and that the senator is “committed to ensuring a secure border and fixing our country’s broken immigration system.”

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson whose congressional district includes Santa Cruz County, said in a statement that he’d previously asked the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense to take down the wire and “will continue to urge the same of the Biden Administration.”

County Supervisor Manuel Ruiz, who represents local border areas in Nogales and east to Kino Springs, said he doesn’t like the wire either, though he wasn’t actively advocating to take it down. He said Garino hadn’t contacted him about the letter, but that he would be willing to sign-on.

In an email sent earlier this week, Garino said he was still working on the letter.

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