‘Worse than it has ever been’: Biden’s border wall gaps heighten dangers, scare off feds

By Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times - Updated: 7:00 p.m. on Monday, October 25, 2021

President Biden’s decision to halt border wall construction has left parts of Arizona so dangerous that the U.S. Forest Service has banned its employees from going there, according to a border rancher who grazes cattle on those lands.

Jim Chilton, whose ranch covers 5.5 miles of the border, was thrilled when the government began replacing the four-strand barbed wire fence with a Trump-style border wall. Five miles were completed by the end of the last administration. But after Mr. Biden’s construction halt, Mr. Chilton now has a half-mile gap, and people are pouring through like a funnel.

“Actually, the border danger is far worse than it has ever been,” Mr. Chilton told The Washington Times in an email. “The border wall got partway across our ranch but left about a half-mile-wide door for cartel operations right up our southern pastures. Mainly drug packers cross our ranch.”

And the Forest Service knows it’s worse, Mr. Chilton said in court documents, saying employees have been banned from making the rounds of the grazing lands near the border.

“I have attempted to make appointments for the U.S. Forest Service to send personnel out to conduct such monitoring, but these appointments have been canceled due to their reaction to the violent danger near the border where the wall is not complete,” Mr. Chilton said in his sworn statement.

The rancher maintains his own motion-activated cameras on his grazing land and said they’ve detected “a dramatic increase” in the number of people coming across since wall construction ended.

The Forest Service declined to comment on Mr. Chilton’s revelation, citing the ongoing court case. But a spokeswoman insisted the agency is “working with several local and federal agencies to ensure safety of the public and employees as we accomplish work to support healthy, resilient landscapes.”

Arizona’s lawsuit, led by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, argues that the increase in traffic is tied to the halt in construction and has resulted in illegal immigrants “trampling upon wilderness.” That endangers the fragile desert ecosystem and amounts to a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, Mr. Brnovich argues.

Under his grazing permit from the Forest Service, Mr. Chilton is supposed to move cattle from pasture to pasture to reduce environmental impact. But the border is so dangerous it is “seriously impacting” his ability to move the cattle to winter pastures, he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had signaled early this year that construction could be restarted to fill gaps in the wall.

But more recently he seems to have soured on the idea, saying the administration’s policy is no more construction.