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Engineers from 937th Clearance Company prepare to place concertina wire on the Arizona-Mexico border wall, Dec. 1, 2018.
Engineers from 937th Clearance Company prepare to place concertina wire on the Arizona-Mexico border wall, Dec. 1, 2018. (Corey Maisch/U.S. Army)

Surveyors from the Army Corps of Engineers will spend the next week assessing sites near Yuma, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas, where construction of a border wall is projected to begin as early as next month, a defense official confirmed Friday.

The teams arrived Thursday following the transfer of funds to the corps to begin work, said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, Pentagon spokesman.

The Defense Department announced March 25 that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan authorized $1 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing. The authorization also includes constructing and improving roads and installing lighting.

At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, the work will occur within the Yuma and El Paso sectors of the border, according to a news release about Shanahan’s authorization. The El Paso sector includes the two most western counties in Texas and all of New Mexico, based on Customs and Border Patrol’s website. Yuma includes the western portion of Arizona and Blythe Station in California. Combined, the sectors include 394 miles of border.

Following the assessment, the corps of engineers will bid out the construction of the wall, Davis said. Army engineers will not build it. He said he estimates the Army will award a contract by the end of April and construction could begin shortly thereafter.

The construction of the wall is in support of a national emergency declaration President Donald Trump issued Feb. 15 in response to a high number of Central American families seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Recently, the number of families has peaked in El Paso, with Border Patrol temporarily reassigning 750 of its agents to the area.

The 3,100 active-duty troops at the border also are repositioning to meet the demand for support to harden ports of entry in Texas and New Mexico not previously requested, said Col. Cathy Wilkinson, spokeswoman for U.S. Army North, a headquarters helping oversee operations at the border.

Shanahan approved this request, and troops are providing temporary vehicle barriers, fencing and concertina wire at ports of entry designated by Border Patrol in El Paso and Laredo field office areas. This work is expected to finish in a few weeks, she said.

A military crisis response force also will remain at the southern border through the end of September, when the current mission is scheduled to end.

About 1,400 servicemembers are positioned in Texas, about 1,100 in Arizona and about 600 in California, Wilkinson said.

Since troops deployed in October, the mission has included placing concertina wire barriers at ports of entry and between them. After laying 180 miles of wire, military engineers completed the job last week, Wilkinson said.

Troops most recently placed barriers in Naco, Douglas, Nogales, Sasabe, Lukeville and Yuma in Arizona, and in Calexico and San Diego in California.

Units assigned to the wire mission “are repositioning, and in a few cases redeploying, as we move forces to new locations in Texas for the new port-hardening mission,” in Texas and New Mexico, Wilkinson said.

About 2,000 National Guard members also are serving along the border for a separate support mission with Border Patrol. Twitter: @Rose_Lori

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.
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