“You come here for shameful reasons,” said Johnson, whose family has lived in the area for nearly 103 years.
Johnson points to one reason for the recent surge in activity: a three-quarters of a mile gap in the boundary left when construction abruptly stopped.
“It was just a kick in the stomach because they were so close to completing our area – and now we have that three-quarter mile gap,” said Johnson. “That created a funnel point for all traffic in that area in the middle of our ranch.”
Immediately behind the unfinished wall is a largely abandoned Mexican village with several empty buildings. It’s a prime spot for smugglers, says Johnson.
“It’s just a staging area … so they can fill in those loopholes,” said Johnson.
FROZEN BORDER WALL CONSTRUCTION
In 2020, construction began on mile-long new border walls along the southern New Mexico border. It was part of an expensive billion-dollar project led by former President Donald Trump.
However, on January 20, 2021, when President Biden took office, he ordered a 60-day suspension of a border wall construction with active contracts.
When the Biden government issued the suspension order, work on the new border wall was completely stopped and a construction zone was frozen in time. The KOB 4 Investigates team observed abandoned trenches, scraps of metal reinforcement, and stacks of unused metal siding.
“It’s all ready to go here – ready to endure,” said Johnson.
Although the White House’s 60-day suspension has expired, it is still unclear what the fate of the border wall will look like under President Biden.
POLITICAL DIVISION AT THE BORDER WALL
Republican Congressman Yvette Herrell represents the Second District of New Mexico, which includes the border country.
“It is clearly a national security issue, number one,” said Rep. Herrell (R – District 2), who has serious concerns about the border wall, including the cost of canceling dozens of construction contracts and expensive abandoned building materials.
“The sheer number of 270,000 pounds of steel bollard fences that sit there … and now that we have to either destroy them or store them … It’s incredibly expensive,” said Rep. Herrell.
Herrell also notes that at least 120 border guards have been prevented from patrolling the border corridor to instead assist unaccompanied minors and migrant families elsewhere along the border.
Rancher Russell Johnson says this puts his main concern, which is safety, at risk.
“First and foremost, it is always our family’s safety. I have a family, I have children and they are exposed to this stuff. You see stuff every day. You see border patrols chasing groups and you never know who’s going to get you.” Comes home, “said Johnson.
However, some critics are calling for President Biden to dismantle parts of the wall built by Trump.
In March, New Mexico Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez (D – District 3) joined other border state officials in a letter calling on the White House “to pledge not to initiate any new contracts or construction to resume”.
“We have to carry out this process by tearing down the wall and doing it in a way that respects our environment and our local communities,” said Leger Fernandez.
However, Johnson believes completing the border wall on the section of border that includes his ranch will be critical to his community.
“I’m afraid it will take something terribly tragic before you even lift your finger and notice this problem,” said Johnson.