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Contrary to Right-Wing Claims, Border Wall Floodgates Actually Are for Floods

Biden isn’t opening the wall’s literal floodgates to let migrants in, but the GOP is using this to foment racism anyway.

Laiken Jordahl, a conservationist with the Center for Biological Diversity, explains in a video why Trump's border wall would fall over and cause catastrophic flooding without floodgates.

If you’ve been reading right-wing headlines, you may have heard that President Joe Biden’s Border Patrol “admitted” to “intentionally” opening floodgates on the border wall championed by former President Donald Trump. MAGA supporters threw a fit on social media, claiming in countless posts that the floodgates are evidence that the Biden administration is allowing migrants into the country for nefarious ends. In one post, Fox News personality Jesse Watters suggested that Biden himself had opened the “gaping holes” so migrants and “antelope” can “pour through.”

Wrong. The floodgates are literally floodgates, and Border Patrol was also opening them during Arizona’s monsoon season when Trump was in charge. As environmentalists have warned since the former administration began its hasty construction of Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge, the force of flash floods caused by seasonal rain and the debris they carry would topple the border wall without open floodgates — a problem that has already been documented on multiple sections of the wall.

Yes, the wall also disrupts ecosystems and the migration path of animals, one reason why federal agencies that manage wildlife in national parks and refuges in the borderlands also want the floodgates open. The floodgates are not electronic, so agents must venture out to remote areas in order to open and close them for the monsoon season. Nature doesn’t care about politics, and she will simply knock the wall over if left to her own devices.

To prove this point, Laiken Jordahl, a conservationist with the Center for Biological Diversity, visited a section of the wall in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona. In a recent video Jordahl posted to social media, barbed wire cane be seen strung across the open floodgates, but there are no Border Patrol agents in sight. The floodgates allow water to flow through and prevent debris such as dead plants and trash from piling up on the wall. Across southern Arizona, debris can be found piled high on anything in its way along the washes and “dry rivers” that swell violently during monsoons.

“They have to open these gates every time there is a chance of severe monsoon rains, and here we have been getting ton of rain for the past few weeks,” Jordahl says. “If these gates were closed, a huge amount of debris would pile up, putting enough pressure on this structure to eventually push it over, leading to a huge flood and, of course, knocking down the almighty border wall.”

As a conservationist working in the Sonoran Desert, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, Jordahl sees these floodgates all of time. Environmentalists have attempted to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the border wall for years now. Jordahl explains that floodgates are installed along every mile of the border wall on federal parks and lands to prevent catastrophic floods and keep the wall intact, but most people outside of Arizona did not know about the openings until this week.

By 2020, the Trump administration’s border wall “system,” which largely reinforced existing barriers, was projected to cost $18 billion, or between $20 million and $27 million per mile. Construction was never completed, and with maintenance costs mounting, much of it was left to rust in the desert after Trump left office.

For supporters of “the wall” — including those whose donations for construction were stolen by fraudulent hucksters — it may be difficult to digest the fact that border walls are simply not effective at stopping immigration. That’s why Trump supporters continue to blame anyone else for the wall’s failure (including antelopes).

Migrants are reportedly passing through these floodgates and surrendering to Border Patrol, the best way for many people fleeing violence and poverty to exercise their right to asylum. As usual, images of migrants on U.S. soil set off the latest round of online outrage, giving right-wing pundits and politicians another chance at a viral post.

“This proves that the wall has never been anything other than political theater, other than a talking point, an election problem for the GOP,” Jordahl says. “Obviously anyone can cross under or over … again, these walls were never designed to keep people out, they were designed to foment racism and vitriol and win elections.”

While Republicans attempt to blame Biden for anything involving migrants at the border (including the floodgates), Trump’s wall was never an effective system for controlling immigration in the first place. That would require reform and funding from a divided Congress, as the Biden administration points out on a near daily basis.

Even with billions of dollars spent by law enforcement to deploy surveillance technology, the wall has not kept drugs out of the country either. Border Patrol seizes the most fentanyl from vehicles driven by U.S. citizens at legal ports of entry, not at holes in a border wall.

“These walls were never designed to keep people out, they were designed to foment racism and vitriol and win elections.”

Smugglers adapt to Border Patrol tactics, and migrants who have traveled hundreds of miles will cross into the U.S. and surrender to agents wherever they can. Perhaps that’s why the Biden administration is auctioning off unused parts of the border wall (despite howls from Republicans) while encouraging migrants to apply for asylum before they make the trek to the border. Policy makers know “the wall” doesn’t work.

“The wall” was the first of several dehumanizing stunts by Republicans seeking to exploit nativist fears as white nationalist conspiracy theories moved from the fringes to the mainstream under Trump. Others in the GOP saw Trump ride racist, anti-migrant vitriol to victory in 2016 and took note. During the Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott pledged to finish building the wall, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flirted with invading Mexico with U.S. troops to fight drug cartels.

Shortly before leaving office, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey also built a border wall that wasted millions of dollars paid by his constituents. Unlike Trump’s, Ducey’s wall was only a few miles long and constructed out of used shipping containers. The wall faced fierce public pushback until the Justice Department intervened with a lawsuit and the containers were removed. Unfortunately for Arizona taxpayers, the state was unable to resell most of the containers and recoup the cost of the ill-fated wall.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is facing international condemnation for militarizing border crossings in his state and using buoys, saw blades and nets to set up death traps in the Rio Grande River, where children are lacerated, pregnant women are caught in razor wire and bodies are found in the water. It’s a policy that human rights groups say is designed not just to punish migrants, but to maim and even kill them while pleasing a vengeful MAGA base. A federal judge recently heard a legal challenge filed by the Justice Department, which argues the barrier will inflame tensions with Mexico, and that Texas acted without proper authorization.

Such deadly stunts are par for the course in today’s GOP, where politicians work voters into a frenzy with images of nonwhite people coming to the U.S. and racist fairytales about an “invasion.” Even Trump is upping the ante with an immigration platform that is even more extreme this time around. Until the Republican presidential primaries are over, expect the purveyors of border disinformation to wash, rinse and repeat.