The Trump administration is ramping up construction of its multibillion-dollar southern border wall, despite the rapidly escalating coronavirus epidemic which threatens to kill thousands of Americans and plunge the country into economic recession.
Earlier this week, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced plans to erect more than 150 miles of the 30ft border wall in Arizona, New Mexico and California – in addition to ongoing construction work at at least 15 sites across those states and Texas.
The announcement came shortly after Donald Trump declared a national emergency, amid mounting criticism about his handling of the coronavirus epidemic which looks likely to cost billions – if not trillions of dollars to tackle.
By Friday 19,500 cases and 260 deaths had been confirmed in the US, and tens of thousands of sacked workers had applied for unemployment benefits, as large swaths of the country implemented lockdowns in efforts to slow the spread.
As medical experts and local officials implore Americans to stay at home and observe social distancing, construction crews at multiple sites continue to work, sleep and eat in close quarters.
“Wall construction has not been affected,” said a CBP spokesman.
Building work continues in many parts of the country, but for the wall, skilled welders, engineers and contractors commute from states as far flung as Montana, Maine, Wyoming, Texas, North Dakota and Kentucky. Along the border, they work together, car-pool, stay at local hotels and motels, and eat together at restaurants over several consecutive days, before traveling back to their families.
On Friday, work continued in the San Bernardino Valley in south-east Arizona where a national wildlife refuge is located and several endangered species are threatened by the project.
“There is no sign of construction slowing down, hundreds of construction workers from all over the country and Mexico continue working on the wall, commuting back and forth on weekends, staying in hotels and eating at restaurants in our communities, before returning home and potentially transferring Covid-19. This is a public health hazard and it needs to be stopped,” said Myles Traphagen, ecologist with Wildlands Network, who has written to the congressional appropriations committee urging construction be suspended during the pandemic.