News of the contract came after a federal judge in California sided this week with President Donald Trump on a challenge to building his promised border wall. The court rejected arguments that the administration overreached by waiving laws requiring environmental and other reviews before construction could begin.
The administration has issued three waivers since August — two to build in parts of California and one in part of New Mexico. Work is already underway on a 30-foot (9.1-meter) high barrier in Calexico, California.
As for the work planned at Santa Teresa near New Mexico’s state line with Texas, federal officials have said the area remains an active route for human smuggling and drug trafficking. Officers in the El Paso sector are responsible for a sprawling desert territory that spans a portion of West Texas and all of New Mexico.
In recent days, officers working at the El Paso port of entry made nearly a dozen drug busts and seized 100 rounds of 9mm ammunition being smuggled south into Mexico.
In 2016, officers in the sector arrested more than 25,000 immigrants suspected of trying to enter the country illegally and seized around 67,000 pounds (30,400 kilograms) of marijuana. While less marijuana was seized during the 2017 fiscal year, just as many arrests were recorded.
In announcing plans to bolster barriers in the Santa Teresa area, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a Federal Register notice posted in January that the goal was to deter illegal crossings.
Critics on Wednesday questioned the $73 million contract, which is being funded with operations and maintenance money budgeted through the Army Corps of Engineers.
Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, called the spending a travesty and raised concerns about the potential effects on wildlife that live along the international border.
“The wall will not stop people from crossing, but it will cause real harm to our state’s wildlife, such as mule deer and Mexican wolves, and further militarize our border communities,” he said in an email.
Bids from prospective contractors were solicited online prior to federal officials announcing in January that a waiver had been approved for the New Mexico project. Barnard Construction Co. was among three bidders and was quietly announced as the winner Jan. 23.
While there is no indication of when work could begin, the contract calls for the project to be complete by Feb. 16, 2019.