President Headed to Arizona — but Not the Border

‘There are more important things going on’

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 7, 2022

President Biden travelled to Arizona this week, where he appeared at the site of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. facility in North Phoenix, currently under construction. Interestingly, the president told reporters as he departed Washington that he will not be including a visit to the border “Because there are more important things going on” — evidencing a seriously misplaced sense of priorities.

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Facility in North Phoenix. Which is not to say that the plans that the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (founded in 1987, it’s “the world's largest contract producer of silicon chips”, controlling more than half the market) has for its facility in north Phoenix is not big news, at least to the folks who live there.

In December 2020, it was announced that the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. had bought at auction a large tract (1,129 acres) of undeveloped state land just off I-17 between Loop 303 and Carefree Highway in Arizona. Bids for the land started at $89 million, which was the going price because the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. was the only bidder.

The original plans called for a $12 billion chipmaking facility on the site, at which 1,900 full-time workers would be employed making 20,000 12-inch silicon wafers per month.

In May 2021, however, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. called an audible, announcing it would be building a facility three times larger than planned, in which the company would be investing $35 billion, with a production of 100,000 12-inch silicon wafers per month.

That is a big investment for any company, but it’s not exactly like North Phoenix is as economically challenged as Baltimore or East St. Louis.

Rather, Arizona Central reports that “As development creeps north in neighboring Peoria ... Carefree Highway — a remote desert drive leading to Lake Pleasant — may eventually become the region's next employment corridor”, in an area that the Peoria Economic Development office lauds as “The Silicon Desert”.

The Southwest Border in Arizona. Contrast that welcome news, however, with the Southwest border, and in particular the section of that border that bisects Arizona and Mexico.

All told, in FY 2021, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended nearly 1.66 million illegal migrants, a new yearly record.

There are two Border Patrol Sectors in the Grand Canyon State (Tucson and Yuma), and combined they accounted for more than 305,000 of the apprehensions that fiscal year. But things were just getting heated up then.

That’s because Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border smashed that old record in FY 2022, as agents caught more than 2.2 million illegal migrants — a nearly 25 percent increase in just one year.

Things were much worse for the agents in the Tucson and Yuma sectors, however, where apprehensions exceeded more than 562,000 last fiscal year, a nearly 47 percent increase in 12 months.

Most of those apprehensions (310,000-plus) were in the western Yuma sector. To put that figure into context, consider that there are fewer than 800 agents in the sector, and that their prior record (set in FY 2005) was fewer than 138,500 apprehensions.

For what it’s worth, however, FY 2005 was somewhat of an anomaly, at least compared to recent years. Even during the “border emergency” in FY 2019 (when more than 851,000 aliens were stopped at the Southwest border), agents in Yuma sector apprehended just over 68,000 illegal entrants.

That’s because Yuma sector was the beneficiary of significant border barrier construction, the result of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted for and later touted on the campaign trail in 2008.

The “wall” there was such a success that in 2017, then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke was moved to write about both it and the legislation that made it possible:

For years, Yuma sector was besieged by chaos as a nearly unending flood of migrants and drugs poured across our border. Even as agents were arresting on average 800 illegal aliens a day, we were still unable to stop the thousands of trucks filled with drugs and humans that quickly crossed a vanishing point and dispersed into communities all across the country.

It is hard for anyone familiar with Yuma sector today to imagine this scene. That's because nearly a decade ago, a group of bipartisan lawmakers came together to protect the homeland, save innocent lives, and build a physical barrier across the border.

That was then. Duke noted in 2017 that there was “still work to do” on barriers in the sector, and alas, there still is. In one of his first acts as president, Biden put a “pause” on border fencing, leaving a massive gap on the border in the sector known as the “Yuma Gap”.

In February, it was reported that 1,000 migrants per day were entering illegally through the Yuma Gap, some dressed in haute couture and dragging so much luggage that Border Patrol had to set a weight limit on the amount they could bring on the government vehicles taking them to processing.

When I was at the gap that month, I found folding chairs on which illegal entrants could sit and wait for agents, and stacks of bottled water for their refreshment. Worse, I was informed that many get tired of waiting for Border Patrol pick up, call Uber, and ride into town for a meal and a shower before turning themselves over for processing and release at sector headquarters.

Ducey v. Biden. All of this was too much for even the Biden administration, or at least for incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who was facing a tough reelection campaign in November.

Conveniently for Kelly’s (successful) campaign, DHS announced in July that it would be completing the fencing in the Yuma Gap. When nothing happened quickly, however, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) ordered state officials to plug the gap with shipping containers in August.

That, however, was too much yet for the Biden administration, as in October, the regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sent a letter to the state telling it that its containers were trespassing on federal land, and that they had to be removed.

Ducey responded by filing a lawsuit shortly thereafter, explaining in an October 21 press release:

Our border communities are overwhelmed by illegal activity as a result of the Biden administration’s failure to secure the southern border. ... Arizona is taking action to protest on behalf of our citizens. With this lawsuit, we’re pushing back against efforts by federal bureaucrats to reverse the progress we’ve made. The safety and security of Arizona and its citizens must not be ignored. Arizona is going to do the job that Joe Biden refuses to do — secure the border in any way we can. We’re not backing down.

Ducey’s term ends on January 1, and it will be interesting to see whether his Democratic successor, Katie Hobbs, continues the suit (doubtful) or leaves the containers in place (possible).

Plenty for the President to See. Given all of this, there is plenty for the president to see at the Southwest border in Arizona. It’s a quick trip (I’ve made the drive several times myself), and Biden could see and hear for himself what the agents, local cops, and landowners think about his border policies.

Which is likely why the president will not be headed to the border anytime soon. Of course, he hasn’t been there any time in the recent past, either. Biden has made no trips to the U.S.-Mexico line as president, and even the administration-friendly Washington Post reported last October that Biden last “briefly drove past the border while on a campaign swing in 2008”.

I have spoken to those individuals. The landowners are tired of migrants and traffickers traipsing across their fields (breaking equipment and stealing along the way), and the local cops are fed up chasing minors who have been lured by the promise of easy trafficker money to transport migrants on high-speed pursuits.

Good luck to the president finding any agents to talk to, however. They were once ubiquitous on the highways of southern Arizona, but now they are as rare as hens’ teeth, even on the border itself. They are too busy apprehending, transporting, processing, caring for and — all too often — releasing migrants to secure the border from drug traffickers and aliens who don’t want to be caught.

Biden should try to find some agents to talk to. This year alone, 14 CBP employees at the border have taken their own lives as morale among overworked officers continues to plummet. The well-being of those who perform the thankless task of protecting the country from the deleterious effects of the president’s border policies is more important than the progress being made on the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Facility in north Phoenix.