SONOYTA, SONORA, MEXICO (3TV/CBS 5) - The steel posts, some filled with concrete, are a familiar sight to anyone who has walked along Arizona's border with Mexico. They are used to build border fencing.
But on the dusty streets of Sonoyta, Sonora, these posts are not on the border anymore - they are for sale in scrap yards.
How the stacks of steel posts, which were originally paid for with US tax dollars, ended up on the market in Mexico is now the subject of an inquiry by US Customs and Border Protection into the actions of the contractors who are erecting the latest stretches of fencing along the US border with Mexico.
CBP was alerted to the situation by CBS 5 Investigates.
BORDER STEEL FOR SALE ONLINE
In late August, a CBS 5 Investigates producer spotted an ad in an internet forum.
“Steel For Sale Arizona,” read the title.
“We have an amazing amount of steel left over from the border (sp) wall Trump built. Government-issued steel for sale. They are basically giving it away,” read the text.
During a text exchange, the seller stated that the posts were going for $50 each, or $800 for a truckload. The seller stated that the steel came from the border wall project near Naco, Arizona.
Southwest Valley Constructors is the company that won the contract to erect the border fence near Naco. The company is also replacing the old vehicle barrier and border fence near Lukeville. It is that construction zone that appears to be the source of the steel posts found in Sonoyta.
US OFFICIALS WERE WATCHING
“There were DHS and Army Corps of Engineers officials, standing there watching their contractors with a bulldozer and front-end loaders push the scrap metal onto the Mexican side. And Mexican scrap metal scavengers were coming right up to the border,” said Gary Nabhan, who is a desert ecologist, and says he witnessed what is happening on the border.
“The Mexican scrap metal collectors were coming right up to the border with pickup trucks and trailers and taking it away with the complicit acceptance of Homeland Security and Army Corps of Engineers officials,” said Nabhan.
There would be some real legal problems with that arrangement.
First, the stacks of metal posts appear to have been pushed about 15 feet into Mexico. It would be illegal for Americans to dump debris across the border. It is also illegal to cross into Mexico and back into the United States outside of an official port of entry without prior authorization.
Finally, there are questions about whether the contractors are allowed to simply give away the steel.
“Normally you would rely on your inspector general or someone else to go in and review something like this to determine whether the contractor is in compliance with the contract and various state and federal laws,” said Andy Gordon, who served as counselor to the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama Administration. One of Gordon’s main responsibilities was the border fence.
“The fact that they just pushed it into Mexico, it just flabbergasted me,” said Gordon.
CBP IS INVESTIGATING
CBS 5 Investigates reached out to the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“CBP is aware of the allegation. The allegation involves a subcontractor working on behalf of the construction contractor. CBP is in the process of investigating the allegation, and due to the on-going investigation, CBP can’t comment further,” wrote a spokesperson from CBP.
“Construction and demolition waste are to be disposed of by the contractor in accordance with federal, state, and local laws. According to the contractor's waste management plan, general waste is to be disposed of, and metal waste is to be recycled.
Neither the Corps of Engineers nor its contractor has sought a permit from the Mexican government for transporting construction material across the border.
According to the contractor's waste management plan, the contractor estimated approximately 100 tons of concrete debris and general waste would be disposed of, and approximately 7,200 tons of metal would be recycled.
An officials from Southwest Valley Constructors told CBS 5 Investigates the company is prohibited from sharing project information externally. An official from the Army Corps of Engineers stated, "We are in the process of collecting additional information and are not in a position to comment at this time."