To avoid damage from heavy rains, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have opened floodgates along Arizona’s border fencing during monsoon season since 2009. But social media users, including Sen. Ted Cruz, shared posts with the misleading claim that the Biden administration opened the gates “by design” to allow illegal immigration.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection opens floodgates in the barriers along Arizona’s southern border during the state’s monsoon season, which generally occurs from mid-June until the end of September. CBP uses the flood or lift gates to mitigate environmental problems and damage to the barrier structures.
A CBP spokesperson told us in an email interview that the floodgates in the Tucson sector — which covers most of the state of Arizona — have been used for many years.
“Fencing in the Tucson Sector was constructed at various times between 2009-2021,” the spokesperson said. “Throughout the history of the infrastructure, during monsoon season and ahead of potential heavy rains or flood events, CBP has opened stormwater drainage gates to ensure proper drainage and minimize potential impacts to the infrastructure. These gates prevent flooding and subsequent environmental, infrastructure and community damage.”
“A compromise in the integrity of the barrier can lead to extensive damage making the gate, or even the infrastructure unstable,” the spokesperson also said. “When gates become damaged, they need to be secured open to prevent additional damage which can prolong the gap in the infrastructure. The unregulated flow of water can also undermine the integrity of the border road disrupting agents and emergency services ability to respond to illegal entries, smuggling and other criminal activity, or persons in distress.”
Floodgates – which either swing open like doors or lift up like windows – are manually operated by CBP to allow water to flow through the border fencing. They were in use before and during the administration of former President Donald Trump, who had made a campaign promise to build “a beautiful, gorgeous, big wall” on the southern border, as we’ve written.
While in office, Trump secured $16.4 billion to expand border barrier construction along the southern border — including $10 billion in redirected military funds, although $4.75 billion of that money was not disbursed before he left office, according to the Congressional Research Service. Over the course of his four-year term, Trump constructed 85 miles of new and 373 miles of replacement barriers along the border.
The installation of new barriers during the Trump administration included fencing in the Tucson sector’s Lukeville area, where construction began in 2019. The new barrier in the Lukeville area was built with floodgates and the gates were opened in 2020 during the monsoon season before Trump left office, the CBP spokesperson told us. (An example of floodgates under construction during the Trump administration can be seen in a photo taken by Border Report at a different location along the Arizona border.)
On his first day in office on Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden ordered the federal government to stop using Defense Department funds intended for military missions on construction of border barriers.
Biden later resumed building small portions of the border fencing in Texas, California and Arizona.
But some social media users have misrepresented the Biden administration’s management of the border barriers, misleadingly claiming that this year’s opening of the floodgates was part of a plan to encourage illegal immigration.
An Aug. 26 Instagram post from conservative commentator David J. Harris, Jr., which has received more than 100,000 likes, shows a TikTok video of the floodgates open in the Lukeville area, with the text: “just in case you didn’t hear from the MSM one of those Dept in the Biden administration welded open border gates in Arizona.”
Other social media users circulated the video, with one Instagram post using the hashtag #ImpeachBiden, while a commenter on another said, “I’m actually surprised they didn’t place voting poles there.”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas shared a photo of the opened gates on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, with a caption that claimed, “The Biden administration welded open the Trump border wall in Tucson, AZ. It’s not a crisis. It’s by design.” Cruz added his own comment: “This…is…nuts.”
But as we explained, the practice of opening the Arizona border floodgates is not new and occurred during the Trump administration to address the effects of the monsoon rains.
Due to the surge in illegal border crossings, the CBP closed the floodgates in the Lukeville area — the border section highlighted in the social media posts — during the first week of September, weeks earlier than usual, NewsNation reported.
Updated, Sept. 14: After our story was published, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emailed us a statement saying it had “built and installed flood or lift gates as a component of all [Department of Defense]-funded border wall construction contracts. Pursuant to direction from the Department of Defense, USACE suspended construction of border infrastructure, including gates, in January 2021 and then terminated construction contracts by May 1, 2021.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
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