ARIVACA, ARIZONA - Jim Chilton and his wife, Sue, are proud Arizona ranchers tending to herds on property that extends for 22 kilometers along the U.S.-Mexico border. In a white pickup truck, Jim drives on the gravel road hugging the U.S. side of the border. He and Sue tell stories about the land, which is surrounded by mountains, and those who cross through it.
The couple say that without a border wall, their ranch is an easy place for migrants to illegally enter the U.S.
"We cannot say for sure what they're bringing, but a lot of people, women with small children," Sue told VOA.
Building a wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border was one of former President Donald Trump's key pledges to the American people. By the end of his single term in the White House, only 160 kilometers of new wall had been built, and another 560 kilometers of existing wall and fencing had been upgraded, on a border that stretches more than 3,000 kilometers.
Biden halts project
The project was abandoned by the Biden administration. Unfinished, the wall still casts a big shadow along some stretches of the U.S. border.
"Before they put in the wall ... all this area had drug packers coming through, and these drug packers now come around the wall — they go right up this way," Jim said, motioning.
The U.S. Congress approved more than $1 billion for wall construction for the 2021 fiscal year that began last October. Biden froze those funds upon taking office in January, halting wall construction as one of his first acts in office.
"I thought it was very counterproductive to our security, counterproductive to who we are as a country, particularly in, in the area of immigration," Biden said in February.
Overall, roughly $15 billion was spent on the border wall during the Trump administration. The appearance of new wall sections was often accompanied by reports of border crossers using cheap ladders and cutting tools available at any hardware store to go over — or through — the barrier.
Despite being far from impregnable, a finished border wall would have meant less unauthorized immigration into the United States, says Victor Manjarrez Jr., a former border patrol agent who now works at the University of Texas.
According to Manjarrez, a completed wall would have been especially useful to deal with the surge of migrants arriving at the border since Biden took office.
"The message (from Biden) was (of) hope, and part of that hope was the relaxing on some of those security measures," Manjarrez told VOA.
Climbing can be risky
In some areas, desperation to get past the wall has led to injury.
A 23-year-old woman, who identified herself only as Alicia, said she scaled a section of wall but had no safe way to get to the ground on the other side.
"It was the highest part of the wall when I fell from it, about 10 meters high. After I fell, I stayed there for about an hour in the cold, and then CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) officers arrived and took me to the hospital," Alicia told VOA in Spanish.
Though not everyone who lives along the border supports building the wall, the Chiltons say they consider it vital to guarantee their safety.
"I would like to see this work completed," Sue said.
At the same time, many would like to see Washington overhaul America's immigration system.
"The best solution to the challenge of national security is immigration reform," Manjarrez said.