By Algernon D’Ammassa, Las Cruces Sun-News. Published April 9, 2020
COLUMBUS, N.M. – A dozen trailers that were set up in the middle of the border village of Columbus to house workers on the southern border wall are being relocated after residents raised questions about quartering workers here in the midst of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The trailers arrived over a week ago to a vacant lot in the village center and workers were observed last week installing skirting and building stairways to the entrances. Each trailer had four doors, and one trailer was marked “office.”
The congregate trailer housing, or “man camp,” was arranged by the Texas-based SLS Company, the contractor awarded $963 million in contracts for border wall construction along 72 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That includes 46 miles of barrier near the Columbus Port of Entry, which connects Columbus with the Mexican town of Palomas, and 25.5 miles west of Columbus.
The trailers were expected to house 20 to 60 people for up to two years as the construction of steel bollard structures on the border commenced.
After local residents questioned the camp’s compliance with zoning and the wisdom of moving workers into the trailers in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency last week, Mayor Esequiel Salas stated on Tuesday that SLS would limit occupancy and delay the arrival of workers until April 16 or later.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., an opponent of the border wall, called for a temporary halt on construction until the COVID-19 emergency passed.
Under state public health orders, non-essential businesses are closed, gatherings are limited to five people, and New Mexicans are asked to stay home except for business essential for health, safety and welfare through April.
Federal construction of the border wall, however, has continued, as President Donald Trump has maintained its importance for drug interdiction and as a curb on illegal immigration.
After initial reports of 10 trailers assembled on the lot, two more were installed on the same lot last weekend. Early in the week, however, one of the trailers was carted away and by Thursday workers were taking apart the stairs and skirting that had already been installed on the remaining trailers.
In an email obtained by the Sun-News, Salas informed village trustees, county officials and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales that the trailers would be ready to move out of the village center by Monday.
Columbus Trustee William Johnson told the Sun-News that, according to workers at the site, six trailers were to be located south of Columbus and the other six in the Antelope Wells area in Hidalgo County.
Mayor Salas and the SLS project manager were not immediately available for comment. This story will be updated with any response.
Morales praised Salas Thursday, saying the mayor showed “courage and leadership in working the governor and the federal delegation” and asking SLS to halt work on the trailer housing.
“There was concern from community members … about individuals coming from other parts of the country and increasing the likelihood of the virus being spread,” Morales said. “As of today the border community is safer as we continue to try to protect all parts of New Mexico, especially the rural areas that could be threatened like that.”