PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona agreed on Wednesday to tear down a makeshift border wall built out of old shipping containers, ending a divisive border security effort that sparked protests and legal challenges.
The agreement came as part of a lawsuit filed last week by the Biden administration against Mr. Ducey, a Republican. The federal suit sought to force the governor to remove hundreds of steel shipping containers he had ordered stacked up for miles along Arizona’s southern border in response to what he called Washington’s failure to resolve a migrant crisis.
The Biden administration argued that Mr. Ducey’s wall was constructed illegally on federal land.
The agreement to remove the containers comes as border town officials and thousands of migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico are waiting anxiously to see whether the United States will soon end a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42 that has allowed for the rapid expulsion of migrants.
Since August, construction crews have hauled old shipping containers to plug gaps in the border fence along a busy migrant corridor in the farm town of Yuma, but have also hauled them to a remote stretch of the Coronado National Forest in southeast Arizona that sees scant migrant crossings compared with other parts of the border. The project, funded by the Republican-controlled State Legislature, has cost at least $82 million, Mr. Ducey’s office said.
In addition to trespassing on federal land, the government accused Arizona of damaging vegetation and seasonal streams in a national forest. It sued Arizona last week to dismantle the wall.
The agreement signed on Wednesday between the governor’s office and federal officials was reached to prevent Washington from seeking a restraining order against the state, according to court records.
C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Mr. Ducey, said the governor had agreed to remove the hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers because federal officials were taking steps to build new permanent barriers to fill in gaps in the existing border wall.
“We’ve said from the very beginning that the shipping container program is temporary,” Mr. Karamargin said. “We’ll happily remove them if the federal government gets serious and does what they’re supposed to do, which is secure the border. We now have indications that they’re moving closer, that they’re more serious.”
The Homeland Security Department announced in July that it would close four gaps in the existing wall in Yuma, as record numbers of migrants have arrived at the southern border, many surrendering to Border Patrol officers to pursue asylum claims.
It was unclear when crews would begin dismantling Mr. Ducey’s container wall, or how much it would cost to remove the 9,000-pound boxes and repair environmental damage done after bulldozers cut roads, blocked streams and uprooted oaks and junipers.
In Arizona, some Republican sheriffs and local officials in border towns praised the governor, who leaves office next month, for taking border security into his own hands in defiance of the federal government. But critics, including Mr. Ducey’s incoming Democratic successor, Katie Hobbs, called the border wall a waste of taxpayer money.
Russ McSpadden, the southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he was heartened by the news.
“Governor Ducey has wasted countless millions of taxpayer dollars building his damaging and illegal shipping container wall,” Mr. McSpadden said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we’re very pleased to see him agree to remove his political stunt.”
For weeks over the last month, Mr. McSpadden joined other activists and neighbors upset about the project in gathering in the national forest. They set up a protest camp and managed to halt construction by standing in front of bulldozers.