In Sierra Vista, Ramon Rosario Jr. retrieves his mail from the offices of KWR Construction. Rosario no longer works for the company, but he still holds the management in high regard.
“I’ve been with them for seven years; they are good people,” Rosario said. “All of them are good people.”
Kind words like Rosario’s are few and far between lately, as Arizona-based construction companies deliberate on whether getting involved with the border is a smart business decision, despite the immense blowback from communities, businesses and local governments.
Border wall objectors criticize Hispanic-owned KWR Construction for building one of the eight border wall prototypes standing in the desert outside of San Diego. The prototypes – which were intended to be study models – came about after President Trump, in one of his first actions in office, signed an executive order requiring four prototypes be made out of concrete and another four created with other materials.
KWR Construction built the most expensive model, with a contract of $486,411. One of the four non-concrete models, it features metal columns spaced to allow people to see through the slats and a huge, round metal top to make it difficult to climb over.
Al Anderson, general manager of KWR Construction, would not agree to an interview, but previously told The Washington Post that he tries to be politically neutral in his decision-making process.
“We want whatever jobs here along the border that we can get,” he told the Post. “And set aside our personal beliefs to support our employees.”
KWR Construction worked with border upkeep for nearly 10 years before the prototype project, so their employees are used to the added security and pressure that comes with working on the border. Rosario insists that he never felt that he was in danger when he worked on the border — there were armed guards accompanying the workers to the job site each day — but he still kept a pistol under the passenger seat of his truck.
West Point Contractors, based in Tucson, was not one of the companies involved with the border wall prototypes, but the company did begin work on Sept. 22 along the border wall near El Paso, Texas. The $22-million project, is set to replace a 4-mile stretch of chain link fence with an 18-foot metal wall. The project is the first work the company has done on the border, according to West Point Contractors Vice President Joel Alley.
“Our project was on the books prior to Trump ever being elected,” Alley said. “At that point, there wasn’t a controversy as much as it is now and I don’t think any of my employees would have voiced concern on the fence at that point because it wasn’t politicized.”
Although West Point Contractors planned on working at the border before the heavy politicization of the issue, they still face the same kickback that other companies that worked on the wall received. On Sept. 24, El Paso County leaders voted 4-1 to officially oppose the border wall. At least 20 other cities have signed similar legislation, and Tucson’s Center for Biological Diversity submitted a letter signed by more than 40 groups, citing concerns for the wall’s effect on the environment, economy and community.
Views on working on the border wall differ from person to person. Unlike Anderson, Alley thinks that standing up for one’s personal beliefs is not mutually exclusive to being a business executive, and that reflecting personal values in one’s business is part of being a good manager.
“My best friend growing up lived in Mexico, so it’s one of those things where I don’t see it as an us versus them mentality,” Alley said. “I have laborers who are immigrants and I have family and friends who are there (in Mexico) and we care about everybody, so it’s not really black or white. … We want to do right by everybody.”
The border wall is now a heavily politicized issue. Alley said the company hired 24/7 security at their job site, and tries to collaborate with nonprofits and organizations who work with border aid to “bridge the gap” and have a peaceful presence at the border.
“Four years ago, I don’t think we would have had to think about security or had to prove our company’s values as much as we do now,” Alley said.
Aleksander Ellis, research director at the Center for Leadership Ethics at the University of Arizona, said there are no easy answers in these kinds of decisions for business executives and managers.
According to Ellis, there are problems with taking a utilitarian (practical, profit-driven) approach as well as a rule-based (ethical/moral) approach, and there is really no argument to prove that one or the other is “right” in a given situation.
“The utilitarian approach tends to only think about effects on a subset of stakeholders and rarely takes into consideration long-term effects,” said Ellis. “So for the business here, there could be longer term effects if people in the community respond negatively to them taking the border contract.”
Joseph Galaskiewicz, a sociology professor at the University of Arizona, has written extensively on border issues and agrees there is no objective — right or wrong — when it comes to these business decisions. Things are not always so “clear cut” with so many factors in play.
“Those who oppose building a wall can – and should – try to persuade firms not to cooperate with the government,” Galaskiewicz said. “But they have to respect the rights of businesses who do decide to cooperate and, in my opinion, they should not resort to illegal coercive measures to stop them.”
Cedar Gardner is a reporter for Arizona Sonoran News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org