Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bush's border fence destroys wilderness

The Independent
April 3, 2008

The Bush administration is pushing ahead with what critics say is a final act of environmental vandalism in casting aside more than 30 laws and regulations to complete a 670-mile stretch of fence along the US-Mexico border by the end of this year.

The remaining 350-mile section of the planned anti-immigrant fence will run from the Colorado river to the remote Peloncillo mountains on the New Mexico border, slicing through the delicate fabric of an extensive network of national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, forests and wilderness areas.

The controversial fence will divide Native American reserves as well as cutting through lands which have been handed down through families since Spanish colonial times.

Bulldozers and construction teams will soon move on to previously protected federal lands with some of the richest and most diverse natural habitats in the US. The resulting barrier, including banks of floodlights to light up the desert sky, will be impenetrable to many mammals but not necessarily to humans.

Illegal immigration is one of the hottest issues in the US presidential election and a sore point for the Republican candidate, John McCain. The Bush administration wants to show progress on an issue which the polls show is important to conservative voters. After being harshly criticised for being weak on immigration, Mr McCain recently changed tack to support the controversial fence.

The Bush administration says the barrier is needed to increase national security and the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, defended the decision to disregard environmental laws as enabling "important security projects to keep moving forward." By mid-March, 309 miles of the fence was in place, with 361 miles left to complete, some 267 miles of which are federal lands. Mr Chertoff said that more than 100 meetings had been held with environmental groups and Native Americans to try to achieve compromise on the objections to the last, and most difficult, leg.

The sheer isolation of the Arizona border region has made its public lands a place of abundant wildlife and plants, many of which are found nowhere else in the US. The fence will cross vast desert valleys crowded with saguaro cactus and ancient ironwood trees, as well as forested mountain peaks and rivers bordered by graceful cottonwood forests.

An alliance of environmental organisations says it will endanger Sonoran pronghorns, burrowing owls and put two types of endangered cougar-like cats – the ocelot and the jaguarundi – at risk of extinction by preventing them from swimming the Rio Grande to mate.

For the last 10 years, the dramatic rise in immigration enforcement efforts in heavily populated areas such as San Diego and El Paso has driven immigrants, and drug traffickers to the remote borders of Arizona as they seek to enter the country.

The US Border Patrol has followed the immigrant trail, bringing havoc in its wake by using off-road vehicles and low-flying helicopters, which the Defender of Wildlife organisation says "has resulted in significant environmental degradation in some of the most pristine and valuable wildlife habitats in the nation".

Even as the fence is being built, debate continues about whether it will do much to stall illegal immigration. Fernando Carrillo, a 32-year-old construction worker who was deported from Arizona six months ago, told the Associated Press it would not stop him from trying to get back to his wife and children in Phoenix. "They can do what they want, but we will keep trying," he said beside the new barrier west of Nogales.

Group treks across county in protest against border fence

El Paso Times
August 30, 2008

EL PASO -- More people are expected to join the march against the controversial U.S. fence being erected at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Friday afternoon, a group of about 30 people had departed Tornillo and was nearing the next destination, a Fabens church.

"Today (Friday) is a beautiful day. It's cooler and everyone is animated," said Javier Perez, who was greeted by vehicles honking and passers-by shouting approval. "Yesterday, it was 100 degrees, very hot. We expect to reach El Paso by Sunday."

The march, which began in Fort Hancock, will end Sunday with a binational ceremony at the Sunland Park-Anapra fence line.

Perez, a march coordinator, said others were waiting until the end of the workweek to join the marchers.

"I'm 26 and probably the youngest person marching right now. We had an 85-year-old man join us when we started at Fort Hancock," Perez said. "We expect a much bigger crowd beginning this evening."

Carlos Marentes, another marcher and director of the Border Farm Workers Center in El Paso, said the marchers had walked about 20 miles since they began Thursday morning.

"We're going to spend the night at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Fabens and continue with the march Saturday morning," he said. "The only problem we've had up to now is the mosquitoes besieging us."

Mary Gates, a teacher at El Paso Community College, is unable to join the trek on foot, "but I plan to go to all the stopping places."

Gates said she was inspired by Wednesday's opening ceremony to launch the March for Peace and Unity.

Border Patrol officials in El Paso said construction of the border security fence is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Border fence under way in Lower Valley

El Paso Times
August 27, 2008

EL PASO -- Dozens of columns have been erected along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso for the preliminary stages in the construction of the controversial border fence.
For about two weeks, construction workers have anchored the columns into the ground, working their way from South Yarbrough Drive to about a mile east, said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Ramiro Cordero of the El Paso Sector.

By the end of the year, he said, 57 miles of metallic mesh fence from Socorro to the Fabens port of entry should be complete.

The fence, 15 to 18 feet high, will be part of 670 miles of barrier being placed along the border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

A few miles away, Yolanda Levario can see the evenly spaced co lumns from the front of her Lower Valley home in the 400 block of Arvin.

"I think it's good they're doing it, because of all the violence in Mexico. I'm afraid it (violence) might cross over," Levario said.

"I think it's OK; I don't have a problem with it. I think we'll be safer because we're closer to the border."

Since the beginning of the year, nearly 900 people have been killed in execution- and ambush-style slayings in Juárez.

Even though officials have said they do not believe the violence will spill over, Levario, 53, said she thinks the wall will be an extra preventive measure to keep El Pasoans safe.

But Lorenzo Marquez said the idea of the wall should have never been conceived.

"It looks like it shouldn't be there," he said as he glared at the poles from J.P. Shawver Park on Monday. The park is near South Yarbrough Drive directly across the César Chávez Memorial Highway.
"I personally don't think it should be done. ... A fence is not going to do anything. There are already a lot of people who are drowning in that canal.

"By now they're saying 'It's dangerous to come across that fence,'" he said.

Marquez, who was with his 1-year-old granddaughter, looked at her and said he worries about what younger people will think about the barrier. He said he believes there are going to be many repercussions for the Hispanic culture.

There have been several national failed attempts to stop the fence from being built, including lawsuits by Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, El Paso County, the city of El Paso, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and other agencies.

Several advocacy groups have also held events opposing the barrier.

This week, a group will protest the building of the fence by marching from Fort Hancock to El Paso.

But Cordero, of the El Paso Sector of the Border Patrol, said the fence will help continue to decrease border apprehensions and crime along the border.

He said people should know the fence will only be effective along with other tools such as manpower, sensors, night vision and cameras.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Border fence condemnation cases remain an obstacle

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
August 26, 2008

By Christopher Sherman

McALLEN, Texas — A federal judge has put off giving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security possession of land for the border fence in South Texas for the second time in less than a month.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ordered the federal government to provide more detailed information to three landowners in Hidalgo and Starr counties Tuesday and tell him by Sept. 10 whether they have reached an agreement or remain at loggerheads.

Hanen made a similar order for more than a dozen cases in Cameron County on July 31.

"How can they (property owners) evaluate, for instance, if they want to cooperate if they don't know where the fence is going to go?" Hanen said. "I think before you take anyone's property they have a right to know what you're taking."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Hu had argued that the government was not required to provide final surveys before gaining possession of land. The government had requested immediate possession for three of the four cases heard Tuesday.

In some cases, government lawyers have only provided preliminary surveys of the land they need to condemn for the border fence. In other cases, their maps differ.

Depending on which government map lawyers for Retama Manor look at, the border fence will either run through the middle of the nursing home in Rio Grande City or within 10 feet of it, said attorney Dan Worthington.

"They will lose a view of the river and gain a view of an 18-foot fence," Worthington said.

A lawyer for the city of Roma expressed a concern about the access city workers would have to a pump that draws water from the Rio Grande.

Once the government provides more detailed information to property owners, it appears Hanen will grant possession of the land in question. The question of how much the government will pay for it will be worked out later. Hanen set a trial schedule for four cases discussed Tuesday that made Aug. 11, 2009, the final pre-trial hearing date.

Hanen also asked both sides to file briefs in November on the question of letting juries determine the value of the condemned properties versus setting up a special commission to make value recommendations on all of the cases. The government prefers a commission and the landowners want juries.

The government is trying to have 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers built along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year. The only work under way in South Texas involves two segments of a combined levee-border wall in Hidalgo County.

Construction costs are running so high that Homeland Security extended the completion deadline to March 31 for another segment in Hidalgo County, hoping to save money by spreading out the work.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Estuary advocate, once a collaborator, now at odds with Hunter

San Diego Union-Tribune

August 25, 2008

SOUTH COUNTY – In the fall of 1990, an environmental activist from Imperial Beach received a presidential award at the behest of his congressman.

Mike McCoy was being honored with a Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award, at the time presented by Republicans for stewardship of the environment. The congressman who nominated him was Duncan Hunter.

The Democratic veterinarian and the Republican congressman, who at the time represented Imperial Beach, didn't see eye to eye on everything, but they agreed on a surprising number of issues. There was sewage entering the Tijuana River estuary, and McCoy was working with Hunter's staff to clean it up.

A friendship of sorts emerged from their unlikely alliance. Once upon returning from Washington, Hunter gave McCoy, who chaired his environmental committee, a copy of a sketch drawn by Ronald Reagan of one of Hunter's sons.

“Thanks, McCoy,” he dedicated it.

Fast-forward almost two decades, and the one-time collaborators are at opposite ends of a long-running controversy over a new border fence and the eventual fate of the estuary.

Their disagreement is in a sense a conflict of life legacies. McCoy, 66, has dedicated the bulk of his life's work to preserving the estuary. Along with other environmentalists, he led the losing legal battle against a plan to build a double fence across a deep canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch.

The massive project, already under way, requires filling the canyon with so much dirt that the California Coastal Commission ruled four years ago that it could damage the estuary, increasing silt erosion and destroying sensitive wildlife habitat.
Hunter, 60, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is best known for promoting border security as an antidote to illegal immigration. He has been the project's strongest proponent, introducing legislation three years ago that waived all laws hampering fence construction.

“Mike McCoy is a good guy,” said Hunter, who retires in January. “People of good will can look at exactly the same set of facts and come to opposite conclusions.”

The two maintain a mutual respect from afar, but they haven't spoken in years. McCoy blames their parting of ways chiefly on the fence.

“I think he saw me as an obstacle,” he said recently.

McCoy is familiar with being in this position. In the early 1970s, the then-recent transplant from Colorado got wind that Imperial Beach city leaders planned to develop the wetlands south of town into a marina.

The estuary was by no means pristine, its northern end used as a dumping ground. The City Council argued that a marina would help the cash-poor city.

It was the only sizable estuary on the Southern California coast still untouched by development, and McCoy felt strongly that developing it would cause greater harm than proponents understood.

“The fisheries of the world rely on estuaries,” he said. “In my mind, it was criminal to destroy it.”

For close to a decade, he and others campaigned to block the marina, and in late 1980, the estuary was protected. It is now known as the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Also that year, Hunter won the congressional district seat that included Imperial Beach. Though not what one would call a tree-hugger, Hunter had concerns about raw sewage from Tijuana spilling into the ocean, as did constituents.

“In rainy weather, sewage from Tijuana was getting into the Tijuana River,” he said recently. “It was going into the estuary.”

McCoy was an advocate for cleaning it up, and though he hadn't voted for Hunter, he volunteered to work with him on the sewage issue.

“He was definitely helpful to me,” McCoy said of his association with Hunter. “Until we got into this border fence thing.”

Common ground
At first, the two agreed on the idea of a border fence to stem illegal immigration traffic through Imperial Beach. From Hunter's point of view, the fence would keep undocumented migrants and drug smugglers out of the country. From McCoy's, it would keep the estuary from being hammered by foot traffic.
Starting in the late 1980s, Hunter's staff set about locating used military landing mat for Army welders to fashion into a metal fence.

McCoy said he has since had second thoughts, especially after tighter enforcement policies in 1994 drove migrants east to the desert.

“People died out there,” he said. But at the time, “from our little point of view, it shifted the traffic.”

His support for Hunter's plans had begun to wane by the mid-1990s, after Hunter became a proponent for legislation calling for layers of fence extending 14 miles inland.

Under the new plan, Smugglers' Gulch would be filled with more than 2 million cubic yards of dirt to build a half-mile, 165-foot-tall earthen bridge supporting fencing and roads.

A series of revisions came and went over several years as advocates pushed for a more environmentally sensitive plan, but nothing was agreed upon.

In early 2004, McCoy's organization, Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association and other groups sued the federal government.

Getting the waiver

For Hunter, the process had been an exercise in frustration.
“It became clear that we would never get permission,” he said. “So we wrote the waiver language into the Real ID Act.”

The purpose of the Real ID Act of 2005 was to impose federal security standards on state identification cards. Hunter added language that would allow the Homeland Security secretary to supersede laws stopping fence construction.

In September 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff set a precedent by waiving the laws on which the San Diego lawsuit was based; the lawsuit later was thrown out of court.

A $48.6 million contract for the project was awarded this year.

For Hunter, who lives in Alpine and leaves Congress after an unsuccessful bid last year for the Republican presidential nomination, it's the achievement of a goal that became a personal crusade.

“The security of the country is the primary interest,” he said. “In carrying out that interest, the environment can be accommodated.”

Hunter said ponds and structures can arrest silt that results from the operation. McCoy hopes there will be such protections but isn't confident.

His best hope, McCoy said, is that if the fence comes down some day, what damage occurs can be repaired. He also has given quite a bit of thought to the fences he once thought were a good idea.

“If people want to come here, they are going to come,” he said. “I see it as a barrier that needs to lead to a solution. That's the only way I can face it.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conservationists warn of border fence's impact

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
August 22, 2008

by Christopher Sherman

MISSION, Texas — The Bush administration's recently proposed changes to rules involving endangered species could lead to projects like the fence being built along the U.S.-Mexico border that could threaten endangered wildlife, the Sierra Club warned Friday.

"We're talking about animals already pushed to the brink of extinction," Liz Walsh, chairwoman of the group's endangered species committee, said at a news conference near a border fence construction site.

The Rio Grande Valley ranks third in the country in terms of the number of endangered and threatened species, and habitat loss poses one of the area's biggest threats. The border fence will destroy habitat and make it harder to maintain the numbers for a variety of animals, including endangered large cats such as the ocelot and jaguarundi.

The group drew parallels between the April 1 waiver of dozens of environmental and cultural preservation laws by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to speed border fence construction and the rule changes proposed this month that would no longer require government scientists to weigh in on the impact to endangered species from projects such as highways and dams.

Michael Degnan, a Sierra Club representative from Washington, D.C., said the border wall was a "very compelling example" of what can happen when rigorous scientific study of potential impacts is not required.

The new changes unveiled last week by the U.S. Department of the Interior would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that the agency itself determines is unlikely to harm endangered wildlife and their habitat.

The revisions also would limit which effects can be considered harmful and set a 60-day deadline for wildlife experts to evaluate a project when they are asked to become involved. If no decision is made within 60 days, the project can move ahead. Agencies could not consider global warming in their analysis.

After Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived the normal process of environmental analysis for the border fence, the agency produced Environmental Stewardship Plans that officials said reflected a commitment to limiting the project's impact.

The agency maintained that much of the environmental study was still taking place, but that the waivers just allowed it to get started before the studies were concluded.

A plan for the Rio Grande Valley portion of the border fence noted that hundreds of small holes will be built into the fence so that small animals can move through the barrier.

Still, the plan said government contractors will clear about 508 acres of land in the Rio Grande Valley.

Despite the access holes for the endangered cats, the plan acknowledged that the fence "will likely impact wildlife movement, access to traditional water sources, and potential for gene flow" because some of the species cross the border into Mexico to mate.

Border fence design blasted as causing flooding

Associated Press / San Diego Union-Tribune
August 23, 2008

TUCSON, Ariz. – Environmentalists say flooding caused by a newly built border security fence during a July monsoon bears out their concerns and warnings about the adverse environmental impacts of the government's rush to build fences.

The immediate case in point centers around fencing built on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southwestern Arizona. Officials say the design of the fence between the U.S. and Mexico caused debris and water backup during a July 12 storm that led to flooding at the port of entry at Lukeville and Sonoyta, Mexico.

“One of the reasons for it was the debris that accumulated on the fence itself,” said Lee Baiza, superintendent of the Organ Pipe monument, which is part of the National Park Service.
Environmental groups have been critical of the manner in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contractors for federal agencies have designed and built a range of fencing and vehicle barriers at various points along the Arizona-Mexico border.

In particular, they've denounced Homeland Defense Secretary Michael Chertoff's waiver of environmental laws to hasten construction as the Bush administration pushes to complete 670 miles of fences and other barriers by year's end along part of the nearly 2,000-mile Mexican border.

The barriers are intended to deter illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. Congress granted the waiver authority in 2005.

Critics have said the design of the pedestrian fencing being put in on the Arizona border is flawed. Much of that fencing consists of 10-foot wide and 15-foot tall steel-mesh panels, some featuring a series of wide horizontal grates at the bottom designed to let water and sediment flow through.

“While the Bush administration may claim it's taking environmental impacts of the border wall into consideration, building wire mesh fences across washes prone to debris-laden floods is fundamentally flawed,” Robin Silver, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Defenders of Wildlife spokesman Matt Clark said what happened at Organ Pipe validates the warnings voiced to Homeland Security before construction started to expect flooding there and at other Arizona locations, including next to the San Pedro River in Cochise County.

“It doesn't take an expert hydrologist to anticipate the potential for these walls to become like dams,” Clark said, “especially in flash flood type of storms, where a lot of water and debris are generated very quickly and can pile up against the fences very rapidly.”

He noted that rapidly moving runoff in washes dislodged or eroded large chunks of concrete foundations, and debris stacking up against the fence itself created barriers or dams redirecting the water, creating gullies and causing even more erosion.

Federal officials maintain that while Chertoff has invoked his waiver authority three times in Arizona, he has ordered Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officials to adhere to environmental requirements anyway.

“We are still required to follow every environmental rule, regulation and policy,” said Robert Gilbert, chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. “He does not waive us doing what we would have to do without the waiver. So it doesn't change anything in the environment.”

The Organ Pipe monument's staff produced a report earlier this month on the pedestrian fence's effect on the 330,000-acre monument's drainage systems and infrastructure.

It concluded that the fence failed to meet hydrologic performance standards of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or standards set by the U.S. Border Patrol's final environmental assessment for the project.

That assessment determined that the 5.2-mile pedestrian fence would have no significant impact on the monument's environmental features.

But the recent monument report said its own staff had raised concerns last year over the fence-building plans, based on knowledge of local flash flooding and of a previously installed vehicle barrier, where debris catches on upright posts up to 12 feet apart.

The July 12 storm dumped as much as 2 inches in about 90 minutes in the area, and water running south through washes on the monument was backed up as debris piled along the base of the fence.

It created backwater pools up to seven feet deep and lateral flows several hundred feet wide that moved out of the washes, eroding some areas along patrol roads. The waters even scoured some fence and vehicle barrier foundations.

“The monument had suggested that they take into consideration everything that can happen with a weather event,” particularly an accumulation of debris, Baiza said. “We had a concern that this was going to happen.

“In this case, we're catching everything,” he said.

Baiza said the fence designers are being asked to come back and study the drainages again to come up with alternatives.

In Washington, Barry Morrissey, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said engineers will be talking with park service officials to discuss the findings and recommendations.

“We are anxious to look at the information contained in the report and then sit down and look at what adjustments might be made to correct the problem,” he said.

Environmentalists warn of a future where laws no longer apply

Brownsville Herald
August 23, 2008

By Laura Tillman

MISSION - National representatives of the Sierra Club warned on Friday that the Bush administration's proposed relaxation of the Endangered Species Act could lead to an ongoing disregard of environmental laws, with results echoing construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

Under the new provisions, federal agencies would have the authority to independently determine whether construction projects will impact endangered species, advocates warn.

Previously required scientific evaluations would be reduced, and climate change would be wholly excluded from environmental considerations, advocates warn.

On Friday, after spotting the rare Mexican bluewing and Malachite butterflies in the North American Butterfly Association Park, Sierra Club members visited a border fence construction site near Donna, where bulldozers unearthed vegetation and replaced shrubs with metal girders. The construction illustrated their concerns.

"In the past, environmental laws have enabled us to work out compromises (with federal authorities)," said Jim Chapman, chairman of the Sierra Club's Lower Rio Grande Valley Chapter.

In 1999, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Naturalization Services when 49 miles of floodlights were planned along the Rio Grande.

Environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act provided leverage for the group's argument, and a compromise was reached to exclude sensitive habitats from the path of the lights.

"What's happening now is unprecedented, because the laws no longer apply," Chapman said. "Even the Reagan administration, who were no friends of the environment, didn't try to dismantle 100 years of environmental protection."

In March, the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife filed a petition with the Supreme Court, arguing that the Real ID Act is unconstitutional. The Act allows the Department of Homeland Security director to waive laws in the interest of national security.

The Supreme Court rejected the petition without comment.

According to the Sierra Club, the Rio Grande Valley is home to the third largest number of endangered species in the country, with 21 species federally listed as threatened or endangered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has invested more than $90 million in creating a wildlife corridor for endangered animals, such as the wild ocelot, of which less that 100 remain in the nation.

Members of the Sierra Club said opposing the border fence has galvanized them and that each setback has made them more determined.

Still, as they stood next to the construction office in Donna, Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed said few options remained.

"We've tried legal strategies, we've tried political strategies," Reed said. "Neither political party wants to look at this issue."

Frontera Audubon Director Wayne Bartholomew said he isn't surprised that conservation regulations have been pushed aside.

"Environmental issues are easily dismissed - but the constitutional aspect is not," Bartholomew said. "You can look at the case of the Valley as a new effort by the Bush administration to waive laws to achieve an end."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pat Nixon at the U.S.-Mexico Border

New American Media

August 22, 2008

Commentary by Joseph Nevins

Editor’s Note: Nearly 40 years ago this month, First Lady Pat Nixon crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and embraced Mexican children, saying, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.” Times have changed, writes the commentator, and ironically, President Richard Nixon helped to bring about many of these changes. Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at Vassar College. His latest book is Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008). Immigration Matters regularly features the views of the nation's leading immigrant rights advocates.

The death of nine Central American and Mexican migrants in a vehicle crash near Florence, Ariz. on Aug. 9 is only one of the latest grisly manifestations of the mounting toll in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. More than 5,000 bodies have been recovered since the mid-1990s, the “collateral damage” of a war on unauthorized migrants that has led them and their guides to take ever-greater risks to evade the intensifying boundary enforcement apparatus.

As U.S. officials and politicians almost uniformly advocate more of the same policies and practices that have led to the deaths, it is useful to recall First Lady Patricia Nixon’s words and deeds—that are almost unimaginable today—at the international divide 37 years ago this month.Mrs. Nixon was in Imperial Beach, Calif. on Aug. 18, 1971 to inaugurate a state park. A 370-acre, former naval base at the extreme southwest corner of the continental United States, it is the site of the initial international borderline after the U.S.-Mexico War ended in 1848. The park’s planners, according to the San Diego Union, envisioned free access to it for people on both sides of the boundary.

In her speech, the First Lady promised to cross the boundary to shake hands with some of the hundreds of Mexican nationals witnessing her visit. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, she declared, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.”

After a member of her security detail cut a section of the then barbed-wire barrier, she traversed the divide and embraced Mexican children, stating, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too long.”

There were no criticisms of Pat Nixon’s statements and actions—at least as indicated by press coverage.

The appearance of what many locals used to call Friendship Park reflects the radical shift that has taken place since the First Lady’s visit.

The southern limit of what is officially known as Border Field State Park is today the antithesis of Pat Nixon’s vision: it is the site of a sturdy, mesh-like fence, and tall steel barriers demarcating the line that separates it from Mexican territory, with a second layer of fencing currently under construction. These are manifestations of a larger enforcement build-up that has taken place nationally since the late 1970s.

Her husband, ironically, had a hand in bringing about the changes: Richard Nixon’s administration helped to create the perception of a U.S.-Mexico border region dangerously out of control, and of an influx of unauthorized migrants threatening the country’s socio-economic fabric. Subsequent administrations funneled ever-more resources into policing migrants and the boundary. It was during the Clinton years that growth in the enforcement apparatus exploded, with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Bush administration adding even more fuel to the fire.

Since 1994, the size of the Border Patrol has quadrupled, while the number of migrant detentions, deportations, and workplace raids has skyrocketed. With Barack Obama and John McCain both championing an ever-elusive border “security,” there is little reason to hope for a de-escalation.These developments over the last four decades have come at an extremely high financial and human cost: billions of dollars, thousands of deaths, and countless divided families. Meanwhile, though the boundary is now certainly more difficult to cross, most unauthorized Mexican migrants who try eventually succeed—92 to 97 percent of them, according to a recent study carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Diego.

While it is impossible to know exactly what Pat Nixon intended almost 40 years ago in Imperial Beach, her words and actions suggested an openness to imagining something fundamentally different in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It is this openness that is so desperately needed today to end the institutionalized brutality and suffering that prevail in the border region and many immigrant communities. As Mrs. Nixon did, seeing people from the other side of the boundary as our neighbors and embracing them—rather than constructing them as faceless masses to be feared and repelled—would be a great start.

Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at Vassar College. His latest book is Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008).

Border fence deadline bumped back

Associated Press / The Monitor
August 22, 2008

By Christopher Sherman

McALLEN -- Soaring construction costs for the border fence have apparently forced the Department of Homeland Security to bend for the first time on its end-of-year completion deadline.

The agency has offered a South Texas county until March 31, 2009 to finish its longest segment of the combined levee and border wall, hoping that the move will keep costs in check, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Congress mandated that 670 miles of vehicle and pedestrian barriers be in place along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2008. Homeland Security has used that looming deadline to justify the waiver of dozens of environmental regulations in April and repeatedly to explain in federal court the quick filing of condemnation lawsuits against hesitant owners of land in the fence's path.

But Dannenbaum Engineering Co., the firm overseeing the modification of about 20 miles of levees into concrete walls in Hidalgo County, states in an Aug. 18 letter that Homeland Security offered more time after all bids for one segment came back too high.

"DHS has allowed an extension for completion of this project," the letter to the county's drainage district said. "Original date for completion was December 31, 2008. New date for completion is March 31, 2009."

The letter concludes, "We believe that these measures may possibly allow for a more cost effective project."

Barry Morrissey, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the arm of DHS handling the border fence, said the agency is still working toward a year-end deadline.

"No formal decision has been made by Customs and Border Protection to change the targeted completion date for the project in question," Morrissey wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "We understand Hidalgo County may be exploring options for cost savings (as is CBP). But we remain committed to completing our goals by the end of the calendar year."

A day earlier, Morrissey said he was aware of conversations about finding savings by extending deadlines, but knew of no final decision.

"The costs have risen just dramatically since the start of this thing," Morrissey said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff came to Hidalgo County in February to announce a major compromise that would combine the county's need for improved levees with the agency's plans for a border fence. The river side of the levees would be scraped away and replaced with a sheer concrete wall 15 to 18-feet tall.

Most significantly, the project could be built within the existing levee right-of-way rather than through private land.

The 4.35-mile segment in western Hidalgo County discussed in the letter is set to be re-advertised Sunday. This time it will be split into two smaller pieces, said Godfrey Garza, district manager of the Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1, which is overseeing the project.

Officials hope the extension will let them spread out their demand for steel, concrete and labor - the project's main ingredients. "Then that premium should come down," Garza said.

The county is paying for the levee improvement portion of the project and Homeland Security is covering the border wall.

This week, the county also approved changes in the original $21.4 million contract for a 1.76-mile levee segment under construction in an attempt to keep pace with rising material costs.

Change orders to the contract show that prices per cubic yard to build elements of the retaining wall have increased between seven and 23 percent since it was awarded July 1. The county drainage district will provide more "in-kind" work to keep it within budget, Garza said.

The cost of typical border fence sections is about $2 million to $3 million per mile, but the government recently began a 3 1/2-mile segment in San Diego that will cost about $16 million per mile due to terrain. As of July 11, the government had completed 182 miles of pedestrian fence and 153 miles of vehicle barriers along the border.

Perry Vaughn, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley chapter of Associated General Contractors of America, said the cost of concrete, steel and diesel fuel are expected to rise another six to eight percent by the end of the year.

"It's very difficult to tie down suppliers for an extended length of time," Vaughn said. When contractors make their bid for a project they know the price of the materials could change one day to the next, so a project such as the border fence that will take months to complete, presents challenges, he said.

From December 2003 to June 2008, concrete, steel and diesel increased 36 percent, 122 percent and 329 percent, respectively, Vaughn said.

The Hidalgo County project costs played a role in the announcement earlier this week that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had rejected neighboring Cameron County's proposal for a similar combined levee and border wall.

In a letter to the county, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham cited cost as one factor in the decision.

"Based on our recent experience in Hidalgo County, we estimate that the cost of a similar project in your area would exceed the cost of CBP's standard fence design," the letter said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Against the Wall

Not even federal law can keep Bush's fence from ripping through natural areas along the Rio Grande.

Texas Observer
June 27, 2008

Melissa del Bosque

Ken Merritt dedicated 31 years of his professional life to protecting endangered wildlife for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He’d still be doing the job he loved if not for a fateful decision. In December 2007, his bosses presented Merritt with a choice: Adhere to longstanding federal law, or sign off on a plan by the Department of Homeland Security to build an 18-foot steel wall through a wildlife refuge under his charge.

Merritt oversaw 180,000 acres of federally protected land that comprises three national wildlife refuges: the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Santa Ana, and the Laguna Atascosa. In an area where 95 percent of the native habitat has fallen prey to development, the value of the refuges cannot be overstated. Over three decades, the federal government invested more than $80 million in buying and restoring habitat along the Texas-Mexico border, creating 115 refuges along the Rio Grande. Merritt’s three-refuge complex is the largest tract. Volunteers and federal employees painstakingly restored native grasses and trees to fallow farmland, and endangered species such as ocelots and jaguarundis slowly returned. The refuges are home to 700 species of birds and animals, as well as 300 species of butterflies, including the rare Telea hairstreak butterfly, which caused a stir last year in scientific circles when it was spotted for the first time in 70 years. The wildlife refuges have been an economic boon for one of the poorest regions in the country. The median annual household income along the border is $15,000. The more than 200,000 birders and ecotourists who visit the region generate an estimated $150 million a year.

Merritt assumed his job was secure. “I really didn’t think it was a career-ending decision until they told me so last December,” he says. “I thought what I was doing was right. But it was a train wreck waiting to happen.”

Merritt says his boss, Benjamin Tuggle, the southwest regional director at Fish & Wildlife in Albuquerque, explicitly asked him to approve the engineering survey for a fence through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It was implied through numerous conference calls and a visit from Tuggle that the Bush administration wanted badly to begin building the border fence. A private environmental consulting firm from Colorado, E2m Inc., had won the contract to do surveys for the fence, and needed access to the refuge. The National Environmental Policy Act, however, requires that a wildlife refuge manager answer a series of questions to determine whether construction projects—in this case a border fence—are appropriate and not detrimental to wildlife in the refuge.

Merritt’s findings indicated the opposite. “It had no benefit for the refuge and no relationship to why the refuge was established,” Merritt says. He denied permission to perform the survey.

Tuggle told him his choice was a “career-ending decision,” Merritt says. “He said some other things, which I won’t go into, but it was pretty ugly.” On January 3, Merritt retired.

Contacted by the Observer, Tuggle denied telling Merritt that his decision would end his career.

Merritt, 54, bemoans the politicization of wildlife protection under the Bush administration. He says political appointees with little background in wildlife management or biology have disregarded the agency’s mission, protecting the nation’s natural resources. “I put a lot of time and a lot of thinking into working through this issue on the border fence,” Merritt says. “And I came to the right conclusion about it, but nothing was done in the end because the waiver wiped everything out.”

The waiver in question stems from a provision Congress tucked into the Real ID Act in 2005 that allows the secretary of homeland security to ignore federal law in the name of national security. On April 1, Secretary Michael Chertoff used his authority to waive 36 federal laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Antiquities Act, and the Native American Graves Protection Act. His waiver applies to 470 miles of southern border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The edict ended public input and interagency discussion on alternatives to the fence.

Yet, as Chertoff has admitted, building a fence through Texas’ wildlife refuges, while costly to taxpayers, will do little to solve America’s illegal immigration problems. The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, has estimated that building and maintaining fence segments along the southern border could cost $49 billion. Last July, Chertoff told CNN’s Late Edition that “fencing has a symbolic value, and it has usefulness in some parts of the border. And we’re going to use it where it is effective. The idea that you are going to solve the problem simply by building a fence is undercut by the fact that yesterday we discovered a tunnel. So the idea that fencing alone is a solution I think is overly simplistic.”

Despite complaints from congressional leaders about lack of public input, a class action lawsuit by several Texas border landowners and cities, and a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, Chertoff expects private contractors to start building the fence in Texas by July or August.

In May, the Army Corps of Engineers began soliciting bids to build three segments of steel fence through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Houston-based KBR Inc., formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., is one of the companies bidding for the project.
Privatization of border security is a hallmark of the Bush administration’s effort to curb illegal immigration. At a January 2006 “Industry Day” in Washington, D.C., Deputy Director of Homeland Security Michael Jackson told more than 400 defense contractors, “We’re asking you, we’re inviting you to tell us how to run our organization.” Jackson, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. vice president, added, “This is an invitation to be a little bit aggressive, thinking as if you were owner and you were partners with CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection).”

In 2006, Boeing Co. won a multibillion-dollar contract to build and maintain “technology and tactical infrastructure projects” along the northern and southern borders. A Government Accountability Office report released in February indicated the contract runs for three years, with three one-year extension options. The GAO has repeatedly recommended that Homeland Security place a spending cap on the contract, to no avail.

Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative office, whose responsibility it is to oversee the Boeing contract and several other border-security projects, did not return six phone calls and four e-mails requesting comment.

Boeing drew the wrath of congressional leaders in February, when the company delivered a “virtual fence” to surveil the Arizona border near Tucson. It didn’t work. Under accelerated deadlines imposed by Congress and Homeland Security, the company used commercial software for police dispatchers. The company didn’t consult with Border Patrol agents as to what would work in the field. Congressional leaders threatened to take the project, called P-28, away from Boeing, but instead granted the company two more contracts worth $133 million to salvage the effort.

Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, whose district is on the Arizona border, has watched the P-28 debacle unfold over the past two years. “They screwed up the virtual fence, and $20.6 million was flushed down the toilet—no problem,” he says. “Now they’ve been given additional money to redo it. It’s nothing more than political symbolism.”

Chertoff announced this month that the technology would be operational in 2011.

In June 2007, Grijalva, who chairs the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act. His legislation requires, among other things, that Homeland Security publish full public notice and seek public input. And it repeals Chertoff’s waiver authority. Despite 49 co-sponsors, the legislation languishes in another House subcommittee—the equivalent of outer Siberia on Capitol Hill.

Grijalva has spent his whole life on the Arizona border, and he understands the complexities of the region. His Capitol office is decorated with Native American artwork and colorful southwestern décor. At times he slips into Spanish border slang. “The fence is not a deterrent for the high-level organized criminal organizations operating on both sides of the border,” he says. “Guns one way, dope the other way, human smuggling, stolen vehicles—those activities are now organized. And if you talk to Border Patrol agents who don’t have to carry the party line, they’ll tell you it’s not the poor pelado coming across to wash dishes in some restaurant that’s a threat. It’s the cartels that control Nuevo Laredo and Juarez in Texas and Naco, Nogales, and Agua Prieta in my state.”

Grijalva has been trying for months to get traction on his legislation. But it remains unacceptable to both Republicans and the Democratic leadership, the former for ideological reasons and the latter because it’s too controversial in an election year.

“When I first filed this bill, some of my colleagues thought it was a real pain in the ass,” Grijalva says. “Nobody thought the fence would be built. Then their communities started calling them.”
In April, he held a field hearing on his bill at the University of Texas campus in Brownsville. The hearing brought together seven committee chairs and a bipartisan panel of congressional members, including Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a primary architect of the Secure Fence Act. Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, a staunch fence supporter, also took part. He had one of the more memorable lines of the day when he peevishly suggested that the border fence be built north of Brownsville since residents hated the plan so much.

One important witness was conspicuously absent. Grijalva had requested that a deputy or high-ranking member of Homeland Security be present to answer questions. Chertoff ignored Grijalva and the six other Democratic committee chairs, and didn’t send a high-level staffer.
“The administration is an animal unto itself,” Grijalva says.

Though Democrats have the majority in the House and the Senate, and control the administration’s purse strings, they have been reluctant to take on Homeland Security because they don’t want to be perceived as soft on security issues, Grijalva says.

“A lot of what we need to do as Democrats in Congress is not panic and stick our tails between our legs at the tactics that Homeland Security uses, such as ‘Oh, if you’re not for waiving 36 laws, building a fence, and putting the safety of the nation above a species, then you are obviously pro-terrorist, open borders, and don’t care about the security of our nation,’” he says. “It’s been a very convenient political hammer on both sides of the aisle.”

Grijalva’s hope is that Democrats can eventually reform Homeland Security, but he doesn’t see it happening until Bush has left the White House. “I think we can provide some real oversight over these agencies and at least minimize the damage and hold it until the new administration can come in and clean it up,” he says. “That’s the long-term strategy for me—holding the dogs at the gate until we can have a more rational look at border security and border policy. Because everything we are doing right now is in response to being perceived as a political advantage or disadvantage. And so when you create policy that way, like with the border fence, it is doomed to failure. Those policies have no lasting strength to them.”

Particularly galling to the congressman is Homeland Security’s plan to spend $1.3 billion to build a massive headquarters in Washington; the money will come from port of entry funding within the agency’s budget. Local officials, along with law enforcement personnel, have long begged for more money to beef up security at ports of entry along the border. “People are calling it the ‘Little Pentagon,’” Grijalva says of the new headquarters. “They squeezed port of entry funding, better security, and flow-of-traffic money slated for ports of entry to build it.”

He says he believes the agency never intended to follow federal law when building the fence segments across the southern border. “I think the waiver was always in the works,” he says.

“There is a military mentality toward this now in the Department of Homeland Security. They use words like ‘operational management, operational control.’ They didn’t want to deal with the National Environmental Policy Act. Because Homeland Security feels it is to some extent part of the Defense Department and that oversight should be minimal and secretive. The National Environmental Policy Act is an open and public process, and in that culture they feel it’s their prerogative to be closed about it for security reasons.”

Every year, Grijalva says, at least 400 dead migrants who have succumbed to the elements are routinely discovered in the desert in his district. He is frustrated that the administration won’t work with local communities and law enforcement to come up with a border policy that works. Instead, private contractors are making millions off U.S. taxpayers building pieces of fence that no one believes will work. “This administration has made sure their allies have found a way to make money out of it,” Grijalva says. “I find it very disturbing.”

The congressman hasn’t given up on his legislation. He hopes to hold another hearing in July. While he has gathered support from 49 Democrats, not one Republican has joined them.

Noah Kahn, federal lands associate with Defenders of Wildlife, says his group has repeatedly met with Republican congressional members to persuade them to join Grijalva. “Many of them show interest, but they always ask, ‘Have any other Republicans signed on to the bill?’ No one wants to be the first Republican to sign on,” Kahn says.

“I don’t think I will get bipartisan support,” Grijalva says. “So the point quite honestly is to continue to move the issue—you don’t want it to disappear. We want to put this in front of the American people and say, ‘OK, the border fence is not going to solve the problem you perceive because, (a) it is dividing communities and, (b) it’s a waste of money, and it’s affecting the environment and our constitutional principles, such as private property and sovereign rights for native people.” Ken Merritt, for one, would like to see a real debate about the fence. On a sweltering June afternoon, he sits under a tree at the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in a contemplative mood. Just last December he was the boss here.

“The border fence really threw the service for a loop,” he says of Fish & Wildlife. “They wrote this policy about appropriate uses to protect the refuges as much as possible from political decisions. They never thought about a fence coming in. It’s a tough one because the administration wants a fence, and they are telling everyone down the line in the executive branch, ‘Make this thing happen.’”

Merritt says the American people shouldn’t have to choose between saving endangered species and securing the border. “You hear about a wildlife refuge and the border fence on Fox News, and they always paint it as black and white,” he says. “Do you want to save an ocelot or have our border secure? It’s a ridiculous question, because we ought to be able to have both.”

Virtual fence construction in Arizona put on hold

Associated Press
August 20, 2008

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Construction on "virtual fence" projects scheduled along Arizona's border with Mexico is on hold indefinitely because the Interior Department hasn't signed off on use of its lands, federal officials said Tuesday.

Interior officials have not accepted a proposed finding in an environmental assessment produced for the U.S. Border Patrol that putting towers with radar, cameras and communications equipment on Interior Department lands would have no significant impact, said Mike Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Authority to waive environmental laws for border security projects was granted to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff under a 2005 congressional act, but the law does not extend to virtual fence projects, Friel said.

Boeing Co., the prime contractor on the projects for the Department of Homeland Security, has suspended work, with no resumption date set.

The Interior Department's concerns — as well as sharply increased costs for fuel and material in building the physical fences and vehicle barriers on the border — have caused Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security to delay all virtual fence construction until January at the earliest, Friel said. Prep work had been expected to begin in July but was delayed because of the dispute with the Interior Department.

The government has completed just more than half of a total of 670 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers it is committed to build along the Mexican border by the end of the year.

Officials are looking at ways to apply money not obligated to go to virtual fence technical development this year to the physical fence-building to help meet the added costs, Friel said.

Virtual fences are part of the department's plan to secure the U.S.-Mexico border by detecting illegal immigrants and drug smugglers entering Arizona. The state has been the focal point for several years for smugglers bringing illegal immigrants across the border.

Boeing completed a pilot project of nine movable towers this year, but shortly after Chertoff formally accepted the completed fence, Customs and Border Protection and Boeing officials said the $20 million system failed to live up to expectations and would be scrapped.

In its place, officials planned 17 new, refined towers, some holding just communications gear, others featuring new cameras or radars. Those new towers are intended to cover about 34 miles, including the area encompassing the pilot project.

Work on those replacement towers was planned to begin this summer, followed by construction work on 11 other surveillance towers in the virtual fence system farther west, in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Still other towers are planned stretching east of those near Sasabe to an area south of Sierra Vista.

The Organ Pipe project also calls for deployment of unattended ground sensors and about 20 miles of new or improved roads, Friel said.

Customs and Border Protection was scheduled to release a draft environmental assessment for the first seven of those towers on July 31. That did not occur.

Instead, the Interior Department's concerns about the towers' impact of the towers on fragile desert lands put the brakes on the draft report. Interior also raised concerns about needed permits that the Border Patrol hadn't secured.

Because the waiver authority granted in the 2005 Real ID Act does not apply to virtual fence construction, DHS must go through environmental assessment requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Calls to the Interior Department by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

DHS says 'no' to Cameron County's levee-wall alternative

Rio Grande Guardian
August 19, 2008

BROWNSVILLE, August 19 - The Department of Homeland Security has rejected Cameron County’s proposed levee-wall project as an alternative to a border fence.

Confirmation of the decision was relayed to Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos in a letter sent by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham.

“After many meetings and discussions with the CBP Secure Border Initiative program office as well as a thorough evaluation of our proposal they concluded that the project was not feasible,” Cascos said.

“Costs for a project of this magnitude and their current experience in Hidalgo County played a major role in their decision. In addition the coordination with the International Boundary and Water Commission was also a factor.”

The IBWC is currently working to complete flood protection improvements in Cameron County. “There was an unwillingness to collaborate on a joint levee-barrier project at this time,” Cascos said, referring to the IBWC.

Cascos said DHS plans to proceed with the planned installation of a border fence in Cameron County.

“As has been stated many times before, the Cameron County Commissioner’s Court has taken an official position opposing the border fence and will continue to work towards aiming to make sure that the concerns of those most affected by this initiative are addressed in a proper manner,” Cascos added.

In Hidalgo County, CBP is working with county officials and IBWC to build 22 miles of levee concrete walls instead of a border fence. The project was made financially viable when county commissioners agreed to use $40 million from a county bond issue to help pay for the work. The county hopes the federal government will pay the money back in the not too distant future.

In his letter to Cascos, Basham said CBP’s Secure Border Initiative program office has evaluated the “complex operational, financial, environmental, and construction timeline requirements” associated with Cameron County’s proposed levee-wall project.

“We have determined that the project is not feasible,” Basham wrote. “The key factors in reaching this conclusion were concerns related to the cost and coordination with the International Boundary and Water Commission, the federal entity with responsibility for the levees.”

Basham said that based on his agency’s recent experience in Hidalgo County, CBP estimates that the cost of a similar project in Cameron County would “exceed the cost” of CBP’s standard fence design.

“Additionally, because the IBWC is already working to complete flood protection improvements in Cameron County, we do not believe it will be feasible to collaborate with them on a joint levee-barrier project,” Basham said.

Basham said that as CBP proceeds with its installation of border security in Cameron County it will maintain “open dialogue” with the local community and affected landowners.

Monday, August 18, 2008

$57 million border fence is going up near San Diego

Associated Press / Kansas City Star
August 16, 2008

SAN DIEGO Scrapers and bulldozers began filling a deep canyon Friday to make way for a border fence after 12 years of planning, environmental reviews and legal challenges.

The 3.5-mile stretch extends from a state park on an oceanfront cliff through a canyon known as Smuggler’s Gulch. The gorge was overrun by illegal immigrants until U.S. authorities launched a crackdown in the 1990s that pushed traffic to the remote mountains and deserts of California and Arizona.

At a cost of about $16 million a mile, the fence will be far more expensive than fences the U.S. government is building elsewhere along the country’s 1,952-mile border with Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the average cost along the entire border is $2 million to $3 million a mile.

The stretch near San Diego will cost about $57 million under a contract awarded to Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Neb., said James Swanson, a Border Patrol special operations supervisor. The lion’s share will pay for filling Smuggler’s Gulch with nearly 1.9 million tons of dirt and for building a concrete culvert to handle rainfall flowing downhill from Tijuana, Mexico, Swanson said.

The border is marked by a decaying fence made of surplus Navy landing mats. Border Patrol agents swarm the area in jeeps and pickups as they wait for migrants in Tijuana to dash about two miles through trees to the closest patch of stores and homes.

It’s a far cry from the early ’90s, when large groups blitzed across the border and overwhelmed the Border Patrol.

U.S. authorities insist new fencing is needed, despite an increase in patrols and objections from environmental groups who say the dirt shift threatens the Tijuana River estuary, home to more than 370 migratory and native birds.

“We’re not seeing the thousands, the hundreds who streamed through in the past,” said Mike Fisher, chief of the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector. “However, it’s still a vulnerability that’s being exploited today.”

Arrests along the stretch have doubled in the past year as the Border Patrol has added agents, said spokesman Alex Renteria.

Arrests totaled 16,738 in the area from October through July, or about 60 a day, up from 7,944 the same period last year.

The project calls for a dirt access road and 15-foot-high steel mesh fence just north of the existing fence. Crews will build a third fence about 10 feet high farther north and install lights.

“It’s crazy,” said Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana. “I don’t see the justification to spend $60 million on an area that’s no longer an important crossing.”

He predicted the new fence will reduce crossings to “almost zero” but inflict serious environmental damage.

According to local legend, Smuggler’s Gulch got its name from alcohol smuggled into the U.S. during Prohibition. In Mexico, it is known as “Canon del Matadero” — “Slaughterhouse Canyon” — supposedly because there was once a goat slaughterhouse nearby.

Work begins at canyon on disputed border fence

San Diego Union-Tribune
August 16, 2008

SOUTH COUNTY: After several delays, earth-moving equipment has begun scraping soil from a hillside next to Smuggler's Gulch, the canyon at the center of a controversial border fence-building operation that has pitted local environmentalists against the federal government for years.

Border Patrol Agent Jason Rodgers confirmed yesterday that contractors have been using heavy equipment this week to excavate soil from the west side of the canyon, which lies west of the San Ysidro port of entry. The federal government's plan is to build an earthen berm stretching across the canyon to support new steel mesh fencing and roads.

Kiewit Corp., based in Omaha, Neb., was awarded a $48.6 million contract for the work.

The operation, which will require filling in the canyon with more than two million cubic yards of dirt, has been criticized by environmentalists for the silt-related damage it could do to the Tijuana River estuary. In 2004, the California Coastal Commission stalled construction after ruling that the project would cause environmental damage.

A lawsuit filed by several environmental groups that same year to stop the project was thrown out of court in December 2005, after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the authority granted to him by legislation that year to waive all laws impeding fence construction.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Faulty design turned border fence into dam

Arizona Daily Star
August 15, 2008

By Brady McCombs

A 5.2-mile border fence recently constructed along Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument's southern border in southwestern Arizona became a dam in a recent flash flood, monument officials say.

Organ Pipe officials issued a 17-page report this week detailing how the 15-foot-high wire mesh fence halted the natural flow of floodwater during a July 12 storm that dumped 1 to 2 inches of rain in 90 minutes around the border towns of Lukeville, Ariz., and Sonoyta, Sonora.

Debris piled up against the fence, including in drainage gates designed to prevent flooding, and the 6-foot deep fence foundation stopped subsurface water flow, the report said.

As a result, water pooled 2 to 7 feet high, depending on the area, causing water that usually flows north to south across the border in natural drainage washes to flow laterally, the report said.

A wash directly west of Lukeville flowed more than 200 feet along the fence and through the port of entry at the international border, causing flood damage to private property, government offices and businesses in Lukeville and Sonoyta, the report said.

Simply put: The fence did not live up to promises made by officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Border Patrol or Kiewit Western Co., the private company that built the fence for $21.3 million, the report said.

"As a consequence, natural resources of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and National Park Service infrastructure will be impacted, as well as resources and infrastructure on neighboring lands in the U.S. and Mexico," the report said.

The report has been sent to the Border Patrol and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, said Lee Baiza, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument superintendent.

"I would just like to have them come back and re-evaluate the structure," Baiza said.

"They need to come up with a process to be able to remove the debris prior to reaching the fence or the alter the design of the fence to accommodate more flow."

The Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with Homeland Security, designed the fence.

In washes, the fence has grate openings at the bottom that are 6 inches high and 24 inches wide with 1-by-3-inch bars. The grates are designed to accommodate a flood, the report said.

Nearly all of the 5.2-mile fence, which flanks Lukeville, was completed this summer, Baiza said. Kiewit is working to finish a small section that goes up and over a steep hill west of Lukeville, he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials had not yet seen the report and declined to comment, said spokesman Barry Morrissey, based in Washington, D.C.

A Kiewit spokesman said his company couldn't comment on the report without authorization from the Corps of Engineers.

Kiewit, based in Omaha, Neb., has also been awarded a $16.6 million contract to build 6.24 miles of fencing west of the San Pedro River in Cochise County, figures from the Corps of Engineers show.

It is the second time this year that a border barrier has been blamed for flooding, the other being a wall in Nogales, Ariz., that Mexican officials said caused severe flooding in Nogales, Sonora.

That occurred the same day as the flooding on Organ Pipe: July 12.

Environmentalists say they have been warning about such problems with the border fences since plans came out.

"What we are seeing graphically at Organ Pipe was predictable — this is what happens when you circumvent environmental laws," said Robin Silver, co-founder and board member of the Center for Biological Diversity.

"When you build an impediment across a stream, it becomes a dam. And providing some holes in a fence is a joke."

The impediment to the flow of water can accelerate erosion, wipe out riparian vegetation and potentially cause lateral shifts in the locations of riverbeds, said Matt Clark, southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

The diverted water flows can cause damage to people and man-made structures nearby, too.
"Whatever is in the path of the redirected water flow will be damaged, whether that's vegetation and natural resources or man-made structures," Clark said. "The power of water is a major force."

The furious pace at which Homeland Security officials have been working to install 670 miles of primary fencing and vehicle barriers by the end of the year to meet mandates resulted in a lack of diligence on such issues as water flow, Clark said.

"It's something that has been anticipated and unfortunately has apparently been ignored in the rush to build this wall," Clark said.

Though Baiza declined to join the chorus of "I told you so," the report shows that he and other Organ Pipe officials also warned Homeland Security about water-flow issues before construction began.

In October 2007, Organ Pipe officials told Homeland Security they were worried that the fence would impede the movement of floodwater across the border; that debris would get trapped in the fence; that backwater would pool up; and that the lateral flow of water would cause damage to the environment and patrol roads, the report said.

In response to those concerns, the Border Patrol issued a final environmental assessment with a finding of no significant impact that said the fence would not impede the natural flow of water or cause flooding, the report said.

The agency said it would remove debris from the fence within the washes and arroyos immediately after rains to ensure no flooding occurred.

At a December 2007 meeting, Kiewit officials stated in a handout that the fence design "would permit water and debris to flow freely and not allow ponding of water on either side of the border" because the drainage crossing grates "met hydraulic modeling requirements."

Baiza didn't place blame but said he wants to make sure something is done.

"We're trying to be constructive with this report, and the main thing is that I just don't want it to be forgotten or undone," Baiza said. "I want to make sure we address situations as they occur."

Organ Pipe officials have concerns about it happening again. Based on a 60-year record of daily rainfall at Organ Pipe, the amount of rain that fell July 12 occurs once every three years, the report said.

"It would like putting your finger on the end of the water hose," Baiza said. "You are restricting the water flow; that is what the fence is doing."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Border Fence Fight Comes to Los Ebanos, Texas

Texas Public Radio
August 13, 2008

David Martin Davies - Texas Public Radio News

August 13, 2008 · The Rio Grande forms the Texas 1,255-mile border with Mexico from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. But it is only at Los Ebanos where people can cross the river not with a bridge but with a hand-pulled ferry.

The Los Ebanos ferry is a part of the border that time forgot. Tucked away in the southwestern corner of Hidalgo County this crossing has existed as a popular place to ford the Rio Grande since the days of Spanish colonization. Then like now the summer sound of the cicadas pulsate in the breeze.

The hand pulled ferry went into operation in the 1850’s and has seen few improvements since then. The ferry is still tethered by a thick rope tied around the base of a large Texas Ebony tree.

And it’s still muscle power that propels the flat bottom barge from Texas to Mexico and back again.

But one difference evident today is the ferry now hauls large pick-up trucks over the border – a maximum 3 at a time and no more than 12 passengers.

“We are doing it old school here,” said Mark Alvarez is the captain of the ferry and operations manager. In order to function as a recognized international port of entry the Los Ebanos ferry needs a fully licensed captain. Alvarez went to school and passed the tests even though his ship travels less than a quarter of a mile per journey.Alvarez says the ferry averages about 40 cars a day. If it weren’t for this crossing the motorists would have to drive an additional 40 miles to get to Diaz Ordaz, the town on the other side of the river.

“It saves them time and money,” he said.

During Prohibition Los Ebanos was known as “Smugglers Crossing.” In this post 9-11 era with the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing it would seem doubtful that the Department of Homeland Security will allow a smugglers crossing to continue to exist on its southern border. But Captain Alvarez says the hand-pulled ferry will continue to its voyages.

“They have been here measuring for the wall, but it’s not going to effect the port of entry. It's just going to be built surrounding it. It’s not going to close me off. Our doors are still going to be open to Mexico and the United States is still going to have traffic coming and going,” he said.

Critical to the Department of Homeland Security’s plan for securing this stretch of the border is fencing off the undeveloped land on either side of the Los Ebanos ferry.

Both properties are owned by Pamela Rivas. The 16 acres have been in her family for generations. She is refusing to allow the Army Corp of Engineers to survey her land for the anti-illegal immigration border fence. She said she doesn’t want to sell her land to the Department of Homeland Security at any price because she’s opposed to the concept of the border barrier.

“I don’t think it’s going to serve a purpose. It’s a waste of money. You know taxpayers money just for a wall that I don’t think is going to detain anybody. They can go through it, over it, under it,” Rivas said.

Rivas and other opposition landowners were sued by the Department of Homeland security to get access to the land. They lost that round in court. Then last month the family drove to New Orleans for the appeal.

This is the first border fence landowner dispute that reached the appeallate court level. But Rivas isn’t happy with the result. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it won’t over turn the lower court decision.

The federal appeals court said it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on the case because the government had not finished the condemnation of the land in Los Ebanos.

The Department of Homeland Security has already filed final condemnation lawsuits against Rivas using imminent domain, but there’s a hold up. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen has not scheduled a hearing. All these legal wranglings are causing critical delays for Homeland Security which is working to meet a congressional deadline to complete 670 miles of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year.

“Their plan wasn’t as good as it looked on paper,” said Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid attorney Tino Gallegos who represents Rivas against DHS, Gallegos said officials at Homeland Security are realizing the border region is more complicated than they first thought.

“You’re not just building a fence in the middle of nowhere that won’t affect anybody – except for the wildlife that has to try and pass through it. It affects people and their way of life and their communities – they’re not so easily pushed aside,” he said.

Homeland Security has made some compromised on the Texas Border to achieve some of its fencing objectives. But there are some places like in Los Ebanos where landowners like Rivas say compromise isn’t an option.

And it looks like it will be up to the courts to decide if the border fence will come to the part of the border that time forgot.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Still no contract for Cameron County border fence

Brownsville Herald
August 12, 2008

By Steve Sinclair, Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN - There is no indication when construction will begin on the Cameron County segment of the border fence.

The major holdup is that a contract to build the section has not been awarded.

"We're still awaiting bids on the fence," said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Corps of Engineers spokesperson would not speculate on how long it would take to build the Cameron County segment once the bidding process is completed.

Seven companies have been invited to bid on the Cameron County fence, two of them from Texas. But none are from the Rio Grande Valley.

"We have what are called multiple award task order contract companies," the corps spokesperson said. "These companies in the pool are allowed to bid on it (the fence).

"The proposals have been sent out to them and now we're just waiting on the bids," the spokesperson said. "The bids will be reviewed by the contracting personnel."

It was not clear what would happen if bids were considered too high.

As for making the December deadline, the spokesperson said. "I can't speculate on that."

The spokesperson said the Cameron County segment of the fence may not be exactly the same as other parts of the country, including Hidalgo County.

"It depends on the terrain and whether the area is urban or rural," the official said. "There are different variations of the fence."

The spokesperson did say that the exact location of the fence has been settled.

It is not certain whether environmental concerns will be addressed in fence construction. But the official said those concerns have been considered.

"The corps (of engineers) has been very diligent with environmental assessments and is taking into consideration any indigenous wildlife. But the Department of Homeland Security does have the power to waive environmental concerns," the spokesperson said.

Danny Guerra, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz's office, whose constituency includes Cameron County, said the congressman has been given few details of the border barrier.

"They (Department of Homeland Security) have not been in contact with us," Guerra said.

"At the end of the day, we're still opposed to it, but there's nothing legislatively we can do to stop it."


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Heavy rains close Nogales foot crossing

Arizona Daily Star
August 13, 2008

Heavy rains fell near the U.S.-Mexican border in Nogales on Tuesday afternoon, forcing U.S. officials to close a pedestrian gate and temporarily trapping three people inside a small building on the Mexican side of the border.

At around 4 p.m., rains fell, and water rose to 2 to 3 feet high in Mexico on the other side of the border wall, said Brian Levin, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

Three people were trapped in the small building at the Morley pedestrian gate, just east of the downtown Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, Levin said. U.S. officials geared up to perform the rescue, but Mexican officials were able to rescue them first, he said.

The rain stopped before and the water drained away before 6 p.m., Levin said. The Morley gate, used by pedestrians to cross the border, remained closed though, he said.

The Dennis DeConcini port was not damaged and continued to operate as normal throughout the rain, he said.

The severity of the damage caused by this storm wasn't available Tuesday evening, but Levin said it wasn't nearly as bad as the July 12 flooding that caused an estimated $8 million in damage to Nogales, Sonora.

U.S. to plug border 'loophole': Open seas

USA Today
August 12, 2008

By Emily Bazar, USA TODAY

Immigration officials are beefing up patrols, buying more boats and preparing for a surge in illegal water crossings as immigrants and drug smugglers are likely to chart new routes into the USA through the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.

Heavier enforcement on the U.S.-Mexican land border, in the form of staffing, fencing, cameras and other detection technology, will force smugglers and migrants to look for easier entry spots, says Lloyd Easterling, assistant chief of the Border Patrol.

There are about 17,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide, compared with 12,000 two years ago.

The Department of Homeland Security intends to complete 670 miles of fence by year's end.
"What we're doing … has been effective. Now they're having to go try different things," Easterling says.

In Southern California, the San Diego Marine Task Force seized 10 human- and drug-smuggling boats last year. With nearly two months to go in this fiscal year, there have been 22 boat seizures, more than double last year's total, says Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Diego.

"Clearly, San Diego has seen an upturn in smuggling by sea," says James Spero of ICE. "It's likely the next loophole could be the Gulf."

Easterling says officials are increasing water patrols and adding boats, jet skis and helicopters. He did not provide details, citing security.

Illegal immigrants found new paths after a crackdown at the Southern California border in 1994, says Doris Meissner, then commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She is a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.

As a result of that earlier crackdown, illegal crossers started taking more dangerous routes through remote deserts and mountains, she says. "It has consistently been the experience that strengthening in one place leads to new places becoming pressure points," she says.

Fernando Garcia of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso says smugglers, who charge thousands of dollars to guide people across, will charge more, and more migrants will die navigating dangerous waters.

Capt. Thomas Farris, commander of the Coast Guard's San Diego sector, says his team is installing more sensors on land and at sea to detect movement and is closely coordinating efforts with the Border Patrol.

Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego, says dozens of smugglers' boats have been captured or found abandoned in the past year.

"The increase in maritime people smuggling is already with us," he says. Extra border fortification "is only deflecting migrant traffic into other modes of entry."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Valley residents fenced into no man's land by border wall

San Antonio Express-News
August 12, 2008

Lynn Brezosky - Express-News Rio Grande Valley Bureau

GRANJENO — Perhaps it was the shade-giving mesquite and the storied ebony tree that caused border-fence surveyors to apparently miss the Anzaldua family and their two neighbors' bucolic cropping of homes, horse paddocks and farm equipment.

But if construction on the first segments proceeds without changes, the family will end up in a kind of no man's land between the Homeland Security Department's border wall and the Rio Grande.

“It makes us feel like we're going to be a part of Mexico ...,” said Melissa Anzaldua. “The Rio Grande's not going to any more be the border. Are people going to think people who stayed behind stayed because they no longer wanted to be part of the United States?”

No one from Customs and Border Protection or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came by to tell them a fence was planned that would put them somewhere between the United States and Mexico.

No one from Hidalgo County came by to tell them whether the school bus would come once the dirt roads changed to a precarious series of dirt piles.

After construction personnel told him he couldn't go through the only route leading to the main road, Mike Anzaldua, 40, Melissa's father and an oil field worker, concluded the handful of “Rincon” residents had been forgotten.

“I had to bring the engineers all the way out here to show them that there were people back here,” he said.

The engineers, employed by one of the private contractors for the barrier, said they hadn't known.

Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he hadn't heard of the situation but would look into it. He said Hidalgo County had the lead on that leg of the project.

“No final decisions have been made at this point for access,” he said. “They're still going to be spoken to, whether by us or by Hidalgo County. We're definitely going to be talking with them.”

Asked if the family was overlooked, he said, “We put notices in the newspaper and the radio and all those things. We like to think in some of those places they would come forward.”

Melissa Anzaldua said she had tried without success to get in touch with County Judge J.D. Salinas. Monday, after a reporter called, the judge's office called her to set up a meeting.

But Salinas said he “can only do so much. A lot of people think that I can call Secretary (Michael) Chertoff in Washington and say, ‘Take care of this situation.'”

Salinas said the family should be able to get to and from their home when the project is completed.

“My understanding from the start according to Homeland Security is that anybody who has access is going to continue to have access,” he said.

Mike Anzaldua said his property dates back at least a century, and the remnants of old stone steps and rusted tractor wheels bear that out. They lead a quiet existence, tucked back along their unnamed caliche path.

Saturday, Anzaldua and his 16-year-old son Aaron, the younger sporting chaps and a Texas-shaped pendant, cleaned around the property and tended to the five horses and two sheep.

Late afternoon was for relaxing outdoors on old chairs, watching for armadillos and relishing breeze from the Rio Grande. Visitors are few, even though there are blood ties with most in the tiny city of Granjeno.

“We're pretty quiet people. We keep to ourselves,” Anzaldua said. “Not party people, I guess. Not used to the fast life.”

The wall segment being erected now is not a fence, but rather a combination levee-wall.

Hidalgo County officials reached a compromise with Homeland Security that uses reinforced levee as a security barrier. The agreement saved private properties from eminent domain acquisition and helps Hidalgo County fix ailing flood controls.

Other parts of the Texas fence are awaiting land condemnation proceedings in federal court. Two such lawsuits were taken to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which Friday dismissed the case.

Julie Hillrichs, spokeswoman for the Texas Border Coalition, a group of cities that have rallied against the fence, called the Anzalduas' situation “mind-boggling.”

“You would think our federal government would conduct the proper surveillance to know who's there,” she said. “They obviously didn't do that.”

For the Anzalduas, the implications of living in a no man's land range from inconvenient to scary.

They fear being in a cross-zone for violent drug and people smugglers, which makes Mike Anzaldua wonder about defending his family.

“It comes to a point where we're going to be left behind,” he said. “We're going to have to start making our own laws back here.”

U.S. will have to tear down tunnel barrier in Nogales

Arizona Daily Star
August 9 2008
By Brady McCombs

U.S. officials have determined that part of a barrier constructed by the Border Patrol in a storm-water tunnel beneath Nogales is in Mexico — and must be torn down.

Representatives from the U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission conducted a pair of surveys in the past two weeks and determined that nearly 8 feet of the 20-foot concrete barrier is in Mexico, said Sally Spener, U.S. spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The commission informed officials with Customs and Border Protection of their findings and told them they must remove the barrier, and a metal gate that sits right behind it, because part of it also is on Mexican soil, Spener said. The agency agreed to remove the barrier and gate, she said.
Border Patrol officials said it was an honest mistake.

"We believed we had built in the United States," said Gustavo Soto, spokesman in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. "If we built any portion of it in Mexico, then obviously we are going to remove it."

The determination doesn't completely close the case of the barrier — the commission still must weigh in on whether it agrees the concrete barrier is to blame for flooding July 12 that caused an estimated $8 million in damage in Nogales, Sonora.

Officials with the Mexican section of the commission say technical data show the barrier reduced the flow of storm water through the tunnel by 40 percent, serving as a bottleneck and causing the water to back up on the Mexican side of the channel and pressure the aging drainage structure, which broke.

Mexico submitted a formal complaint against the United States for flood damage, asking for repairs or money.

The U.S. section of the commission has not finished a hydrological analysis, which is evaluating the extent to which the barrier blocked water flow, Spener said. While in Nogales, Ariz., last month to assess the situation, the commissioner of the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, Carlos Marin, said a large pipeline running across the tunnel on the Mexican side might have also inhibited water flow.

The concrete barrier was 5 feet tall until being reduced to 3 1/2 feet shortly after the July 12 floods at the urging of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Ariz., officials. At the time, Border Patrol officials denied the requests to remove the barrier completely.

Now, they don't have a choice.

There is no timeline for the removal other than in the near future, Spener said. Soto said it shouldn't take officials too long to remove the structure.

The agency must also remove a metal gate that sits just north of the barrier and reaches the ceiling of the tunnel.

The concrete barrier and gate were built to prevent smugglers from sneaking through the tunnel and into the United States, a frequent occurrence.

A second metal gate that sits farther north in the tunnel will stay up. The Border Patrol will likely discuss constructing the second gate again, this time on U.S. soil, Soto said.

The two-gate system allows the agency to maintain a barrier even if one of the gates is damaged or breached, he said. The agency also has a camera system in the tunnel.

The Border Patrol built the new concrete barrier in the past year without notifying the commission, Spener said.

The commission requests that border agencies send it the plans for any work that could affect storm drainage.

Soto couldn't explain how or why the infrastructure division didn't notify the commission.

The location of the barrier came into question in the days after the July 12 flooding when mayor of Nogales, Sonora, Marco Antonio Martínez Dabdoub, and other officials were touring the tunnel and noticed the barrier appeared to be in Mexico.

In response, the boundary commission sent a delegation to Nogales on July 24 to determine whether the structure was on Mexican soil. It ended up taking officials until this week because there were not definitive markings for the international line inside the tunnel, Spener said.

"Because it was underground, it was a little trickier than perhaps we had first anticipated," Spener said.

The border runs diagonally through the tunnel and was marked by an unofficial painted yellow line on the floor. To ensure the border is properly marked, the commission plans on installing a permanent demarcation feature, Spener said.

In the meantime, officials drilled from the surface into the tunnel at two points and left brightly-painted drill bits that look like rebar. They might put a plaque, like those at the ports of entry, inside the tunnel to mark the line, she said.

The U.S. State Department is aware of the findings, but it was too late in the day Friday to find out what actions might be taken because of the findings, said spokeswoman Sara Mangiaracina. She issued this statement:

"We support the efforts of the IBWC (boundary commission) to resolve this. The IBWC is particularly well placed for helping to resolve this issue in a constructive manner."