Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Friendship Park in dispute over border fence

North Country Times
December 31, 2008

Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach has long been a meeting place for people separated by the nation's immigration laws, but a new fence being built on the U.S.-Mexico border site threatens to end that tradition, local human rights advocates say.

A group of elected officials recently joined an effort by those advocates to halt construction of the fence in that area.But immigration officials and other local lawmakers say the new barrier is needed to keep smugglers from exploiting the aging and deteriorating steel fence.

"Halting the construction of infrastructure at the park would only make the area more difficult to manage," said Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon. "This project ... is an important part of our efforts to control the border."

The plaza and an obelisk monument on the border were dedicated in 1971 by then-first lady Patricia Nixon as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. The plaza sits on a mesa overlooking the beach, called Monument Mesa, which is the southwestern most part of the U.S.-Mexico border.

On the Mexican side of the border, there is a bullring called Plaza Monumental de Toros and a lighthouse.Within the park there is a half-acre plaza called "Friendship Park" where family and friends who are unable to travel across the border meet to talk and visit. They often exchange caresses and kisses through holes cut in the steel-mesh and chain-link fence.

For some people, it is the only safe and legal way to see and touch their loved ones. A secondary fence will create an empty space between the two barriers that could prevent those exchanges in the future, human rights activists say.

U.S. Border Patrol officials say they plan to build a gate on the second fence that would allow people to continue meeting each other. The gate would be open and watched by Border Patrol agents during the day and closed at night, but the design has not been finalized.The secondary fence will create a no-man's land between the two barriers that immigration authorities say is intended to prevent or slow illegal crossings.

In April, the Bush administration waived more than 30 environmental laws and regulations to finish building 670 miles of fence along the Southwest U.S. border, including the segment at Friendship Park and another a few miles east in an area called Smuggler's Gulch.

Michael Fisher, chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector, said in an interview last month that the department is looking at various designs for a gate that would allow people to continue visiting each other across the border at Friendship Park during certain times of the day.

But some critics said the agency should allow people to participate in the design process.

"We need to ensure Friendship Park lives up to its name, a place that fosters human relations in spite of fences, where families can share meals and greet each other," said John Fanestil, executive director of the Foundation for Change, a San Diego-based activist group that promotes human rights.

Human and immigrant rights groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the Border Angels, have organized several protests in recent months at the park calling attention to the new fence.

Last month, a group of local elected officials joined them, co-signing a letter to Barack Obama's presidential transition team asking for construction to stop.The group included Reps. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, and Susan Davis, D-San Diego; state Sens. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, and Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego; San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye; and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, among others.

"Direction to DHS (Department of Homeland Security) contractors halting all border fence construction on (Friendship Park) would send a powerful message to the peoples of the U.S.-Mexico border region," according to the letter. "It would also give new staff at DHS time to solicit new proposals for the redesign of security measures that will ensure continued public access to Friendship Park."

Border Patrol officials, who have a station near the park and watch the park on a regular basis, said that while much of what happens there are innocent family gatherings, there are those who try to take advantage of the gaps in the border.

In some segments of the fence, the barrier has been cut and repaired so many times that it has become ineffective at stopping illegal activity, including smuggling drugs, officials say.

"I fully respect what goes on in that park. It's unique because it is somewhat open," Fisher said. "Unfortunately, the smugglers exploit that as well. We have documented cases where people are selling false documents through the fence. They are selling drugs through the fence. They are smuggling people and babies through the area."

A spokesman for Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, said the new fence is needed and should not be stopped. Bilbray, who served as mayor of Imperial Beach in the 1980s, has been a long-standing advocate for building a border fence in San Diego County.

"Seems like everyone is looking for an excuse not to build the (new) fence," Bilbray spokesman Kurt Bardella said. "National security is something that should never be compromised."

William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, a North Carolina-based group that advocates for stricter immigration controls, said critics of the border fence simply do not want immigration enforcement.

"They don't want borders," Gheen said. "That's why we call them the open-border lobby."

FINISHING THE WALL: County says project 'substantially' done

The Monitor
December 26, 2008

The border fence is nearly done in Hidalgo County.

The vertical posts required by the federal government for border security are in place along almost all of the 20.26 miles of levee-fence, and the concrete barriers intended for flood protection are up in more than 80 percent of the project.All that remains in those places is welding steel caps onto the posts, sodding the ground along the fence and putting down caliche roads for U.S. Border Patrol agents.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared four segments of the county's levee-fence substantially complete in the past month, and county officials say the remaining six segments should be done by Jan. 31.

That timeline would mean Hidalgo County would barely miss the upcoming Wednesday deadline set by Congress when it passed the 2006 act mandating construction of 670 miles of fence along the southwest United States, but the levee-fence would be finished days after President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Obama said in early December that he wants to evaluate what's working along the border before considering whether to finish what remains to be built of the fence when he takes office.

Along most of the border, there may not be much left to reconsider.


Nowhere has construction on the border fence been slower than in the Rio Grande Valley.

Homeland Security has met widespread opposition in Starr and Cameron counties as it contended with hundreds of condemnation lawsuits and flood-control issues along the Rio Grande.

But progress in Hidalgo County has been steady since the department compromised with county officials earlier this year to fold levee improvements and fence construction into one project.

Under the levee-fence plan, Hidalgo County agreed to contribute $44 million to the project - or about 24 percent of its cost - with the county's Washington representatives promising to support a bill in Congress that would reimburse the county.

With the funding in place, Homeland Security agreed to incorporate its fence into the International Boundary and Water Commission's levees to bypass land acquisition battles and make improvements to levees the IBWC claims are unsafe.

Comprised of a U.S. Section and a Mexican Section, the IBWC is responsible for coming up with bi-national solutions to issues that arise during the application of treaties between the United States and Mexico regarding flood control and other issues in the border region. The U.S. Section is a federal government agency and is responsible for maintaining the flood control system in the Valley.

The levee-fence that has been built in Hidalgo County incorporates the Border Patrol's tactical requirements - a wall of posts sunk deep into the earth and rising up to 18 feet from the ground - into concrete levees meant to keep at bay a swollen Rio Grande and expensive flood insurance premiums.

Hidalgo County officials said throughout construction that they were opposed to the border fence for social and economic reasons, but they argued it was best to partner with Homeland Security to make improvements to the levees.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last year that parts of Hidalgo County south of Expressway 83 would be designated a special flood hazard area if the levees were not fixed, potentially costing property owners up to $150 million in annual premiums.

With the 20 miles of levee-fence and improvements to an additional 13 miles of regular levees scheduled to be complete by mid-January, the western portion of Hidalgo County will be protected from Rio Grande flooding, said Godfrey Garza, the general manager of Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1.

About 20 miles of river levee on the eastern side of the county still need improvements to avoid the FEMA flood designation.

"For us, it's a levee project. It's all we care about," Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said last week. "Hidalgo County is not in the business of American immigration. We're in the business of protecting our residents from floods and protecting our economic development."


Despite starting construction a month behind schedule as the county reached a final agreement with Homeland Security on the levee-fence plan, the construction crews building the structure have run into few problems, Garza said. Permit issues relating to gas lines did slow construction, however, on two segments near Peñitas that will be the last to be finished.

The only border fence segment in Hidalgo County not scheduled for completion by the end of January is one Hidalgo County isn't building.

Homeland Security halted a two-mile segment of standalone fencing near Los Ebanos in November because of flooding concerns.The department also halted about 13 miles of fence in Starr County because of similar concerns.

The biggest question mark in border fence construction lies with Hidalgo County's neighbor to the east.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced this week that it had completed 526 miles of the border fence by Dec. 12, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said 600 miles should be complete by the time Obama takes office.

Of the remaining 70 miles of fencing expected to be left along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, almost 40 of it will be in Cameron County.

The work in that county has stalled as landowners fought condemnation suits in court and its government tried, unsuccessfully, to mimic Hidalgo County's levee-fence.

Homeland Security said Cameron County's proposal to combine the Rio Grande's levees with the planned border fence was not feasible with the International Boundary and Water Commission already planning levee improvements in the Cameron County area.The decision to reject Cameron County's request also came back to the issue of funding: Hidalgo County went to the feds' table with $100 million in bond money, but Cameron County did not offer any funding in its proposal.

With the levee-fence alternative dead in Cameron County, Homeland Security awarded three contracts worth a combined $37 million to build the 15- to 18-foot-tall steel barrier.

Border fence opponents took Obama's appointment of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to be homeland security secretary as a ray of hope that fence construction would be halted, and the Cameron County Commissioners Court even took the step of writing a letter to Obama requesting its stoppage.

But Homeland Security officials insist there will still be a fence built along the rest of South Texas' border with Mexico.

"We're still planning to build fence there," CBP spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said. "We've got contracts for them. Once you sign a contract, you're obligated to do that work."


A line of 18-foot posts encased in an imposing concrete barrier stretches on for two miles on both sides of the Progreso-Nuevo Progreso International Bridge.

The two segments - a total of about 4.5 miles split only by the bridge that allows American access to an array of touristy goods on the other side of the border - were declared "substantially complete" by Homeland Security earlier this month.

With the levee-fence nearly finished in Hidalgo County, officials said they will turn their focus toward getting reimbursed for the $44 million they invested in the project.

Even with the delays in Cameron County and the slim possibility that a new presidential administration could change course on the fence, Hidalgo County's Salinas said his county made the "hard decision" to partner with Homeland Security on the levee-fence.

"If they were going to spend money in Hidalgo County, we might as well make it a project that's going to hold water," Salinas said. "And that's what we tried to do."

Tensions rise with U.S.-Mexican border fence

USA Today
December 28, 2008

EL PASO — The fence that the U.S. government is erecting along the border with Mexico had been a vague notion to Victor Serrano — until he drove by a new section near his house last month.
An 18-foot-high, steel-mesh structure planted in Jersey barriers stood behind a four-lane boulevard. The view of sprawling Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was gone.

"I was like, oh, man, I can't believe this is happening," Serrano, 20, says, standing in his yard three blocks from the border. "We're actually going to have a Berlin Wall here."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has installed hundreds of miles of steel fence along the U.S.-Mexico border that stretches 1,934 miles from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. The $2-billion fence — or "wall," to opponents — is the most visible symbol of stepped-up U.S. efforts to stop illegal border crossings, and the most controversial.

As construction crews have moved into El Paso, a working-class, largely Hispanic city of 600,000 in Texas' western corner, emotions have intensified. Some residents quietly support the fence, saying it will make their city safer and improve conditions for legal El Paso residents. Many others say it will destroy the sense of community the two cities had.

The crews have been greeted with protests and lawsuits seeking to halt building. Local officials are pleading with President-elect Barack Obama to stop the project he voted for in late 2006, or to begin tearing it down.

"It does violence to our sense of community," says El Paso County Attorney José Rodriguez, whose county has sued the federal government over the fence. "For 400 years, people have been going back and forth across the river. All of a sudden for the first time, you see this major structure separating the communities."

Crossing the border

Fencing already blocks 70% of the 693-mile border in California, Arizona and New Mexico, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Border Patrol and Census Bureau figures.

Much of the border in those states is vacant desert. About half of the fencing is a thigh-high barrier aimed only at stopping vehicles.

A total of 670 miles of fence will be in place by the end of 2008, including sections at the east and west end of Texas' 1,241-mile border with Mexico. In the rest of the state, the Rio Grande will serve as the blockade.

The fence does not stop people from crossing the border legally. Thousands of cars from Juarez line up each day at the three bridges leading to El Paso, where visitors shop boulevards packed with discount stores offering $6 sweaters and $10 jeans.

Nor is fencing new to El Paso. A chain-link fence about 6 feet high has stood for years in the crusty embankment on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, which itself is virtually dry. The fence was useless, Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Ramiro Cordero says.

Cordero plays a surveillance-camera video showing people hauling bales of marijuana into El Paso through a slit in the fence.

Another video shows a pickup suspected of carrying marijuana escaping Border Patrol pursuit by driving through the fence into Juarez.

Five miles outside El Paso, in Sunland Park, N.M., where suburbs fade to desert, a five-strand barbed-wire fence stands in the sand. "This is what protected our country," Cordero says.

A few feet away, the new fence rises out of the desert and extends endlessly into the horizon. The quarter-inch-thick mesh still allows a view of Mexico but is weaved tightly enough to prevent easy climbing.

Cordero says the new fence will not stop people from digging underneath it, driving around it or cutting through it with a blowtorch. Nearly 2,000 people a day are caught trying to sneak into the USA from Mexico, Border Patrol figures show.

But in urban areas, where most of the border is under video surveillance, agents can spot someone trying to climb or cut the fence and have a few extra seconds to catch him before he enters the USA and disappears into a city, Cordero says.

"It makes the job a lot easier when you have that fence," he says.

Dividing communities

In an El Paso neighborhood of small houses and neat lawns next to the border, Oscar Davila walks his two dogs and says the new fence makes him feel safer from the drug-related violence raging in Juarez. "We can stop people from coming here," says Davila, 42, a maintenance worker.

Ruben Alvarado, 55, a custodian whose mother and sister live in Juarez, is skeptical. "To me, Juarez and El Paso are the same city. I don't care how many fences you put up, the people will still try to come over illegally."

Serrano, the El Paso Community College student who recently saw the new fence for the first time, says it takes away some of his pride at being a frontera, a border resident. "What made us proud is that we can easily see Juarez," he says. "With the wall, it's like, are we allowed over there?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Public Works Contractor Sukut Construction, Inc. Begins Work on Fence Bordering U.S. and Mexico

(This is a press release from a contractor that is proud of the work that they are doing on the border wall in California's Otay Mountain National Wilderness Area.)

Press Release Newswire
December 23, 2008

Santa Ana, Calif. (PRWEB) December 23, 2008 -- Sukut Construction, Inc. has broken ground on a $11.2 million project to help build a strategic section of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Mexican border fence in the rugged foothills of Otay Mesa.

The project calls for construction of 5.2 miles of border fence and an adjacent access road. Sukut has been subcontracted by Granite Construction for the site development and road construction.

The section of border fence will be constructed at the Otay Mesa illegal border crossing in the foothills above the Tijuana River. The site is south of the city of Dulzura and eight miles from the nearest major road, Highway 94. The remoteness of the location and the steep, rocky terrain make this a popular illegal border crossing, and contribute to the complexity of the job.

"Sukut is California's largest mass excavation company with the equipment and knowledge to successfully complete this type of job," said Sukut Construction, Inc. CEO/President Michael Crawford.

Sukut will begin by widening the 2.5 miles of existing dirt road used by the U.S. Border Patrol to make the route safe for heavy equipment, constructing a 32-foot-wide and 5.2-mile border fence access road. The location's steep grade will require switchback roadway with a maximum grade of 15 percent at the steepest points.

Sukut will use extensive drilling and blasting to clear 530,000 cubic yards of rock in the foothills and employ geo-grid slope stabilization to prevent any rock slides across the Mexican border just three feet away. The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2009.

Sukut Construction, Inc. is California's largest mass excavation and grading contractor, moving 150 million cubic yards of earth per year. Founded almost 40 years ago and headquartered in Santa Ana, California, with offices in Los Angeles, Riverside and Oceanside, California, the company is nationally recognized for its work on residential, commercial, industrial and retail development mass grading; public works; highway, roads and infrastructure construction; flood and storm water pipe and structures; golf courses and resorts; landfill construction and environmental cleanups; and emergency landslide repair and stabilization.

Information is available on the company's website at or by calling Sukut headquarters at (888)-SUKUT01 or (888) 785-8801.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Texas landowners win small victory on border fence

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
December 18, 2008

McALLEN, Texas — Dozens of South Texas landowners whose land is being condemned for the border fence scored a victory when a federal judge ordered that juries will decide the value of their property rather than an appointed land commission as the government had requested.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen set the stage for a series of trials to begin in March with his order signed Wednesday. While the trials will be restricted to determining how much the government pays landowners for the property, it gives Texas landowners their first opportunity to take an issue related to the border fence before a jury.

"I'm proud of him, he's doing his job," Eloisa Tamez, a landowner facing condemnation near Brownsville, said Thursday. "To have this kind of news before the holidays is like a Christmas gift for me."

The federal government has filed more than 300 condemnation lawsuits against South Texas landowners to make way for portions of the 670 miles of fencing it is building along the U.S.-Mexico border. So far about 500 miles is up, but it has been slow going in the Rio Grande Valley, where opposition is widespread.

Federal prosecutors had argued that the number of jury trials would swamp the courts, result in uneven payments and be extremely complex. A panel of land experts appointed by the court would be a more efficient option and more fair since it would be difficult to find enough unbiased jurors in an area where the fence has been a hot-button issue for months, the government said.

But Hanen, based in Brownsville, sided with landowners, 28 of whom are set for trial next year and all requested juries. The U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately return a call for comment.

"This court is a firm believer in the jury system and the ability of everyday citizens to set aside their personal beliefs, biases and prejudcies to decide cases solely on the evidence presented within the context of a court's instructions," Hanen wrote in his order.

Hanen also cast doubt on the government's claim that about 80 cases will eventually need juries to determine land values. He suggested that even among the 28 cases scheduled for trial so far, similar parcels could be clustered in groups of three to be heard by the same jury. Most property owners settled with the government out of court.

The condemnations range from a quarter acre to more than 12 acres, but in many cases those are just slivers taken from tracts covering hundreds of acres north of the Rio Grande. Land commissions are generally believed to award lower compensation than juries, eminent domain attorneys say.

Each case will offer its own complexities, from calculating the impact on hunting leases to the value of the land left in the no-man's land between the fence and the river.

Kimberli Loessin, an attorney representing some of the landowners, wrote in an e-mail, "Landowners are pleased and believe that Judge Hanen did the right thing."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Protester stops work on border fence

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
December 17, 2008

EL PASO, Texas — A 55-year-old Army veteran hunkered down in front of construction crews who were building the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, halting work for about eight hours before she was arrested.

Judy Ackerman, one of about a dozen people at a peaceful protest east of El Paso on Wednesday, was handcuffed by Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers after several hours of figuring out which authority was responsible for removing her.

Ackerman was arrested on a charge of criminal trespass, a state misdemeanor. Ed Hernandez, one of three local attorneys who volunteered Wednesday to defend Ackerman, said the retired Army sergeant major was released from jail late Wednesday afternoon after being issued a summons to appear in court.

Work on the fence resumed immediately after Ackerman was led away. Before her arrest, the white-haired woman sporting a reflective vest and hard had cheerfully chatted with authorities. About 20 workers were milling around the site, leaning against heavy equipment and dump trucks and taking pictures of her with their cell phones.

"They have a job to do, but today their job is to take a break," said Ackerman, who spent 26 years in the Army.

Ackerman crossed a canal before workers arrived and took up a position on a levee where large steel poles were being erected. The levee is in a desolate area several miles east of downtown El Paso, near the 370-acre Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

"They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up," said Ackerman, who said she's never been arrested before. "This is life. The river is life. But not the wall; the wall is death."

Ackerman was on land maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission land, the binational agency that maintains the boundary between Mexico and the U.S.

Al Riera, the principal engineer for the IBWC, said officials there were notified about her presence early Wednesday and told to contact authorities to have her removed. Officials spent several hours trying to figure out the proper authority. Riera said this is the first such protest on IBWC land.

Government officials said Tuesday that 500 miles of fencing has been built along the Southwest border.

Border Wall opponent halts construction at Rio Bosque

Newspaper Tree
December 17, 2008

A border wall opponent has stopped construction of a portion of the structure that is to separate the Rio Bosque Park, a wetland in the Lower Valley that is the last remnant of the thick groves of trees and vegetation that once thrived along the banks of the river, from the Rio Grande.

Judy Ackerman stood in the way of construction crews this morning, denying them access to the construction site, which is on International Boundary and Water Commission property directly adjacent to the park. Ackerman is a Northeast El Paso resident active in environmental issues.

Bill Addington, another border wall opponent, said that city of El Paso police and Border Patrol were on the scene, but had not arrested Ackerman yet.

"I hope others will replicate this," said Addington, who made national news when the Wall Street Journal wrote the government's demand he take down a footbridge crossing the Rio Grande. [video] [article]

He said the action by Ackerman marks "the first time anyone has impeded the construction that I know of, and I've been paying attention to this very closely."

Doug Mosier, Border Patrol spokesman, said he didn't know of any other similar instances.
He said that officials still were gathering information.

"The protester at this moment has not been arrested, although that may be forthcoming," he said at about 11:15 a.m. "But we need to wait and see what happens here."

The 372-acre Rio Bosque Park is described on its Web site as a remnant of the wetlands and riverside forests that "once graced the banks of the Rio Grande in the Paso del Norte region. They were the most productive natural habitats in the region, but today they are virtually gone. At Rio Bosque, the environment is still changing, but in a new way. Here, a diverse partnership is working to bring back meaningful examples of the unique and valuable ecosystems once found in our river valley." [link]

A newsletter put out by the Center for Environmental Resource Management, which manages the park, stated the impact of the wall: "At the Park, the visual impact of the fence will be immediate and obvious. The ecological impact will be gradual and more subtle, but no less real. For many animals, the fence will be a barrier to movement between the Rio Grande and the Park and a barrier to genetic exchange. Over time, the fence will affect what species get established at Rio Bosque and, for some species, the long-term health and viability of the populations present."

Border fence construction halted for hours due to protest

El Paso Times
December 17, 2008

EL PASO - A lone protester at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park temporarily halted construction of the border fence Wednesday, setting up a standoff with the Border Patrol.

Bill Addington, another activist at the site in the Lower Valley, identified the protester as Judy Ackerman of Northeast El Paso.

"There's a group of us of about 25 out here, but she's the only one on the construction site itself," Addington, who also served as Ackerman's spokesman. "We believe the Border Patrol is going to seek an arrest warrant to have her removed."

El Paso Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said it was likely an arrest warrant will be sought through the U.S. attorney's office and federal courts. Ackerman was a founding member of Friends of the Rio Bosque and a member of the Sierra Club.

Conservationists have argued the 15-foot, steel-mesh border fence, will upset the park's ecological balance.

Department of Homeland Security officials said the federal government is constructing the fence along 670 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border to deter illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

3 more drug-smuggling tunnels found near Nogales

Tucson Citizen
December 16, 2008

U.S. Border Patrol agents and Nogales police found three smuggling tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border in the past week.

The finds bring to six the number of tunnels found along the border this fiscal year, the agency said in a news statement.

From the beginning of fiscal year 2003 to the end of last fiscal year, law officers have uncovered 34 tunnels along the border, the Border Patrol said.

The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

The latest finds were:

• On Dec. 10, Border Patrol agents patrolling near the border found a tunnel about one foot from the fence separating the United States from Mexico.

• Friday, Nogales, Ariz. police officers patrolling near downtown Nogales found another tunnel east of the DeConcini Port of Entry, about eight feet north of the border, the Border Patrol statement said. Mexican law officers helped with the investigation and they found the entrance to the tunnel in Mexico, about two feet south of the international fence separating the U.S. and Mexico.

• Saturday, Nogales police officers, patrolling the border area in a federal anti-illegal immigration program found a tunnel west of the DeConcini Port of Entry along International Street. The tunnel's entrance is believed to be in Mexico in the Grand Tunnel area, said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Esmeralda Marroquin. The Grand Tunnel is a flood control culvert running under the border.

The smuggling tunnels are being guarded by Border patrol agents until their exits can be filled with cement, Marroquin said.

Southwest border fence hits 500-mile mark

Associated Press
December 16, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government has completed 500 miles of fencing along the Southwest border, 170 miles short of its goal.

At this pace, the administration expects to have at least 600 miles complete by Jan. 20, when Barack Obama takes over as president, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said earlier this month.

The president-elect said last week that he wants to evaluate what's working on the border as he considers whether to continue building the 670 miles of fencing. But by Chertoff's estimation, there will not be much left to build.

Homeland Security officials earlier this year said the fence would not be completed by Dec. 31, as planned. About 160 miles have been built since August, despite calls by some groups to delay construction.

As of Dec. 12, 500 miles had been completed, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Friel.

The fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is not intended to stop illegal immigration altogether, but make it more difficult for people to enter the U.S. illegally, Bush administration officials say.
It has been controversial and has faced several lawsuits, none successful so far.

Congress authorized the fence in 2005 to help secure the border and slow illegal immigration, and gave the homeland security secretary the power to waive the federal laws. Obama, as a senator, voted for the fence.

Congress has set aside $2.7 billion for the fence since 2006. But there's no estimate how much the entire system — the physical fence and the technology — will cost to build, let alone maintain.

In September, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham told Congress his agency needed an additional $400 million to complete the project, citing higher costs for fuel, steel and labor. Congress approved the $400 million and the Bush administration believes it now has enough money to finish the fence.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks revived the immigration debate and advanced the idea of a border fence. Intelligence officials have said gaps along the Southwestern border could provide opportunities for terrorists to enter the country.

The overall plan for security on that border includes additional Border Patrol agents, more enforcement of immigration laws, the fence and a high-tech "virtual fence" using surveillance technology. The administration has met its goal of adding 6,000 new agents to the Border Patrol force by the end of this year, bringing the total to about 18,000.

Boeing Co. has the contract for the technology portion of the fence, as well as for some construction work. The company's contract for the technology expires in 2009.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Border tunnel found after bus tire sinks into road

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 11, 2008

SAN YSIDRO: A short and incomplete cross-border tunnel was discovered yesterday when a bus tire sank into a roadway along the border fence.

The tunnel, which extended about 10 feet into the United States, was about 15 feet underground and 3 feet in diameter, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

The tunnel had no U.S. exit, and authorities were working with Mexican officials to find the entry in Tijuana.

The bus carries people who are being sent back to Mexico by the U.S. government. It was being driven on a dirt road that runs along the fence, Mack said.

Authorities regularly find tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border that are used to smuggle drugs and people. The discoveries have ranged from simple holes to engineering feats that extend for more than a quarter-mile underground.

Texas county files appeal to stop border fence

Associated Press
December 11, 2008

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A Texas county filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court this week in the latest bid to stop construction of hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In asking the court to review a lawsuit previously dismissed by a federal court judge, lawyers for El Paso County contend that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff overstepped his legal authority when he waived 37 federal laws that could have slowed or blocked construction of fencing along the border.

Attorneys for the county also allege that Chertoff violated the 10th Amendment, which grants states the right to enforce laws neither prohibited by nor delegated to the federal government.

Congress authorized the fence to help secure the border and slow illegal immigration, and then gave Chertoff the power to waive the federal laws in 2005.

Previous legal challenges to the waiver authority, which includes a lawsuit by several environmental groups in San Diego, failed to gain traction in courts. The Supreme Court also declined to hear border fence challenges.

El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez said Wednesday he believed the 10th Amendment protects the county and other jurisdictions from Chertoff's action.

"From our point of view, we think that we have made some compelling arguments about why the Supreme Court should take up our case," Rodriguez said. "This case is a much more significant case than (the San Diego) one. That involved fewer laws. It wasn't anywhere near the 37 laws. The secretary also waived any state and local laws that are derived from or related to those statutes."

Homeland Security officials said they expect to prevail.

"Every time a group has challenged our use of the waiver authority in court, the court has ruled that the waiver was lawful and constitutional. We expect the same result here," DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said in an e-mail. "Groups like this one claim to be interested in border security — so long as the measures taken to protect the border do not affect them."

Cory Briggs, a San Diego lawyer who represented the environmental groups, said the Supreme Court's rejection of border fence claims suggests the court wasn't interested in the border.

Denise Gilman, a clinical law professor at the University of Texas in Austin, said the 10th Amendment was "one of the most under litigated portions" of the Constitution. She said El Paso's suit, based on the court's history, stood a "50/50 probability, and it may even be lower than that."

Tunnel found next to border fence in Nogales

Arizona Daily Star
December 12, 2008

U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered another tunnel in Nogales on Thursday afternoon.
At 1:15 p.m. Thursday, bike agents patrolling in downtown Nogales spotted a piece of foam sitting about one foot north of the border fence, west of the Dennis Deconcini Port of Entry, said Rob Daniels, Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesman.

Under the foam, which was partially covered by dirt, agents discovered the exit of a tunnel. Agents sent a remote-controlled robot into the tunnel and determined that it went 15 feet east from the exit point into the Grand Avenue tunnel and south into Mexico. Mexican authorities determined it started in the same Grand Avenue tunnel in Mexico. The tunnel measured about 12-by-19 inches wide and was dug two feet below the surface, Daniels said. It was a rudimentary tunnel with no reinforcements or lights.

Officials welded a grate over the exit of the tunnel until a permanent filling can be done, he said.

It is the sixth tunnel discovered in fiscal year 2009, which started on Oct. 1. In fiscal year 2008, agents in the Tucson Sector found 14 illegal tunnels, more than any of the previous three years, agency figures show. Since the start of fiscal year 2003,40 tunnels have been found, the agency says.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Border crossings shift back to California routes

Associated Press
December 9, 2008

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) - In a flash the two men were over the double fence and into the San Diego parking lot. As a waiting pickup truck sped them away, the smuggler who boosted them over the 15-foot walls scrambled toward Mexico.

Border Patrol agents could only tag Juan Garcia's black sweatshirt with pepper spray bullets as he escaped back over the wall to Tijuana, red-eyed and coughing but $30 richer for a few seconds of daring labor.

It's just another night along the most heavily guarded stretch of U.S.-Mexico frontier, where Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal crossers have increased 28 percent since 2005 - even as apprehensions have dropped nearly 40 percent border-wide over the same period. While illegal crossings are impossible to count, experts look to Border Patrol apprehensions as the best indicator of migrant traffic.

The Tijuana area's surprising increase is a booming business for cut-rate daredevils like Garcia, who are willing to try almost anything to get their clients across."I'll get you a bicycle, and I'll throw you over the fence with the bike," said part-time smuggler Giovanni Lopez, 28, after watching Garcia climb over. "But I'll also get you a little helmet and everything, so the Border Patrol thinks you're...what's the word in English? Exercising."

And I cross over with you until a certain point, and I come back like this," he said, brushing away his tracks with an imaginary tree branch.

The Border Patrol's San Diego Sector - which covers 60 miles of border from the Pacific Ocean through strip malls and shanty towns into a boulder-strewn desert - is no stranger to such cat-and-mouse games. But its recent growth in traffic is driven by a curious convergence of strategies by both immigrants and the U.S. officials who chase them.

Analysts say the migrants encountering ever-increasing enforcement in the Arizona desert are bouncing back to California's traditional smuggling corridors, which offer shorter, cooler treks to cities and highways. The Border Patrol, meanwhile, takes migrants caught in Arizona to San Diego for deportation, hoping to break their ties to desert smugglers.

Border fence case sent to high court

El Paso Times
December 11, 2008

EL PASO -- El Paso County filed an appeal Wednesday before the U.S. Supreme Court asking whether the Department of Homeland Security and its secretary, Michael Chertoff, have the legal authority to disregard federal, state and local laws to build the border fence.

Congress in 2005 passed the Real ID Act granting Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security statutory authority to waive law to construct the border fence.

El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez said Chertoff, through the Real ID Act, violated the Constitution and the 10th Amendment by broadly interpreting vague powers granted to him by Congress.

The 10th Amendment grants states the authority to create law if the Constitution hasn't already expressly delegates that authority to the federal government.

"We do think this does present for the court an opportunity to clarify for the national level what the authority is for declaring these kinds of waivers for the executive branch, and what circumstances you pre-empt state and local laws," Rodríguez said. "It was just kind of an unbridled authority that was given to the secretary."

Typically, when waiver authority has been granted to the executive branch by Congress, executive agencies were given specific parameters for which laws they may disregard, Rodríguez said.

Chertoff's authority to waive existing law has enabled him to disregard at least 37 federal statutes, such as the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Protection Act, as well as state and local laws, to accelerate the construction of the fence.

The county, the city, the Tigua tribe, the local irrigation district and environmental groups in September sued Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that Chertoff's use of waivers to construct the fence was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo dismissed the case, ruling that Congress constitutionally delegated its authority in waiver legislation.

Cameron County leaders ask Obama to stop border wall project

Rio Grande Guardian
December 10, 2008

BROWNSVILLE, December 10 - Last week El Paso County leaders wrote to President-elect Barack Obama asking him to stop construction of the border wall and now Cameron County leaders have followed suit.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Obama, Cameron County Commissioners Court said that at a time when the U.S. faces a severe financial crisis it was “irresponsible” to spend “billions of dollars on a wall that will not only scar our environmental landscape but also damage our relationship with communities and countries across the Americas.”

The commissioners, led by County Judge Carlos Cascos, said in the letter that the $6.3 billion the federal government plans to spend on the border wall “would be better spent on developing the infrastructure of the border region.”

The letter from the commissioners came on the same day Obama spoke about the border wall issue, in an interview with reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

Asked if he supported the build-out of the fence and its continued construction, Obama told the reporters that he plans to talk with Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, his pick for Homeland Security secretary. “I want to discuss with her what our best options are, what our best strategy is, do an evaluation about what's working, what isn't working. And then we'll make a determination from there,” Obama said.

The Cameron County letter also came on the same day that the County of El Paso filed an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court on the federal lawsuit that challenges Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s statutory authority to issue a waiver of more than 30 federal laws, as well as any state and local laws related to such federal laws, to accelerate the construction of a border fence in El Paso County.

El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez is a board member of the Texas Border Coalition, a group comprising border mayors and county judges that has led the fight against the border wall plan.

Last week, El Paso leaders wrote to Obama's transition team urging that the border wall project be stopped. Among those participating were state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, El Paso County Attorney José Rodriguez, who is also a board member of the Texas Border Coalition, and El Paso City Rep. Steve Ortega.

Here is the Cameron County letter to Obama in full:

Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations on your historic election. We wish you the best and pledge to work with you and your administration over the course of the next four years.

As you well know from your visits during the election all along the U.S.-Mexico border our local economies thrive due to our close relationship with Mexico. In fact, in 2007 alone, the U.S.-Mexico export and import trade totaled $347.3 billion. Texas alone trades more with Mexico than all the European Union combined. At a time when our country faces a severe financial crisis, we believe it is irresponsible to spend billions of dollars on a wall that will not only scar our environmental landscape but also damage our relationship with communities and countries across the Americas. The $6.3 billion that the federal government plans to spend on the border wall would be better spent on developing the infrastructure of the border region.

The recent appointment of Governor Janet Napolitano clearly signifies the importance of immigration reform to your administration. We sincerely hope that our plan will not include the main component of immigration reform to your administration. We sincerely hope that our plan will not include the main component of immigration reform pursued by the Bush administration and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff--the border wall.

Border walls are currently under construction in all four southern border states, and hundreds more miles of walls called for by the Secure Border Fence Act are in the planning stages. In April 2008, for the fifth time, Secretary Chertoff used the power granted to him by the Real ID Act to waive laws along the border so that walls and roads could be built without regard to public health and safety or environmental protection.

In Texas, condemnation proceedings have been initiated against border municipalities and landowners, in spite of the fact that the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 obliges homeland security officials to consult with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, states, local governments, Native American Nations and property owners in communities affected by the wall.

For our country to prosper, we must lead the way in the safe, fast and secure movement of people and products in a post-9/11 world. To achieve success our borders and ports-of-entry need adequate staffing, state-of-the-art technology, modern infrastructure and effective enforcement.

We respectfully ask that you make the cancellation of the border wall on the Southern border a top priority of your Administration. Let us build bridges of friendship, safety and prosperity- not walls of hatred and division. We have the confidence that the CHANGE you have brought will help you lead this great country to a nation of hope and great optimism for our future generations.

Thanks for your leadership on this issue.

Sincerest regards,
Cameron County Judge Carlos CascosCameron County Commissioners Sophia Benavides, John Wood, David A. Garza and Edna Tamayo

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama wants to evaluate border wall issue with Napolitano

Rio Grande Guardian
December 10, 2008

GRANJENO, December 10 - President-elect Barack Obama has given the clearest indication yet that he wants to look again at the border wall issue.

In his first newspaper interview since becoming president-elect, Obama spoke with reporters Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons, of the Los Angeles Times' Washington bureau, and reporter John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune.

Here are the questions and answers as they relate to border security and immigration:

Question: During the campaign you were critical of the border fence, but I think you voted for it?
Answer: I voted for the fence, but argued at the time and continued to argue that it was inadequate and a fence alone, without a broader, comprehensive immigration reform, was not going to work. And I continue to believe that we have to have much stronger border security, crack down on employers that are hiring undocumented workers, but provide a pathway to citizenship for those who have been here and, you know, have put roots down here, and often times have American children. We need to get them out of the shadows and put them on some path to legalization.

Question: Will you support the build-out of the fence and its continued construction?

Answer: You know, one of the things I want to do -- and I'm very pleased with [Arizona Gov.] Janet Napolitano as the next head of the Department of Homeland Security, because nobody has more experience on these border issues than she does -- I want to discuss with her what our best options are, what our best strategy is, do an evaluation about what's working, what isn't working. And then we'll make a determination from there.

Obama was also asked about NAFTA:

Question: On NAFTA, we've heard that you might support maybe a study and then a report, instead of a wholesale reworking of the agreement right away?

Answer: Well look, my economic team is reviewing these issues. You know, I've consistently said on trade issues that I want environmental and labor provisions that are enforceable in those trade agreements. But I also have said that I believe in free trade and don't think that we can draw a moat around the American economy. I think that would be a mistake.

Obama also spoke about his involvement, or lack of, with arrested Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the nation’s economic woes. Click here to read the interview.

Reynaldo Anzaldua, a No Border Wall coalition member who has been active in the fight against the border wall in Granjeno, told the Guardian he was “encouraged” by Obama’s comments.
“I am encouraged because it looks as though President-elect Obama is going to look at the border wall issue again. I am also encouraged by Gov. Napolitano’s appointment as Homeland Security secretary. What did she say? ‘You show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border’,” Anzaldua said, speaking in his personal capacity.

Anzaldua said he visited the border wall south of Tucson, Arizona, last week. “It is clear the border wall is not going work there. It is no real barrier. It is by no means effective,” Anzaldua said.

Anzaldua added: “I think those of us opposed to the border wall are going to see how we can pressure the politicians to not only stop construction of the border wall but to even tear down the existing wall. We are going to be working on tearing down this wall.”

Adrienne Evans, co-founder of No Wall–Big Bend coalition, said she too was hopeful that Obama would stop border wall construction. She pointed out that most border counties voted heavily for Obama and believes most border residents are opposed to the border wall.

“I drove a van proudly draped in large Barack Obama campaign signs throughout Texas in the last weeks before the election, my children and I braving the occasional hostilities directed at us. Along with countless Texans, I did the 'Obama dance' and happily cried my heart out when Obama won the presidency,” Evans told the Guardian.

“And now, we're holding our collective breath to see what he and Homeland Security Secretary-nominee Napolitano will do about the ugly, useless, devastating border wall, el muro de odio (the wall of hate), in our beautiful home state of Texas, on the 100-million-year-old river we share with Mexico, the Rio Grande.”

Last week, El Paso leaders wrote to Obama's transition team urging that the border wall project be stopped. Among those participating were state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, El Paso County Attorney José Rodriguez, who is also a board member of the Texas Border Coalition, and El Paso City Rep. Steve Ortega.

“We ask you to stop building muros de odio on our southern border—let us stop building these ill-conceived walls founded in current notions of racism. As the next President of the United States, we hope your administration will lead the U.S. to once again be the beacon of hope to the world,” the letter stated.

“Let us make the case for safer, faster ports to move people and products in a 21st Century world. And most of all, let us work together, strengthened by the proud legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to reach out to our neighbors, family and friends in all the Americas to build lasting bridges of friendship, safety and prosperity—not walls of hatred and division.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mexico planting own 'green wall' along border

Austin-American Statesman
December 7, 2008

CIUDAD ACUA, Coahuila — Tractor-trailers rumble across the bridge above, but down on the Rio Grande, it's a peaceful autumn morning as ducks paddle the river and herons glide from bank to bank.

On the U.S. side of the river, in Del Rio , plans are moving ahead for a controversial security wall that will eventually stretch across 670 miles of the southwest border.

But on the Mexican side, authorities have begun work on an entirely different kind of wall: a so-called green wall, made of 400,000 trees to be planted along 217 miles of the Rio Grande.
Eventually, Mexican leaders hope the green wall will stretch the entire length of Mexico's shared border with Texas.

Officials in the state of Coahuila, where the project is beginning, call the green wall a rejection of the U.S. border barrier. The local Mexican officials hope the clusters of cypress, mesquite and ash trees will stand in stark contrast to the concrete and steel fencing being erected by the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

"This is a signal of protest, but it's also an opportunity for dialogue to find shared solutions to the question of immigration," said Gabriela de Valle del Bosque , Coahuila's environmental policy coordinator .

De Valle said the green wall will be an opportunity to bring more environmental consciousness to Mexican border communities. Area residents also will participate in riverside cleanups and classes on ecology and recycling.

Local officials hope the green wall will bring more attention to environmental worries associated with the U.S. border wall, particularly the migration of species such as white-tailed deer.

"If they put in the wall, Mexicans will find another way to get across, but the deer and other animals are not going to find a solution like Mexicans will," said Carlos Lombardo Gomez, who is in charge of technical matters associated with the green wall.

Coahuila Gov. Humberto Moreira said the green wall will result in Mexico's longest parkland corridor.

Moreira is no stranger to grand gestures. His administration has garnered national headlines in Mexico by ushering in a gay marriage law and has promised a state death penalty for murderous kidnappers, even though Mexico now outlaws the death penalty.

At a ceremony marking the start of the green wall, Moreira blasted the U.S. border barrier as a "wall of hate."

U.S. officials say the border fence is needed to bolster security along the southwest border. And supporters of the U.S. border wall warn that Mexico's green version could potentially aid drug runners and human smugglers.

Jim Gilchrist, president of the Minuteman Project, a U.S. activist group that monitors the border flow of illegal immigrants, said the green wall will "provide effective camouflage for criminal drug and human cargo cartels as they mass their illicit products behind the tree lines, awaiting delivery into the U.S. under cover of darkness."

So far, the state of Coahuila, which extends opposite Big Bend National Park almost to the outskirts of Laredo, has planted 2,500 trees along 25 miles of border. The state has approved about $1 million for the tree-planting program. Plans would extend the green wall in other border states such as Tamaulipas and Chihuahua.

The U.S. border wall is unpopular along much of the Texas border and has been opposed by most border communities in the state.

Despite that opposition, federal officials say that 90 percent to 95 percent of the 670-mile barrier should be completed or under construction before President Bush's term ends in January.

The City of Eagle Pass recently lost a court battle against the U.S. government over the border fence, and construction has begun near the city's downtown. Mayor Chad Foster , one of the border wall's most outspoken critics, said he doubts the change of administrations will halt the wall.

"I don't think President-elect Obama will take office soon enough to impact (the) damage being done in our town," Foster said.

So far, 426 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing have been built, according to the Homeland Security Department, but that includes just 25 miles in Texas.

Federal officials plan to build 116 miles in the state.

In Mexico, few think the green wall will have any real impact on the U.S. border barrier, but local residents are happy that it will bring more green spaces and parks.

Arturo de la Cruz Talavera, who runs daily at a park beneath the international bridge in Ciudad Acuña, is looking forward to the day when the green wall saplings grow into mature trees.

"The green wall is in favor of life, it will create oxygen," he said. "It's not like the steel wall, which just rejects."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

El Paso leaders write to Obama about border wall

Rio Grande Guardian
December 3, 2008

EL PASO, December 3 - El Paso leaders have written to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team urging the border wall project to be stopped. Details of the letter were unveiled at a press conference at El Paso Wednesday.

Among those participating were state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, El Paso County Attorney José Rodriguez, who is also a board member of the Texas Border Coalition, and El Paso City Rep. Steve Ortega.

The press conference coincided with a two day conference in El Paso about the border wall hosted by the Border Ambassadors group.

Among those participating in the conference were Stefanie Herweck, a Weslaco resident and co-founder of the No Border Wall group, and Matt Clark, a member of Defenders of Wildlife.

As well as to Obama's transition team, the letter was also sent to Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security designee Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Commerce designee Bill Richardson, and Presidential Transition Team Co-chair John Podesta.

Here below is the full letter:

Dear President-Elect Obama: All along the U.S.-Mexico border, our local economies thrive due to our close relationship with Mexico. In fact, in 2007 alone, the U.S.-Mexico export and import trade totaled $347.3 billion. Texas alone trades more with Mexico than all the European Union combined. At a time when our country faces a severe financial crisis, we believe it is irresponsible to spend billions of dollars on a wall that will not only scar our environmental landscape but also damage our relationship with communities and countries across the Americas. The $6.3 billion[1] that the federal government plans to spend on the border wall would be better spent on developing the infrastructure of the border region. The recent appointment of Governor Janet Napolitano clearly signifies the importance of immigration reform to your administration. I sincerely hope that your plan will not include the main component of immigration reform pursued by the Bush administration and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff—the border wall.

Already, in churches and homes from Chihuahua to Buenos Aires, these walls are called "muros de odio," symbols of a new hatred for which America is now known. For centuries, America has served as a symbol of freedom and democracy throughout the world. How long will it take for our great nation to repair the ill will that these walls have already engendered around the world?

Border walls are currently under construction in all four southern border states, and hundreds more miles of walls called for by the Secure Fence Act are in the planning stages. In April 2008, for the fifth time, Secretary Chertoff used the power granted to him by the Real ID Act to waive laws along the border so that walls and roads could be built without regard to public health and safety or environmental protection.

Already, erosion has begun to degrade the Tijuana River Estuary, a direct result of the canyon that DHS has filled in above it. The border wall between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, caused severe flooding, which threatened life and damaged property.

In Texas, condemnation proceedings have been initiated against border municipalities and landowners, in spite of the fact that the Consolidated Fiscal 2008 Appropriations Act obliges homeland security officials to consult with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, states, local governments, Indian tribes, and property owners in communities affected by the wall.

During an October 2006 visit to The University of Texas–Permian Basin, the former Soviet President and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev commented on the importance of innovative ideas to control the flow of immigration and argued against the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In a reference to President Reagan's 1987 visit to the Berlin Wall, when Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev, "this wall should be torn down," Mr. Gorbachev said, "I don't think the U.S. is so weak and so much lacks confidence as not to be able to find a different solution… Now the United States seems to be building almost the Wall of China between itself and this other nation with which it has been associated for many decades and has had cooperation and interaction with."

For our country to prosper, we must lead the way in the safe, fast and secure movement of people and products in a post-9/11 world. To achieve success, our borders need adequate staffing, state-of-the-art technology, modern infrastructure and effective enforcement. As Governor Napolitano aptly stated in a 2007 address to the National Press Club:

I also have refused to agree that a wall by itself is an answer…As I often say, ‘You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder’…I also refuse to concede that illegal immigration is a political winner for those who simplistically suggest we can just “seal” the border…Here are some of the key elements of a real border plan: The first is the development of innovative, technology-driven border control between the ports of entry. Boots on the ground definitely help, but we can shore up our border gaps with ground-based sensors, radar, and unmanned aerial vehicles for wide-area intrusive-detection. Any combination of the above will work far better than any 10 or 20 or 50 miles of wall. The Department of Homeland Security is now installing this kind of technology. They need increased funding to sustain their efforts.

We ask you to stop building muros de odio on our southern border—let us stop building these ill-conceived walls founded in current notions of racism. As the next President of the United States, we hope your administration will lead the U.S. to once again be the beacon of hope to the world.

Let us make the case for safer, faster ports to move people and products in a 21st Century world. And most of all, let us work together, strengthened by the proud legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to reach out to our neighbors, family and friends in all the Americas to build lasting bridges of friendship, safety and prosperity—not walls of hatred and division.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flooded with questions

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 2, 2008

SOUTH COUNTY – In the Tijuana River Valley, horses are standing in mud up to their ankles and fields of watermelons are submerged under muck. Local farmers and ranchers blame the federal government – which is moving massive amounts of earth to accommodate a second border fence – for the mess.

But Border Patrol Agent Mark Endicott said the flooding at Monument Road and Hollister Street near the U.S.-Mexico border is not unusual after large storms.

“Every time we get heavy rain in that area, it floods, even before the construction project,” Endicott said.

The water flows from the high mesas that line the border toward about five large properties that sit in the valley below. A number of those properties host multiple families, individual ranches and numerous horse stables. Those who live there say last week's rains – about 1.14 inches over three days – brought more flooding and trouble than normal.

And they don't just blame the federal government. They say local agencies have failed to clean up debris-filled channels that carry the runoff.

After spending the long holiday weekend raking and clearing mud and debris from their land, property and business owners want answers.

Some locals, as well as environmentalists, are blaming the heavy flooding on an earth-moving project that began in August at a canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch. The canyon is being filled in with dirt cut from surrounding hills to create a 150-foot-tall earthen berm that will eventually allow a second border fence and patrol roads.

“You always get sediment coming off the hills, but this was different,” said Dick Tynan, who owns about 20 acres on Monument Road and Hollister Street. He said a lot more flooding occurred this time with just a small amount of rain.

The fill project is near complete, with more than 1.2 million cubic yards of earth in the canyon. Another half-million cubic yards will soon be added to finish the berm.

The $48.6 million project is due for completion in May, and though erosion-control measures have been taken near the top of the canyon, the sides of the berm have yet to be reseeded with vegetation to prevent sediment runoff.

Oscar Romo, a professor of urban studies and planning at the University of California San Diego, is tracking the construction's environmental effects on both sides of the border. He visited the site Wednesday and Thursday after the heavy rainfall. Already, Romo said, substantial erosion had occurred along the sides of the berm.

Some river valley residents also blame the flooding on San Diego officials for not cleaning out a flood-control channel coming out of Smuggler's Gulch. It is designed to carry runoff but is filled in some areas with at least 10 feet of plastic bottles, as well as debris and trash, including a refrigerator.

Darren Pudgil, a spokesman for the Mayor's Office, could not confirm yesterday whether the problem was the city's.

Tynan's neighbor Jesse Garcia, who owns J&K Earthworks off Monument Road, said Wednesday's rain flooded many of his fields that run along the flood-control channel. Runoff up to 15-feet high breached one side of the channel when three openings under a dirt bridge were clogged.

“I had the bulldozer out here, and I was trying to build up the wall of the channel with topsoil,” Garcia said. “This is the first time this has happened.”

Garcia, who has been farming there 11 years, estimated he lost $10,000 of watermelons because of the flooding.

Romo said he also noticed mud at the bottom of a sediment basin near Goat Canyon, a smaller fence-construction site nearby.

“It was designed to catch only sediment from Mexico,” Romo said. “It is now experiencing a lot more sediment than it used to.”

Environmental advocate Mike McCoy of the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association, who was part of a 2004 lawsuit to stop the Smuggler's Gulch project, said he was alarmed by the reports of flooding.

“It's coming down off that bare construction area. Wait for another rain or so, and it could really become a problem,” he said. “We'll just have to track it closely.”

Tynan, who has owned his property since 1978, had to pump water off his property, where horses and goats in rented stables stood in wall-to-wall mud.

“I haven't seen it like this since 2005,” Tynan said.

Yesterday, Monument Road was still muddy, especially near Smuggler's Gulch and other canyons. Forecasters say they are 90 percent certain San Diego County will stay dry for the next week or so. However, National Weather Service forecaster Mark Moede said a 10 percent chance exists that rain expected to develop far off the coast might head toward land by Sunday.