Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Border Fence Documentary Comes To South Texas

Press Release
Viva Zapata Films

A controversial new film about the border fence is coming to South Texas. The Wall, a documentary about the construction of a fence along the US/Mexico border will play two dates in Texas, July 17th at McAllen's El Cine De Rey and July 18th at San Antonio's Guadalupe Theatre. The film, which takes place in Arizona, California, and Texas, took 3 years to complete.

the wall documentary

Director Ricardo Martinez captures many perspectives impacted by the fence. The Wall follows several law enforcement officials, border town residents, and the Minutemen as they each faced the reality of having a 25 foot Wall being built in their backyard. Border residents like Gloria Garza of Granjeno watch as the fence is erected and new problems start to arrive.

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Ricardo and his crew even managed to follow and track several undocumented immigrants in Mexico as they prepared to cross the border, and ultimately climb The Wall. Using never before seen surveillance footage and night vision cameras, a mysterious and sometimes dangerous world emerges.

the wall documentary

On the other side of the spectrum, the film features many border town residents and local officials. Small towns like Arivaca, McAllen, Granjeno, and Brownsville all make appearances in the film. Capturing a moment in time, the film tracks the No Border Wall Coalition's grassroots efforts to organize Rio Grande Valley residents against the fence. Showing the power of community, watch as Valley residents protest and unite to change the fence plan.

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The filming was not always sunny and nice. Ricardo's film crew often had to scale back equipment and camp out deep in the desert to catch traffickers, immigrants, Border Patrol, and vigilante groups on camera. Vigilante groups like the Minutemen make a particularly unsettling appearance in The Wall as Martinez captured a few of them making some 'controversial' statements about the US and Hispanics.

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At one point, the film crew traveled to Altar, Mexico to interview immigrants preparing to cross the border illegally. Made up of 'huespedes' or safehouses, the town was essentially run by the Carteles in the area, which didn't reassure the film crew of their safety.

"Thinking back, that probably was against my better judgment, but I felt like it made a helluva story on camera," says Ricardo grinning. "The local priest and church basically told us as long as we stuck with him, we'd be fine. We did and in the end, it was actually kind of a nice town."

The film plays on Friday, July 17th at 8:00 PM at El Cine De Rey in McAllen and Saturday July 18th at 8:00pm at the Guadalupe Theatre in San Antonio. Tickets are $5. Q&A and reception follow. Screening Details and information can be found at thewalldocumentary.com or cineelrey.com.

For any questions regarding this press release, to review the film for your publication, or to contact the filmmaker email info@thewalldocumentary.com. To watch clips of the film visit thewalldocumentary.com, youtube.com/thewalldoc, vimeo.com/thewall, or friend our Facebook page!

Official Synopsis

In 2006, Congress passed The Secure Fence Act calling for the construction of over 700 miles of fence along the US/Mexico border. Fueled by the War on Drugs and the debate on Immigration Reform, politicians jumped at the chance to "secure our borders". They were not prepared for what followed.

Filmed over two years, The Wall, a feature documentary, chronicles the impact of constructing a border fence along the Southwest. From policy makers to citizens of border towns in Texas, Arizona, and California, the debate elevates as residents respond to having a fence built in their backyard.
Gloria Garza sat on her porch, in Granjeno, Texas. She was enjoying her stretch of land by the Rio Grande River, when a man from the Department of Homeland Security arrived with a piece of paper. He asked her to sign a letter granting permission to build a 25 foot wall on her property. She thought it was a joke.

In Nogales, Arizona, Sheriff Tony Estrada, completed his routine check of the border wall. Since the border fence had been built, violence and immigrant deaths are steadily rising. This is not a policy he could believe in, but few were listening.

Determined to stop immigrant crossing, the Minutemen had taken matters into their own hands. They patrolled the area intercepting immigrants and notifying border patrol. Armed with ammunition and an ideology, they openly advocated more fencing to help their objectives.

At the epicenter of this controversy, Wilfredo and Adan are undocumented immigrants with a lot at stake. Wilfredo is trying to get across the border and will have to pass several layers of fencing and security. Adan waits for his father who must make the same dangerous trip he himself took several years earlier. How will their lives be changed by The Wall?

Director, Ricardo Martinez brings The Wall to life; intertwining rare surveillance footage and controversial interviews. He and his crew often risked their own safety while filming.

At the forefront of the debate, the film includes commentary by The Texas Border Coalition, The Southwest Border Sheriff's Coalition, No Border Wall Coalition, the Minutemen, Border Patrol officers, congressional hearings, and more.

Arrests along the border drop everywhere but here

North Country Times
June 27, 2009
Edward Sifuentes

The number of illegal immigrants caught at the nation's borders with Mexico and Canada in 2008 dropped to its lowest point in more than 30 years ---- except in San Diego County.

Experts say the overall drop is because of the nation's sagging economy and increased security measures.

The tightened security, however, is driving illegal immigrant traffic from other areas to San Diego County, where the number of arrests has increased in recent years.

Since the mid-1980s, immigration authorities nationwide typically arrested more than 1 million people each year, but that number has seen a steep decline recently as border enforcement tightened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the economy began to falter in 2007.

"Potential migrants are being discouraged primarily by the lack of an assured job in the United States," said Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.

Nationwide, the U.S. Border Patrol and other agencies arrested 723,840 people in 2008, or about 466,000 fewer people than the 1,189,031 arrested in 2005, according to a report released by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama launched a fresh effort toward a comprehensive immigration overhaul. He said that a bipartisan bill on the "sensitive and volatile political issue" will be difficult but must get under way this year.

Stricter enforcement, including more Border Patrol officers and more fencing, is also making it tougher to cross the border illegally, said Mark Endicott, a spokesman for the agency in San Diego.

However, the number of arrests in San Diego County's section of the border has jumped in recent years, from 126,904 in 2005 to 162,390 in 2008. That could be primarily because of a shift in illegal immigration routes from Arizona to California, Endicott said.

San Diego spike

San Diego County was one of the primary routes illegal immigrants used to take to enter the U.S. Starting in the 1990s, the federal government began to build more fences and increase the number of Border Patrol agents in the area, which led an increasing number of illegal immigrants trying to enter through other areas of the border such as Arizona.

In recent years, the federal government bolstered the number of agents in Arizona, making San Diego County once again a favorite spot for human smugglers.

So far this year, arrests are down in the San Diego County area, from 110,155 at this time in 2008 to 86,545 this year through May 31, Endicott said.

The lower number of arrests at the border may be because of "declining U.S. economic activity and enhanced border enforcement," according to the Department of Homeland Security's report.

Of the 723,840 people arrested in 2008, 97 percent were captured at the border with Mexico. Most of them, 661,773 people, were Mexicans, primarily men between the ages of 18 and 44.

The report did not include other illegal immigrants who overstayed their visas or who were caught in the country's interior.

The number of people attempting to come illegally may be dropping because family members living in the U.S. who lend them money to pay smugglers have less money to give, Cornelius said.

Increased enforcement at the border has pushed up the cost of hiring a smuggler from about $1,000 in 2001 to about $3,000 in 2007, he added.

Cash-strapped relatives can't afford the cost, and potential migrants are no longer assured that they will have jobs to repay the loans when they get here.

"Their financial capacity to migrate has been reduced by the U.S. economic crisis, which has reduced working hours and therefore the disposable income of their U.S.-based relatives, who are the usual source of the loans to pay people-smugglers," Cornelius said.

Employer crackdown

Bryan Griffith, a spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates stricter immigration enforcement, said he agreed that the struggling economy is partly responsible. But he also credited increased interior enforcement efforts.

Griffith said a crackdown on high-profile employers who hire illegal immigrants is one of the main reasons why fewer people may be attempting to come into the country illegally.

In November 2007, immigration officials began a crackdown at Smithfield Foods' giant slaughterhouse in North Carolina, eventually arresting 21 illegal immigrants at the plant and rousting others from their trailers in the middle of the night.

Since then, thousands of illegal immigrants have been arrested in large-scale operations at poultry plants, restaurants and factories.

Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, said those operations have been key in sending the message to would-be illegal immigrants that the federal government is serious about enforcing its immigration laws.

Bilbray also called for stepped-up interior immigration enforcement requiring employers to verify employees' names and Social Security numbers using a government computer database called E-Verify.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to do ---- having employers use the computer to make sure the name and number matches," he said.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Both sides of the fence

Victoria Advocate
June 28, 2009
Gabe Semenza

Eloisa Tamez is the first Texan who refused to sign federal paperwork that would allow U.S. Homeland Security to build a border fence in her backyard.

As hundreds of other Texas landowners like her soon learned, citizen defiance rarely trumps eminent domain.

Now, as contractors erect the last portions of U.S. border fence in the Rio Grande Valley, Tamez speaks out again. The government took the 74-year-old's land, she said, but federal authorities will never silence her voice.

Her story illustrates the emotional damage suffered when a steel border fence splits an ancient family plot in two.

Environmentalists, municipal and business leaders, each with their own concerns, cry out, too.

While critics voice deep-rooted concerns, U.S. Border Patrol agents from San Diego to Brownsville say the fence works. All along the Southwest border, it does its job, they say.

In the slippery fight to secure this country's borders, one thing is certain: Never in U.S. history has a wall on home soil divided so many people.


Tamez pointed to where she once picked tomatoes as a child. Each nook holds a memory. She lives where her ancestors, her father, farmed the land.

Her family has owned this land, 15 miles west of Brownsville, for 246 years. The king of Spain granted the family 12,000 flat, grassy acres in 1763.

Steadily, her family lost the soil to the Mexican War of Independence, the U.S. annexation of Texas and the Great Depression.

In 1936, the United States and Mexico signed a treaty and formed the International Boundary and Water Commission. Federal contractors then built a levee, a dirt mountain that winds just north of the low-lying river delta to keep floodwater from devouring U.S. homes and businesses.

The levee is only 100 yards south of her home.

The boundary water treaty forbids construction on U.S. soil south of the levee. New structures here could deflect floodwater into Mexico. So it had to be, by law, that contractors built the border fence into, on top of or north of the levee.

The 20-foot-tall border fence is the first thing Tamez now sees when she steps outside. The steel barrier splits in two the last three acres of her family's original 12,000-acre tract.

"Pretty, isn't it," she said, smirking. "Everybody's land was split by the levee. What happened then is similar to what happened now."

A handful of Valley homes and an estimated 36,000 acres, most of which is privately owned, rests south of the border wall.

To reach the portion of her land blocked by the wall, Tamez must walk 3,200 feet west, or 2,200 feet east, along a dirt federal right-of-way to one of two pedestrian gates. Farmers who move cattle take similar routes.

Tamez lives in El Calaboz. The Spanish word means "jail."

"We have partial incarceration, don't we?" Tamez said.


Congress ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2006 to secure one-third of the country's 2,000-mile border with Mexico. The design called for 370 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers.

Contractors will finish the last 30-mile stretch in the Rio Grande Valley by year's end.

Before the first wall sections went up, talk about its impact alarmed Tamez and others.

"When you think about the border, you're talking about the river. But I'm a mile from the river. I didn't think it would affect me," Tamez said.

In August 2007, a U.S. Border Patrol agent told Tamez her land was in the path of the proposed wall. She needed to sign a release form so engineers could survey her land.

Landowners from Brownsville to Granejo received similar calls. In Hidalgo and Cameron counties, two of the country's poorest and most uneducated counties, many residents signed release forms out of fear.

Tamez, though, has a PhD. The widow is an associate professor of nursing at the University of Texas at Brownsville. She couldn't reason away the fear, despite her education.

"My whole body was shaking. Yes, this wall was going to happen right in my backyard," she said.

Despite her fears, she refused to sign the paperwork. Her courage prompted confidence in many others. Three-hundred Texans declined to sign the federal paperwork.

Corinna Spencer-Scheurich is a lawyer with the South Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit group that represents a number of Valley landowners who can't afford hefty legal defenses. She represents Tamez.

"In the beginning, a lot of people were scared," the lawyer said. "It's already uneasy to live in an area that's so militarized."

In 2008, Tamez was the first to file a class-action lawsuit - Tamez and Benito Garcia vs. Michael Chertoff - against the federal government in protection of her land. She alleged federal agencies wrongfully tried to take her land and infringed on her civil rights.

She held off border fence construction until April 16, just a few months ago. On a Friday, a federal judge in Brownsville condemned her land. By Monday, the fence went up next door and by Tuesday, the steel split her plot.

"They basically bulldozed every right they could," Spencer-Scheurich said. "A lot of people didn't want to rock the boat. Eloisa Tamez stood up and said, 'This isn't right. This is important to me.' "


Infringed property rights aren't the only motivation for opposing the border wall. Activists, environmentalists and business leaders stand against the wall for various other reasons.

Scott Nicol said the wall's $49 billion cost, ineffectiveness and unintended consequences result in an historic debacle. The 39-year-old South Texas College professor founded No Border Wall Coalition to fight construction in the Valley.

"It's irrational. It just smacks of racism," Nicol said. "Somehow, we're scared of Mexico. On a fundamental level, the wall offends me."

For the Department of Homeland Security to build the wall, it needed legislation. Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005. The act gave authority to waive 36 federal laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, to build the wall in record time.

"It's insane to think immigration violations are more important than the basic rule of law in the United States," Nicol said. "They're saying we'll set aside all the rules of law to build this thing. It's un-American to do that."

Nicol toured the World Birding Center, located at the Old Hidalgo Pump House just south of McAllen. The border fence splits this eco-tourist destination in half, blocking visitors from enjoying once-accessible nature trails, and wildlife from roaming easily to the river.

Nicol walked up the levee, ran his hands across the rusty steel pickets, and said the fence only pushes immigrants into harsher terrains.

Since construction of the wall began, more than 5,000 migrant bodies were found in the desert, federal records indicate.

Because the fence bisects several national wildlife refuges, animals might face similar fates.

Nancy Brown is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife expert. She said endangered and other animals can no longer easily roam from one side of the river to the other. Weaker animals run into a fence when fleeing predators, and migratory birds lost thousands of acres of brush, she said.

"The wall is doing tremendous damage to the wildlife refuges, which are supposed to be linked by the Rio Grande," Brown said. "They just emasculated that property. It's all damaging to wildlife."


Eco-tourism such as bird watching is big business in the Valley. The industry generates $125 million a year and helps boost much of the impoverished region.

Sixty percent of McAllen's retail sales go to Mexican nationals. Valley business leaders fear the wall acts as a "Keep Out" sign to international customers and vacationers.

Chad Foster is mayor of Eagle Pass. He's also the chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, a group of judges, politicians and business leaders who oppose the fence.

"We support border security. We advocated the removing of cherizo cane, hiding spots on the banks. We supported technology, light towers and more Border Patrol agents," Foster said.

The federal government sued his city as it did Tamez to build the wall. Like most who lost their fight with the government, Foster said politicians far away in Washington, D.C., made decisions here without fully realizing the realities on the border.

"One size does not fit all. Of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, Texas enjoys 1,250 miles. We have a very defined border, the river," he said. "In Arizona, where there is no definitive border, I can see where you might need to establish a physical border. Building a fence sounds good to Middle America, but it will only slow immigrants."

U.S. Border Patrol estimates the fence slows illegal immigrants between four and six minutes.

John McClung calls the fence, then, a costly speed bump. The president of the Texas Produce Association, which represents citrus growers, said the wall is ineffective.

"It was hopeless from the beginning," he said.

From the view at his home near the Santa Anna Wildlife Refuge, which is split by the wall, he said the design is too porous. Because the border wall is and will be erected in Texas in various spans - a mile stretch here, four miles there - the gaps are glaring holes in a $12 million-per-mile blunder, he said.

"The wall all along was a political statement in which deadbeat ideologues in D.C. could go back to their constituents and say, 'Look at what we did.' A real monument to idiocy," he said. "It's a total federal boondoggle."


Not everyone in the Valley opposes the border fence.

In Granejo, a 500-member community in which most residents are related, the border wall begins at one end of town and stops at the other. While most in this tight-knit, one-road town oppose the wall, dozens didn't. Just west of McAllen, Granejo was a hotbed for illegal drug and human smuggling.

"Things changed. There were a lot of robberies here in Granejo," said Manuel Olivarez, 65. "Little kids were coming from Mexico and they were robbing us during noontime. Since that wall was built, it stopped the robberies. It stopped crime."

Mario Olivarez, a 54-year-old who lives near his brother, agrees.

"It has curbed the crossing of illegal immigrants through my land. At times, there'd be 15 or 20 people hiding back there," he said. "The only option they have is to go around us. It's made it more peaceful at night around here."

Chris Simcox, founder and former president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said the wall works. His group patrols the Southwest border to spot illegal immigration.

In Arizona, he said, the wall forged a noticeable dip in the number of illegal crossings.

"It gives Border Patrol a fighting chance," Simcox said. "When it comes to sovereignty and safety, the environmental issues pale in comparison to the need for the wall."


From Brownsville to San Diego, U.S. Border Patrol agents say the wall works. Claude Knighton, a spokesman for U.S. Homeland Security, notes the wall is just one component of the Secure Border Act.

"We wanted to get effective control of the border, to reduce illegal immigration," Knighton said. "That means having the right mix of personnel, technology and infrastructure. We know the fence won't stop anyone. It's there to slow."

As part of the three-pronged initiative, the number of Southwest Border Patrol agents increased from 13,297 in 2007 to 15,422 in 2008, a 16 percent spike.

Remote and mobile surveillance systems, in-ground sensors, aerial technologies, retrofitted vehicles and new patrol roads also help agents to catch illegal immigrants, who now have a smaller, more scanned playing field in which to cross, he said.

"Apprehensions are down from 2005. We think we can attribute that to the systems," Knighton said.

Along the Southwest border, total apprehensions of illegal immigrants decreased by 20 percent from 2007 to 2008, a sign supporters say fewer people are entering into this country.

The system appears to be a success in Arizona.


In the Yuma Sector, the Border Patrol's model sector, numbers are striking. In 2005, agents there caught 138,000 illegal immigrants. Last year, they caught 8,600, a 94 percent dip in apprehensions.

Michael Lowrie is a Yuma Sector Border Patrol agent.

"The wall has helped. They are trying other places," Lowrie said. "They figure it's too hard to come in through Yuma. We have so few coming in every day, we have the space, time and money to prosecute everybody."

Unlike in Texas, where the wall sporadically dots its 1,200-mile border with Mexico, 117 of the Yuma Sector's 126 border miles are protected by barrier. Most of the fence went up on federal land.

"Local crime is down. It cut down on car chases and stolen vehicles, too," Lowrie said. "Everything decreased."

In the neighboring Tucson Sector, agents tell similar stories. In 2006, Tucson Sector agents caught 392,000 illegal immigrants. Last year, they caught 317,000. Of its 262-mile border with Mexico, 220 are lined with border barriers.

"We have had a dramatic decrease each year," said Michael Scioli, a Tucson sector agent.

In the Rio Grande Valley, agents report fewer apprehensions in areas where the wall is in place. Apprehensions in this sector are down 25 percent, to 41,000, from last year.

"The gaps are working as planned because it's moving illegal activity away from communities," said John Lopez, a Rio Grande Valley border agent. "The fence moves traffic to areas where we can react more safely, effectively. It's safer for us to apprehend someone in an open field than it is in a neighborhood, and it's safer for those communities, too."


Critics say the shaky U.S. economy is the culprit for fewer Border Patrol apprehensions. Fewer jobs deters immigrants better than any fence does, they say. Others say elimination of the Border Patrol's catch-and-release program scares away immigrants, who, if caught, now face potential prison time.

U.S. citizens also face new realities. The joke in the Valley is that landowners will need a passport to visit their land south of the wall.

Tamez, the first Texan to fight the federal government for her land, has yet to walk on her land south of the giant steel fence.

In September, she walks again into a courtroom to fight for just compensation. U.S. Homeland Security wants to pay her for the footprint of the wall, and the 100-foot right-of-way. Tamez wants the devaluation of her property to be included in the tab.

The government sought a little more than one of her three acres. Because she wasn't consulted, she doesn't know just how much they took.

With so little land left of her family's original 12,000 acres, she grasps at the last bit of soil she links to a rich heritage.

"This symbolizes an erosion of democracy. We've gone to other parts of the world and said, 'Tear that wall down.' Are we at war with Mexico?" she said.

Inside, her living room appears to have remained unchanged in decades. On one wall, an old Curtis Mathis TV; on the other, an aged flower-print sofa. She crossed her legs and bobbed her right foot.

"The government has done it before," she said. "They take my land, but they will never take my voice. We're drained, exhausted, emotionless. We have been abandoned by our own country."


Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Great Fence of Texas

The Daily Beast
June 25, 2009
by Bryan Curtis

Turning his attention briefly from Iran, health care, and the economy, the president takes on immigration Thursday. To get an understanding of the debate, The Daily Beast’s Bryan Curtis took a drive along the still-unfinished Texas border fence.

As President Obama convenes his first major White House meeting Thursday to talk about immigration, it’s worth turning your eyes to Texas. That’s where the final 40 miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border Fence, the object of much controversy three years ago, are being constructed. I went to Texas not long ago to see how the fence was working and what clues it offered for what figures to be one of the fiercest political debates in the Obama presidency.

Two things stand out about the border fence. First, after two years of construction, no one has any idea whether it’s a success. And, in an ironic twist, it’s the Democrats, rather than pro-fence Republicans, who now have an incentive to call it one.

Obama’s White House immigration meeting is a mysterious affair. “I don’t know what to expect, exactly,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California who was planning to attend.

There is no public guest list; the veil of secrecy reflects just how delicately Obama is approaching comprehensive immigration reform. To this point, his position, like that of many Democrats, has been “security first”—keep out new undocumented immigrants and then try to create a path to citizenship for the 12 million already in the country.

As I saw in Texas, “security” is harder to pull off than it sounds. The border fence is not a contiguous fence that spans the 1,952-mile U.S.-Mexican border but a 670-mile partial barrier of varying heights, shapes, and materials. As you drive through the South Texas floodplain, you can see the fence rising up to cordon off small towns like Hidalgo and Granjeno, and then disappearing for miles before rising again.

I drove out to a section of the fence south of Donna, Texas, with an anti-fence activist named Scott Nicol. By Texas standards, it wasn’t an unreasonably hot day. We turned south off a farm-to-market road, drove down a dirt path past a sorghum field, and there was the fence, dramatically rising out of the earth. It was picket-style, made of rusted iron bars a few inches apart. It was 18 feet high. Placed next to the crops and tractors, it looked like the Department of Homeland Security had erected an audacious modern art installation.

“It’s like Christo working with an Eastern Bloc budget,” Mark Clark, a Brownsville art gallery owner, had told me.

The fence certainly looked impenetrable—that is, until I took a couple steps to the east, where it ended abruptly. There was nothing there for several hundred feet except a dirt road and irrigation ditch, plenty of room for an immigrant to sneak through. Or the enterprising immigrant could turn west and walk nine-tenths of a mile, where the fence stopped again. Past the western edge of the fence, there was a gap measuring 15 or 20 miles.

These gaps are by design. The Border Patrol hopes that partial fencing will direct immigrants into the gaps, where they can be apprehended more easily. Nicol and I had parked our SUVs at the fence’s eastern gap. We stood around for 45 minutes, taking pictures and looking like the world’s most hapless coyotes. We didn’t see a single Border Patrol agent.

Feeling emboldened, we got into our SUVs and drove right past the fence, going south, as if we were sneaking into Mexico. We were behind the fence for 20 more minutes. No one bothered us there, either.

As it turns out, this was one of the more uncreative ways to penetrate the border fence. Rick Cardoza, who operates a general store in nearby Granjeno, Texas, describes a scheme in which immigrants appropriated the forklift of the contractor building the fence and used it like an elevator. Mike Perez, the city manager of McAllen, Texas, was crossing the Hidalgo International Bridge not long ago when he saw several immigrants form a human ladder, like circus acrobats. Those lacking in fence-scaling athleticism, Perez notes, “just go around it.”

These, of course, are anecdotal examples, but anecdotes are all Congress has to go on for now. The big problem with the border fence is that there’s no mathematical way to tell if it’s working. In the last year, the number of undocumented Mexicans entering the United States has fallen between 35 percent and 45 percent. But analysts say this has mostly to do with the putrid state of the American economy—there’s no work here, so fewer people are inclined to come at all. (Immigration also plummeted during the 2001 recession.) The fence’s real test comes when the economy recovers and immigrants once again approach the border.

Even fence proponents like Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, say it’s much too early to judge how many people the fence is keeping out. “We certainly don’t know now,” he told me, “and it’s going to be a long time before we can venture estimates.”

Back in Washington, D.C., you might think this kind of data would lead to caution. It hasn’t. Democrats desperately want another shot at comprehensive immigration reform. To get it, they feel compelled to demonstrate that the “security first” policy has been validated—that border defenses are working. Sen. Charles Schumer recently declared, “By several measures, the border is far more secure than it has ever been.”

Lofgren, who voted against the Secure Fence Act in 2006, echoes that idea. “The number of unlawful entries is dropping tremendously,” she told me. “People say it’s the economy, but professionals believe it is strongly related to how difficult it now is to make an unlawful entry.”

This topsy-turvy portfolio has been plopped onto the desk of President Obama, whose political capital is already being siphoned away by the stimulus, health care, and other legislative priorities. Obama declared last Friday that he supports comprehensive immigration reform. By that afternoon, his press secretary had admitted he didn’t have the votes.

Thursday’s much-anticipated White House meeting was slated to be a feeling-out period for attendees like Lofgren, who were curious about where Obama would come down. “The most helpful thing for me to hear from the president directly is the scope of his planning and what timetable he has in mind,” she said.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Congress Members Urge Napolitano to Restore Rule of Law Along Border

KPBS San Diego
June 23, 2009
by Amy Isackson

Twenty-seven members of the U.S. Congress have asked the Secretary of Homeland Security to respect all laws along the U.S. Mexico border as they build the border fence. As KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson explains, about 40 miles of fencing are still under construction in environmentally sensitive areas.

The more than two-dozen members of Congress want Secretary Napolitano to respect laws her predecessor set aside to make way for the border fence.

Former Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff waived all state, local and federal laws along the border. They include the Endangered Species, Historic Preservation and Clean Water Acts.

The Congress members petitioning Napolitano say the lack of compliance has damaged public lands and public trust.

Matt Clark is with Defenders of Wildlife. He says no one should be above the law and the Secretary needs to abide.

"To minimize and avert potential disastrous consequences for very environmentally sensitive areas like the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area," he says.

The Otay Mountain Wilderness is federally protected and home to endangered species.


County border fence construction a third complete

Valley Morning Star / Brownsville Herald
June 14, 2009
by Laura B. Martinez

BROWNSVILLE - Joe De La Garza established his mom-and-pop store back in 1966 on South Oklahoma Road in rural Cameron County.

It wasn't too long ago that he and his grandchildren would walk up and down the levee, across the street from his store, for exercise.

Things have changed, De La Garza said, as he watched a construction worker use a backhoe to remove dirt for the continued construction of the border fence.

"It's all nonsense," De La Garza, 73, said as he looked at the 18-foot tall brown border fence in front of his store, De La Garza Grocery.

The border fence is 2½ miles away from the Rio Grande, he said, and that is just wrong. Landowners like De La Garza were under the impression the fence would be built 180 feet from the river, not from his storefront, he said.

"What the heck are they doing out here? It doesn't look right," De La Garza said.

The fence's construction is part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which is part of the government's comprehensive immigration reform that includes securing the nation's border. The Department of Homeland Security is overseeing the fence's construction.

Last Thursday, the Texas Border Coalition penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to halt the fence construction so his administration could review the nation's border security policy.

"Without such an order, construction will proceed, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on a border security tactic that fails its basic purpose in defiance of realistic, proven alternatives," said Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition.

The letter is signed by dozens of local politicians, including Brownsville Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr., Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos and state legislators Eddie Lucio Jr., Eddie Lucio III and Rene Oliveira.

In the interim, fence construction in Cameron County is visible up and down South Oklahoma Road a few miles outside the Brownsville city limits, except along some sections of the road where pending lawsuits against the fencing temporarily have halted building, at least for now.

Although De La Garza doesn't like the fencing, he knew it was just a matter of time before it would be built because the government was determined to build it whether the residents liked it or not.

"It's not going to stop the people" from trying to come across, De La Garza said, adding that it in fact could increase illegal immigration since there could be fewer U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling the area because of the fence.

De La Garza sees Border Patrol agents driving around the area about every 15 to 20 minutes or at times once an hour.

"They (Border Patrol) might say, ‘We got a fence now, so we don't have to worry because people aren't going to come across,' " the local businessman said. "This is not going to stop them. I don't think so."

In Cameron County, 34.8 miles of fencing are planned. As of June 5, 11.7 miles of fencing had been completed, said Claude R. Knighten, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. Roughly 9.3 miles of fence are slated to be built along South Oklahoma and Southmost roads, with 3.4 miles to be constructed on South Oklahoma and 5.9 miles on Southmost.

From her front door about a mile away, Otalia Perez sees the landscape De La Garza now sees.

Perez from her front door could see the levee, with acres of green land shortly behind it.

All she sees now is a brown barrier known as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's border fence, blocking her view of everything located right in front of her home.

"We feel closed in," Perez, 73, said of the barrier erected weeks ago in front of her home. "It's sad, very sad."

As an American flag hoisted on a flagpole waves proudly in her front yard, Perez contends that nothing could be done to stop the fence's construction.

Simply put, the government was going to build the fence whether the residents liked it or not, she said.


If a Tree Falls in the Valley: The Sabal Palm and the Border Fence

The Nature Conservancy
June 22, 2009
by Clay Carrington

If a rare tree is leveled to make room for the border fence, will anyone care?

The moment the Secure Fence Act (H.R. 6061) was approved in 2006, the most important question associated with the construction of the United States-Mexico border fence ceased to be “why?” and became “where?” The fence — actually a series of intermittent freestanding barriers — is nearly complete, with most of the California, Arizona and New Mexico stages finished.

In West Texas, construction is well underway from the state line east to Fort Hancock, while on the opposite end of the state, building has begun on sections in the Rio Grande Valley. There, amid the resacas and thornscrub of South Texas, the finished fence will eventually trace the slow curves of the Rio Grande River.

More or less.

The border fence doesn’t strictly adhere to the national border — the Rio Grande. In reality, its path veers erratically inland — a straight line that disregards the natural curves and oxbows of an ageless river — creating huge swaths of the United States trapped in a “no man’s land” south of the fence and north of the border. The Nature Conservancy’s Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve stands to be bisected by the fence, leaving nearly three-quarters of the preserve in this no man’s land.

The merits of Southmost Preserve are innumerable:

  • Spanning 1,034 acres at the very tip of Texas, the preserve is home to a wealth of threatened and endangered species, including rare birds, frogs and tortoises.
  • The land lies under the Central Flyway, one of four principal migratory bird routes in North America, and the preserve’s thick Tamaulipan thornscrub represents a prime wildlife corridor for free-roaming ocelots and jaguarundi.

For years Southmost Preserve has been a haven for scientists and birders enticed by land where, in a single day, dozens of rare animal species can be spotted.

But the real prize at Southmost — the bedrock of its unique habitat and the species that helped earn the preserve the moniker “Jewel of the Rio Grande” — is the rare sabal palm. Once found across much of the lower Gulf Coast, sabal palm forests have all but vanished under the plow. While some scattered trees can be found on private lands in the region, the significant remaining stands of these towering trees are located at Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve, the Sabal Palm Audubon Center and the Lower Rio Grand Valley National Wildlife Refuge. All three of those conservation areas lie in the path of the border fence.

In order to save sabal palms that would otherwise be leveled by construction of the fence, the Conservancy is partnering with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon Texas in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to transplant palms to safe ground, one tree at a time.

The trees, which grow as tall as 65 feet and are up to 100 years old, are being uprooted and hauled to a number of spots, most within a mile of their original location, where they are then carefully replanted.

It’s a massive undertaking and a race against the clock. Each of the approximately 300 trees must be thoroughly trimmed and the root balls need to be unearthed intact to ensure survival. The project, which is already underway, is expected to last through the summer.

The security of our borders is of paramount importance. Since the creation of Southmost Preserve, the Conservancy has worked closely with the U.S. Border Patrol to allow ample access to the property.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to seize the preserve — or at least the narrow strip of land on which the fence would sit — the Department of Homeland Security has opted for litigation over collaboration. Southmost Preserve is now the subject of a condemnation lawsuit that, if successful, would allow construction of the fence and would require the government to pay for only the land on which the barrier sits, regardless of how much property winds up inaccessible, uninhabitable and outside the reach of conservation management.

Despite this harsh reality, the Conservancy, Texas Audubon and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service remain resolute, working throughout the intense heat of the South Texas summer to give hundreds of iconic, historic trees the best chance to survive for future generations of Texans.

And hopefully, if the project is a success, this scramble to protect the last remnants of a once-majestic forests will someday be viewed as the best possible conservation outcome salvaged from a very bad idea.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Protect The Texas Jaguarundi

Houston Press
June 19, 2009
by Chris Vogel

Ever heard of the jaguarundi? Neither have we.

Perhaps that's because this unique type of cat that lives along the Texas border with Mexico is endangered. Perhaps it's because nobody really cares. We're guessing it's a bit of both, but that doesn't mean every animal shouldn't have some human in their corner pulling for them.

WildEarth Guardian, a non-profit environmental organization, recently waged war in the form of a lawsuit in Houston federal court against Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, demanding that he put a conservation and survival plan together for the animal. After all, the organization argues, the cat has been listed as endangered since 1976, plenty of time to create such a plan as required under the Endangered Species Act.

Two types of the endangered species call south Texas their home, the Gulf Coast jaguarundi and the Sinaloan jaguarundi. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they are larger than a domestic cat and have small ears, long, narrow bodies with short legs and flattened heads and tails. They generally look more like an otter or a weasel than a cat. They make their homes, according to the lawsuit, in the "dense thorny mesquite, cacti and cat claw thickets of southern Texas."

WildEarth argues that humans are making it tough on the jaguarundi these days.
Farmers are clearing away their habitat to make room for more vegetables and crops. Plus, says the organization, the border fence between the United States and Mexico is keeping the animal from crossing back and forth within its own natural environment, thus limiting their access to other jaguarundis to mate with.

According to the lawsuit, Salazar must create and implement a recovery plan for all endangered species unless he decides that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. So far, no such decision has been made. But neither has a plan. WildEarth is asking the judge to declare the fact that there is no plan so many years after the jaguarundi was declared endangered to be a violation of the Endangered Species Act and to make Salazar prepare and implement a plan.

Who knows, if it works, maybe all Texans will have heard about the jaguarundi.


US-MEXICO: Humanitarian Aid Criminalised at the Border

IPS News
June 19, 2009
by Valeria Fernandez

ARIVACA, Arizona, Jun 19 (IPS) - Humanitarian aid groups trying to avert migrant deaths on the U.S- Mexico border are facing increased roadblocks in their mission. The hazards are not connected to a spike in drug cartels’ violence, but rather restrictions from the federal government.

Transporting a migrant in despair to a hospital could mean a volunteer is charged with human smuggling. A simple act of kindness like leaving water in the desert can be subject to penalties as well.

"We’re being intimidated and criminalised as humanitarians," said Walt Staton, a 27-year-old volunteer with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid group.

Staton knows this firsthand. He was convicted on Jun. 3 by a 12-person jury of "knowingly littering" for leaving unopened water jugs on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Tucson, Arizona.

Arizona the main gateway for undocumented migration into the U.S. is ground zero to a human rights crisis, according to border activists. In the summer, triple-digit temperatures in the remote Sonoran desert have caused a deadly toll.

Over the past decade, it is estimated that at least 5,000 men, women and children have lost their lives attempting to cross the U.S-Mexico border.

No More Deaths (NMD) has been providing help in the form of water and food to migrants. This June, for the sixth consecutive year, they set up a campsite 24 kms from the border with volunteers from all over the country.

Water can be a lifesaver in some of the most remote areas of the treacherous Sonoran desert, explained Steve Jonston, 64, a volunteer with NMD.

Daily, volunteers set up hundreds of gallon-sized water containers at drop points in some of the most heavily transited migrant trails. Once the jugs have been used, they recycle them.

By the time some of the migrants find them, they have spent from three to four days lost in the desert, Jonston said.

"To ticket Walt Staton for littering would be to ticket an ambulance for speeding," he told IPS.

But not everybody agrees on the approach.

"There’s other ways it can be done," said Michael Hawkes, elected director and manager of the Buenos Aires Refuge. "Just leaving the jugs there is like leaving trash, it is like a McDonald's happy meal in front of your yard, it is trash."

Hawkes said garbage left by migrants during their trek has been a challenge for preserving the 117,000 acres refuge. He believes Border Patrol beacons, which allow migrants to call for rescue, are more effective than putting water.

The refuge currently allows for at least two water stations set up in the area by another volunteer group. But Jonston argues that’s not nearly enough.

During the summer, temperatures reach up to 115 F (45 C) in the desert. Drinking as much as a gallon of water per hour might be necessary to survive, said Mario Escalante, a spokesperson for the Tucson Border Patrol.

"Most of the people attempting to cross don’t have a clue where they’re, they’ve never been here before," said Escalante.

Smugglers lie to migrants, giving them the false hope that they’ll find water in the desert, he said. It’s not uncommon for them to abandon migrants to their own luck, he added.

Camila Chigo, 24, was barely conscious when the Border Patrol found her on a side road. The migrant from Chiapas, Mexico was lost and alone for four days and later spent three hospitalised for heatstroke.

"I almost died," said Chigo, who spoke with IPS in a migrant shelter after being deported to Nogales, Sonora. Her arms revealed scars and scratches from the desert vegetation.

Humanitarian activists claim that the increased fortification of the border through the construction of a fence and deployment of manpower is to blame for stories like Chigo’s.

"The border has been built in the most intentional way to use the desert as a deterrent, as a weapon that has caused thousands of lives," said Staton.

And extreme heat is not the only threat to their lives. As the business of human smuggling is getting more lucrative, migrants are often subject to kidnappings and women are exposed to sexual abuse and rape by border bandits.

Yet the Border Patrol in Tucson cites a decrease in the number of arrests this fiscal year –which began in October 2008 - as a sign of success of the border strategy.

Apprehensions are down from 235,800 in 2008 to 164,600 on 2009.

The death toll on the 262 miles of the Tucson border has increased from 79 fatalities in 2008 to 83 this year.

"The migrant death rate is going up. It’s not necessarily the total number of deaths, it’s the ratio of the number of people that are crossing and dying," said Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Humane Borders, a humanitarian group that provides water in the desert at 102 water stations.

Hoover claims increased enforcement is pushing people into more desolate areas, making it harder to reach them with aid. One of these main points is the Tohono O’odham nation land.

Mike Wilson, a Native American who has been leaving water tanks in the reservation, said that recently, tribal police officers told him to take them down.

"I respectfully declined," said Wilson, only to find out later that somebody had taken them away. Now he’s substituting them with gallon jugs.

Humanitarian aid volunteers claim things have gotten more difficult in the last four years.

In 2005, volunteers Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss were accused of human smuggling after attempting to transport a group of injured migrants to the hospital. The charges against them were later dropped. Their case was the catalyst for launching a campaign to bring awareness called "Humanitarian aid is not a Crime".

Staton’s is not the first case to go to court for littering charges.

In 2008, Dan Millis another NMD volunteer found the body of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador in the desert. Motivated by the tragedy, two days later Millis was leaving water jugs around the migrant trails where he found her and was ticketed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He refused to pay the 175-dollar fine and fought the littering misdemeanor charge on the grounds that humanitarian aid is not a crime.

The U.S federal attorney's office would not comment on Staton’s case since his sentencing is pending for Aug. 4. He could face one year in jail or up to 10,000 dollars in fines.

Staton is planning to go to seminary school by then to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. He hopes his story brings attention to the human rights crisis on the border.

In 2008, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations issued a report stating that the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of migrants a national priority.

"It’s the responsibility of the people to come out and say we won’t let these people die," said Staton. "Maybe we can’t drive them somewhere, but we are just not going to let them die."


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Supreme Court decision a 'tremendous blow' for border residents

Rio Grande Guardian
June 16, 2009

WESLACO, June 16 - The No Border Wall coalition has expressed disappointment with the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear arguments in the border wall lawsuit brought by El Paso County and others.

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear arguments that the waiving of all state, local, and federal laws to build the border wall is unconstitutional is a tremendous blow for border residents and the principle of the rule of law,” said Scott Nicol, a spokesman for the No Border Wall group.

In April 2008, then Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived 36 federal laws in order to speed up construction of the border wall project. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was instructed to build thousands of miles of border fencing under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

A lawsuit challenging Chertoff’s decision to waive the 36 federal laws was brought against DHS in June, 2008 by El Paso County, the City of El Paso, the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Frontera Audubon Society, the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, and the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge later joined the lawsuit.

El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez contended that congressional waiver of authority, provided under Section 102 of the Real ID Act, without the opportunity for judicial review, was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. Rodríguez also claimed it was insufficient to permit the Homeland Security Secretary to declare pre-empted every state and local law related to the waived federal statues.

“We are disappointed but not surprised by this outcome. While we feel that we had a strong case, competition for space on the Supreme Court’s crowded docket is high,” Rodríguez said.

“This decision now ends our pursuit of this case. El Paso County would very much like to thank Mayer Brown LLP of Washington, D.C., for their defense and support in this case. Mayer Brown litigated this case without any cost to the county.”

On September 11th, 2008 a Federal District Judge of the Western District of Texas granted DHS’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the merits of the case.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo held that the waivers used by Chertoff to expedite the construction of the border fence were constitutional because “…Congress constitutionally delegated its authority in the Waiver Legislation.”

Montalvo further ruled that the waiver legislation did not violate the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the waivers were issued with the intent to “preempt state and local laws, which would interfere with Congress’s objective to expeditiously construct the border fence.”
Rodríguez said although the appeal was rejected, he expressed optimism that the Obama Administration has demonstrated a willingness to consult with local communities on the fence and other border security policies.

No Border Wall is a grassroots coalition of groups and individuals united in the belief that a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will do irreparable harm to the borderlands and the nation as a whole. The group is opposed to the construction of a border wall because it believes it will have “devastating consequences” on border economies, the environment, human rights, and U.S.-Mexico relations.

“We had hoped that the court would honor its obligation to examine the constitutionality of section 102 of the Real ID Act, which is an unprecedented power grab by the Executive branch, and which creates unequal legal protections for U.S. citizens that are solely dependant upon what part of the country one lives in,” the No Border Wall group’s Nicol said. “In this instance the Supreme Court shirked its duty, leaving the border without the benefit of the rule of law that is enjoyed by the rest of our nation.”

Section 102 of the Real ID Act allows for the suspension of all laws to build the border wall, stating, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.”

Nicol pointed out that no other U.S. citizen is granted this extreme power under any circumstance. “Even the president does not have this power to waive our nation’s laws, no matter what crisis may arise,” Nicol said.

Nicol said Chertoff knew that in building border walls he would be violating numerous laws. “Obeying the law is not voluntary, it is mandatory. In a nation of laws all laws must be respected, not just those that are convenient. Those laws were enacted to prevent the kind of damage that we see everywhere border walls have been built,” Nicol said.

Nicol said environmental groups in the Rio Grande Valley fear for the future of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. He pointed out that as it consists of individual tracts of native habitat linked by the Rio Grande, the Refuge creates a wildlife corridor, providing federally endangered species such as the ocelot and jaguarundi sufficient territory to find food, water, and mates.

Migratory birds also rely on it to rest and refuel on their annual journeys, as well as for nesting, Nicol said.

“The border walls that have been built, and those that are still under construction, slice through many refuge tracts and cut off others from the river. The wall is fragmenting habitat, blocking migratory pathways, denying animals’ access to fresh water, and isolating breeding populations of endangered ocelot and jagurandi,” Nicol claimed.

“Because the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act were among the 36 federal laws that the former Secretary swept aside, none of the usual legal protections for these supposedly protected lands remain.”

Nicol said equal protection under the law is meant to be a fundamental right shared by every American. However, he said the effect of the Real ID Act is to make the legal rights of citizens who live near the border “conditional on the whims of an unelected Administration appointee.” Under the Act, the Homeland Security secretary cannot waive laws that protect citizens who live away from the border, only border residents, Nicol argued.

“When the Supreme Court decided not to hear these arguments without uttering so much as a word as to why, they shirked their duty as the final arbiters of the United States constitution and the principle of the rule of law that it enshrines,” Nicol said.

“This precedent bodes ill for the rest of the nation, as any manufactured crisis may be used to enact a similar waiver.”

Nicol speculated that a “broken” northern border may be the pretext for a new bill waiving laws along the Canadian boundary, or an “energy crisis” may provide a convenient excuse to do away with laws that prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Supreme Court’s inaction will likely have repercussions beyond the destruction wrought by the border wall,” he said.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Court refuses to hear border fence case

The Hill
June 15, 2009
by Reid Wilson

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case that questioned whether the federal government could supersede state and local laws blocking a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The case tested the constitutionality of a provision in a broad 2005 law that created national standards for state driver’s license requirements. The provision in question would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to waive local legal requirements that stand in the way of the 700-mile border fence.

Attorneys for the petitioners, led by El Paso County, Texas, argued the REAL ID Act constituted a delegation of legislative powers to the executive branch that amounted to an abdication of responsibilities.

The act allows DHS to circumvent the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in constructing the fence. But it also gives DHS the "authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads[.]"

Congress established a limited and streamlined judicial review, which petitioners cited in their claims of unconstitutionality.

Under President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff approved two waivers that disburden fence planners of having to comply with "all federal, state or other laws, regulations and legal requirements" of construction.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan filed a brief for the Justice Department opposing the petition, arguing the county and local governments lacked the standing to bring the case.

The justices themselves took a considerable amount of time in mulling the case. The subject was brought up in conference eight times, most recently last Thursday, before justices voted not to accept the case. It is the second time in a year justices had declined to hear challenges to the border fence.

The court announced it would take up four cases, including one examining the constitutional limits on states when it comes to restoring storm-eroded beaches, in a case originating in Florida.

The court declined to hear another Florida case, which argued that five alleged Cuban spies could not get a fair trial in Miami because of anti-Cuban sentiment in the area.


Court turns down Texas counties over border fence

Associated Press
June 15, 2009

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday refused to get involved in local Texas governments' fight against hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The court rejected a challenge by El Paso and other counties to a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The local governments have argued that Napolitano's predecessor, Michael Chertoff, improperly waived 37 federal laws that could have slowed or blocked construction of fencing along the border that is intended to deter illegal immigrants.

El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez said Monday that the local governments knew the case was something of a long shot — the high court previously turned away a legal challenge to the Homeland Security secretary's authority to speed up fence construction — but believed the lengthy court fight was worthwhile.

"Unfortunately the court didn't indicate why they denied ... so we'll never know, but we gave it our best shot," Rodriguez said. "And this litigation raised a lot of public awareness at the local, state and even national level about these issues about border security."

As the suit worked its way through the court system, most of the fencing in question was built.

Federal authorities have completed about 630 miles of the promised 670-miles-long vehicle and pedestrian fencing. Much of the unfinished portion is in south Texas, where residents and local governments have also been staunch opponents of the fencing authorized by Congress to help secure the border and slow illegal immigration. Congress gave Chertoff the power to waive the federal laws in 2005.

The future of much of the unfinished section of fencing is in limbo while a judge sorts through issues related to private property in the fence's path.

The case is County of El Paso v. Napolitano, 08-751.


Proximity of border fence to homes and businesses upsets many

Brownsville Herald
June 14, 2009
by Laura Martinez

Joe De La Garza established his mom-and-pop store back in 1966 on South Oklahoma Road in rural Cameron County.

It wasn't too long ago that he and his grandchildren would walk up and down the levee, located across the street from his store, for exercise.

Things have changed, De La Garza said, as he watched a construction worker use a backhoe to remove dirt for the continued construction of the border fence.

"It's all nonsense," De La Garza, 73, said as he looked at the 18-foot tall brown border fence in front of his store, De La Garza Grocery.

The border fence is two-and-one-half miles away from the Rio Grande, he said, and that is just wrong. Landowners like De La Garza were under the impression the fence would be built 180 feet from the river, not from his storefront, he said.

"What the heck are they doing out here? It doesn't look right," De La Garza said.

The fence's construction is part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which is part of the government's comprehensive immigration reform that includes securing the nation's border. The Department of Homeland Security is overseeing the fence's construction.

Last Thursday, the Texas Border Coalition penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to halt the fence construction so his administration could review the nation's border security policy.

"Without such an order, construction will proceed, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on a border security tactic that fails its basic purpose in defiance of realistic, proven alternatives," said Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition.

The letter is signed by dozens of local politicians, including Brownsville Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr., Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos and state legislators Eddie Lucio Jr., Eddie Lucio III and Rene Oliveira.

In the interim, fence construction in Cameron County is visible up and down South Oklahoma Road a few miles outside the Brownsville city limits, except along some sections of the road where pending lawsuits against the fencing temporarily have halted building, at least for now.

Although De La Garza doesn't like the fencing, he knew it was just a matter of time before it would be built because the government was determined to build it whether the residents liked it or not.

"It's not going to stop the people" from trying to come across, De La Garza said, adding that it in fact could increase illegal immigration since there could be fewer U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling the area because of the fence.

De La Garza sees Border Patrol agents driving around the area about every 15 to 20 minutes or at times once an hour.

"They (Border Patrol) might say, ‘We got a fence now, so we don't have to worry because people aren't going to come across,' " the local businessman said. "This is not going to stop them. I don't think so."

In Cameron County, 34.8 miles of fencing is planned. As of June 5, 11.7 miles of fencing had been completed, said Claude R. Knighten, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. Roughly 9.3 miles of fence are slated to be built along South Oklahoma and Southmost roads, with 3.4 miles to be constructed on South Oklahoma and 5.9 miles on Southmost.


From her front door about a mile away, Otalia Perez sees the landscape De La Garza now sees.

Perez from her front door could see the levee, with acres of green land shortly behind it.

All she sees now is a brown barrier known as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's border fence, blocking her view of everything located right in front of her home.

"We feel closed in," said Perez, 73, of the barrier erected weeks ago in front of her home. "It's sad, very sad."

As an American flag hoisted on a flagpole waves proudly in her front yard, Perez contends that nothing could be done to stop the fence's construction.

Simply put, the government was going to build the fence whether the residents liked it or not, she said.

The DHS in May 2008 filed a land condemnation suit against Otalia and Tomas R. Perez for 2.19 acres of land they owned in front of their home, court documents show. In August 2008, the DHS paid the Perezes $21,086.49 for the property.

Many fence protestors had hoped Obama would put a halt to fence's construction, but a few months after taking office, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the fence's construction would continue.

Additional fencing in Cameron County is visible along Military Highway, also known as Highway 281. Much of the fencing in this area was constructed earlier this year, including on property owned by UTB-TSC Associate Professor Eloisa Tamez, a strong opponent of the fence.

Pending is fencing to be constructed on land owned by the city of Brownsville; city officials earlier this month agreed to give to the DHS some 15 acres of land to build a temporary fence, which would be removed when the city begins construction on the East Loop project. The DHS already had the land title.

Back at De La Garza's store, the businessman wonders how the fencing will hold up during hard rains and hurricane season.

"The soil here? Once it gets wet, it loosens everything, and if the wind starts to get it, I believe it is going to collapse," he said.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Near the border, a trail of tears

Denver Post
May 14, 2009
by Chandra Russo

It is the threatening hour of the day. At just 10 a.m., we plod on in 100 degree heat under a vicious sun. Even the desert insects have stopped their rattling below the dry burn.

I sip at my water bottle. I find it difficult to quench my thirst without filling my belly to sloshing. My lips are chapped. My joints ache as we continue into our fourth day.

About 50 of us are walking the Migrant Trail, a 75-mile trek over seven days through Arizona's border lands. We follow the general path taken by so many migrants forced into this remote, brutal desert. We begin in Sasabe, Mexico, a mile south of the border, and head toward Tucson, traveling just east of the Baboquivari range and the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Despite the discomfort, I recognize the immense beauty of this place, stark peaks, fierce but glorious cacti flowering everywhere. The land is saturated with the rich history of peoples and fragile ecosystems that have made this place home for centuries.

The Migrant Trail began in 2003 with about 20 members of this border community. After years of setting out water in a helpless attempt to curb migrant deaths, having recovered far too many human remains, these 20 wanted to experience the journey and expose the daily reality out here. They commit to walk yearly until the deaths stop.

In the years since, many have joined them. This year, five students and their professor from Manitoba, Canada, have come to learn more about the other U.S. border. A French sociologist has driven from California, motivated by his own immigration experience and the immigrant students in his classroom. Many are called by their faith to walk — an Argentine missionary living in the Mexican town of Altar, a nun from Chicago, and a Franciscan monk who walks in his robes.

This is my second year on the Migrant Trail. I was invited in 2007 to better understand human rights issues on the border. In returning, I am reminded of the urgency of fixing the nation's broken immigration system.

Our walk comes at a conspicuous political moment. A week ago, 700 people from around the country convened on Washington to meet with Congress, demanding a comprehensive immigration reform package be passed within a year. Yesterday, hundreds packed into a church in Northglenn as Colorado Congressman Jared Polis and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez heard testimony from families torn apart by our immigration system. And this Wednesday, President Obama will pull both parties together to push this same idea. This reform has the potential to save lives.

Here's the bottom line when it comes to sealing our southern border: It doesn't work.

In the decision to cross to the United States, economic forces and familial ties trump walls, material or virtual. Since the mid-90s when we cut off the urban crossing points of San Diego and El Paso, and began implementing the latest in military technology, the number of undocumented in the country has more than doubled from 5 million to 12 million. While the most aggressive and expensive border enforcement has forced migrants into ever more perilous crossings, thousands of deaths have proven to be no deterrent to those facing dehumanizing poverty at home.

Pointing to a recent decline in immigration to the U.S., we see that the economy, not border policy, is the determining factor. Any measurable drop begins about four years ago, when our economy began to decline. There were no dramatic shifts in border policy at that time, making it obvious that fewer job opportunities are what stemmed the flow.

After being out here myself with all the comforts we are afforded as walkers, what is surprising to me isn't that people have died. It's that anyone makes it at all. I remark at this as we pass abandoned backpacks along Route 86, signs of migrants who likely survived many days in the desert to be picked up by vehicles.

We look back over the terrain we have walked on our final morning. "Our killing fields," offers a nurse who regularly resuscitates migrants near heat stroke in her hospital.

There is a policy fix for this. We can allot a realistic number of immigration visas so that needed workers and families can safely cross between countries. We can rethink the way we police our southern border.

Already this year, 79 of the dead have been recovered. The season of death, deep summer, has not even begun.

Chandra Russo is communications coordinator at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), based in Denver.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

City Says Border Wall Increasing Crime

KRGV Channel 5
June 12, 2009
by Lisa Cortez

GRANJENO - Residents say when the new border wall was constructed, planned gaps provided smugglers access to the country. One of those gaps is in the middle of town.

The city fought to keep the wall from cutting across their town, they won that fight. The government instead backed the wall up behind improved levees.

Now they say with the gap in the wall in town, they've seen an increase in traffic.

"We see a lot of things. There's a lot of illegal activity going on here in our small town," says Napoleon Garza.

By going through Granjeno, smugglers can get from the Rio Grande to Shary Road.

The U.S. Border Patrol says the gap is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

"If people are seeing more, it could be they see more activity in a specific area away from the community which it was what we hoped," says John Lopez, the U.S. Border Patrol Spokesperson.

Lopez says in fact, apprehensions are down in the Valley and in the area around Granjeno, proving there's less overall activity.

He does say if people are concerned about a specific area they should call authorities to alert them to the problem.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conservationists say, ‘We'll take the trees, but no thanks to the border fence.'

Brownsville Herald
June 11, 2009
by Laura Tillman

On the outskirts of Brownsville, where subdivisions and strip malls give way to rust-tinted fields of sorghum, two environmental conservation non-profit organizations are welcoming what they call a "small positive in a sea of negative."

About 300 native sabal palm trees are being scooped out of the path of the border fence and transferred to the Nature Conservancy and Sabal Palm Audubon Center in Brownsville. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving the trees, the only palm species native to South Texas, off of what is now government-owned property at no cost to the nature centers.

Bob Benson, executive director of Audubon Texas, says his organization is concerned about the environmental impact of the border fence, but that the preservation of these trees is a "bright spot."

"Obviously it's making good out of a bad situation," Benson said.

But while Benson is glad to add trees to the Audubon Center, he has bigger worries.

Recently, several ongoing lawsuits between landowners and the federal government raised the question of whether the government could close planned access gates along the fence in the future. If the answer is yes, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen has said that property owners could argue to a jury that the government would be taking not some but all of their property.

Since the Sabal Palm Audubon Center is slated to be entirely behind the border fence once it is built, the center must have a reliable access gate to remain open to the public.

"We've been acting on good faith that we would have these access gates," Benson said. "We're happy to get the trees, but our main concern is those gates. We have to have access to our property."

Because the sabal palm sanctuary is entirely behind the planned path of the border fence, the organization never had to sell land to the Department of Homeland Security to make way for the path of the border fence.

The ongoing border fence debate has depleted tourism to the sanctuary by about 25 percent, Benson said, and he's concerned once the structure goes up the public might not realize they can still visit. So far, the Sabal Palm Audubon Center has cut back its hours and has closed for the summer months.

The Nature Conservancy, which is close to the sabal palm sanctuary, is waiting for its day in court. State Director Laura Huffman says she is still hoping that the conservancy property could be used as testing ground for invisible fence technology.

"The good news is that these three organizations - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon - are working together to save these trees," Huffman said. "The bad news is that if our property is compromised by a fence, then all the good we've accomplished will be lost."

More than 90 percent of the conservancy's property would be behind the fence if it's built.

On Thursday, mechanized tree spades dug snug six-foot inverted pyramids around the base of sabal palm trees and then removed them.

Then the machine dug out matching holes for the trees and slid them into their new homes. Finally, the corresponding holes were filled with the earth extracted from their new locations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completes about eight of these transfers daily.

Once the switch is made, the palms stand a high chance of survival, according to Maxwell Pons, the preserve manager at the Nature Conservancy.

Transplanting, he said, often doesn't work because there is too much wiggle room between the plant and surrounding soil. When the plant moves, fragile roots break, and the plant can't connect firmly to the soil. But with the accurate tree-spade method, the trees will integrate well into their new locations.

About 175 of the palms were destined for the 1,000-acre Nature Conservancy preserve. This preserve already has acres of shady sabal palm groves hugging the riverbank.

Pons, the steward of the refuge, has lived on the property for more than 20 years.

"I see more bobcats than immigrants," said Pons, who said he watched a bobcat run along the riverbank earlier that day.

Pons has seen jaguarundi, snakes, rare birds, and even the occasional ocelot on the rambling land that will soon be behind the border fence. The property is replete with history - both environmental and man made. The groves contain 45-foot sabal palms, some more than 100 years old. In one grove, a small shaded cemetery is home to graves more than 200 years old.

"You can't separate the natural history from the cultural history of the area," Huffman said. "When you stand at that cemetery you really get a historical sense of what that landscape really did look like. These ancient majestic trees are part of the beauty of South Texas."


Drug tunnel discovered beneath U.S-Mexico border

Associated Press / Bakersfield Now
June 11, 2009

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — Another tunnel apparently dug by drug smugglers has been found beneath the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz.

The U.S. Border Patrol said the 83-foot-long tunnel, which was constructed with side walls framed with wooden studs, was found Wednesday. Agency spokesman Michael Scioli says it was large enough for a person to crawl through on their hands and knees.

The discovery followed the arrests of two people last week who were caught digging a hole in the floor of a Nogales building. Agents went to the building after someone reported hearing construction activity inside.

Scioli said it's the 63rd smuggling tunnel found beneath the border in the Nogales area since October 1995, and the 16th since last October.

He said crews would begin filling in the tunnel Thursday.


Texans ask Obama to halt border fence

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
June 11, 2009

McALLEN, Texas — South Texas mayors, county judges and state legislators want President Barack Obama to stop construction of the Mexican border fence until a full review of border security policy is complete.

The Texas Border Coalition sent a letter dated June 9 appealing to Obama as the "last hope."

The Department of Homeland Security has completed about 630 miles of a planned 670 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Legal Case Against Friendship Park Activist Continued

KPBS San Diego
June 10, 2009
by Amy Isackson

The legal case against an activist who tried to block construction of the westernmost section of the border fence was continued Wednesday morning. As KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson explains Dan Watman faces trespassing charges in connection with his effort to save Friendship Park.

On April 8th, Dan Watman stood in front of a bulldozer at Friendship Park.

The Department of Homeland Security had recently sealed off the space with more border fencing.

Watman says he blocked the fence construction for about 40 minutes.

"What I believe as far as far as people making friends across barriers, it was about as symbolic as it could get. That was the last post even with the friendship monument which in my mind represents the friendship between the people of both nations."

Federal agents cited Watman with misdemeanor trespassing charges.

The park had been a crossborder meeting spot for 30 years.

For the last six years, Watman organized activities there like yoga, salsa dancing and language lessons. People on both sides of the fence participated.

Watman says there's a chance federal officials could re-open the park. He's plans to meet with the Border Patrol later this month.


Rare palms moved for border fence

San Antonio Express-News
June 10, 2009
by Lynn Brezosky

BROWNSVILLE — Some 300 rare sabal palm trees are being extracted and relocated to save them from being killed for the government's border fence, the Nature Conservancy of Texas said Wednesday.

The trees, some a century old, are among the last remaining from a palm forest that once flourished along the Rio Grande but was felled for farmland and development.

Most of the remaining trees are now under the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy and Audubon Texas. The latter group maintains a 557-acre sanctuary along the fence path.

With funding and manpower supplied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, the trees are being replanted to other properties owned by the Nature Conservancy and Audubon, including properties that will end up south of the fence.

“For the time being this will at least provide them with a fighting chance,” Nature Conservancy spokesman Paco Felici said. “The alternative is to cut them down.”

The federal government is funding the undertaking, which Nature Conservancy state director Laura Huffman said was a way to “create as much good out of the situation as possible.”

Litigation is pending concerning the fence's path through Conservancy and Audubon properties, Huffman said.

In the Conservancy's case, 700 of 1,200 acres will be cut off by the fence. Questions regarding access and security on the south side haven't been answered.

Huffman said she feared the on-site caretaker could no longer live in an area severed by the fence, and lack of oversight could open the preserve to tree poachers.

“If we cannot continue to protect the sabal palms and the habitat, then the conservation goals have in effect been compromised,” she said. “Owning the tracts and not being able to protect the species is a problem.”


US-Mex border fence completion eludes government

Associated Press
June 10, 2009
by Christopher Sherman

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Nearly six months after the U.S.-Mexico border fence ordered by the Bush administration was supposed to be finished, its completion is in limbo while a judge waits for answers to questions about private property in the fence's path.

About 630 miles of the promised 670-mile-long vehicle and pedestrian barrier is complete, with the unfinished portion in deep south Texas where opposition is fierce and the government has struggled to get the land it needs.

The biggest unfinished segment is a 13-mile stretch that runs east of Brownsville through rich farmland toward the Gulf of Mexico.

While the government has taken steps to smooth the project's path — such as paying to relocate 300 native palm trees from a section near Brownsville — some of its promises are coming under intense scrutiny.

Government possession of several pieces of farmland needed for that final stretch was suspended last month by the judge.

Government lawyers are now scrambling to meet the judge's orders and provide written answers to landowners' most basic questions: What precisely is the government taking, and how will property owners access the thousands of acres of land stranded between the border fence and the Rio Grande?

The answers to those questions could have implications for the dozens of cases scheduled for trial next year to determine how much the government will pay landowners.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen had, until recently, assumed — as did many landowners — that gates the government planned in the fence would always be there to provide access to property on the other side. The Rio Grande's sharp curves and the border fence's relatively straight path leave large swaths of farmland isolated between the river and the fence.

But lawyers for several landowners suggested that the government could someday close or remove the gates. The potential loss of access begged the question of whether the government should pay for not only the land under the fence but also the land stuck between the fence and river that would become worthless.

Hanen asked Justice Department lawyers to lay out the physical land they're taking as well as access to other land.

"Because if I can't get through it (the gate) or I can't get to it without driving 10 miles down the road, I mean, you've taken the back 40," Hanen said during a hearing last month. "If there's not going to be a gate, then that changes the rules."

In that case, Hanen said, every landowner would argue to a jury that the government was taking all of their land down to the riverbank.

"We felt absolutely compelled to raise these issues with the court and every landowner out there whose property is being taken by the government should do the same," Kimberli Loessin, attorney for several property owners covered by the judge's order, said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Otherwise, lawsuits move forward, fence gets built, and compensation gets determined without the government ever admitting to what it is really taking away from landowners."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Hu told Hanen last month that a delay could cost the government $10,000 to $15,000 per day because the construction contract was already awarded and crews were set to begin work. However, the government has itself now asked for an extension until June 19.