Friday, July 29, 2011

Lawyers: Border fence not U.S. tax-deductible

Arizona Business Gazette
July 28, 2011
by Howard Fischer

The prime mover behind the fund to have the state build its own border fence is telling would-be donors they may be able to get a tax deduction out of the whole thing.

But a couple of attorneys with an expertise in tax law say those who decide to list the donations, and reduce what they owe the federal and state government, could wind up with a rude surprise.

The state website set up by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, includes a statement from state Comptroller D. Clark Partridge declaring that, under the Internal Revenue Code, the definition of a charity includes contributions made to a state "if such gift is made exclusively for public purposes." Partridge said Arizona law defines charitable contributions the same as federal rules.

Smith said that, legally speaking, he cannot tell someone that a specific donation qualifies as deductible.

"When you read the comptroller's letter, there's a precedent out there that when you give to a state or a subdivision of - which clearly this would be - it's tax-deductible," he said. "They pretty much say it in black and white."

Partridge, however, takes pains to ensure he does not go that far.

"Although it is not the function of the state to give legal or tax advice, a donation made to the state of Arizona to support a public purpose may qualify as a deduction in determining the donor's federal and Arizona taxable income," he wrote. "Donors should consult with their legal and/or tax advisers for guidance."

Attorney and tax practitioner Bob Kamman said that, on the surface, donations for the state to build a wall would appear to qualify. But, he said, the legislation setting up the fund is not clear enough to assure the Internal Revenue Service, which will review the tax returns, that the money really is going to the state.

He pointed out that the law establishes the Border Security Trust Fund, administered by the treasurer. And the state can be the beneficiary of this fund.

But he also said that the legislation allows Arizona to enter a compact with other border states to pool resources.

In that case, Kamman said, the compact also could be a beneficiary. But the compact organization, unlike the state, does not automatically have tax-exempt status and would have to apply for such a designation.

Kamman said the IRS would be likely to grant it tax-exempt status.

"But that process may take years and may not be retroactive," he said. "I would not assure my clients that gifts to the Border Security Trust Fund, even though administered by the Arizona state treasurer, are deductible on their federal income-tax returns."

That also is the assessment of attorney and tax specialist David Kozak.

He said the whole idea behind the deduction for gifts to governments is largely to benefit those who make donations, like land for public schools, parks and fire stations. He said there is no real precedent among tax-law cases on whether a border fence would qualify.

But Kozak's reasoning in warning off clients goes beyond the tax code itself. He said the whole thing could take on political implications.

He said the deduction is likely to be questioned.

"Assuming the administration and the (U.S.) Treasury is not happy about the border fence - which apparently they're not - it's really easy for them to just deny the deduction," Kozak said. "And then, it will go to trial."

Ultimately, he said, whoever loses there will take the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"And you can guess as well as anyone else what they're going to do," Kozak said. "They're generally thought of as the most liberal of any court of appeals."

At that point, he said, the taxpayer is going to have to make a decision.

"If anyone has enough money in this to make it worth their while, it will go up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court," Kozak said. "But that's years down the road."

He said that, for most taxpayers, the amount of money they would save by taking a deduction on a border-fence donation would not be worth the legal fees involved.

$24.4M for Arizona fence repairs

Arizona Daily Star
July 28, 2011
by Brady McCombs

Border fences, roads and lighting are not only expensive to build, they are costly to repair and maintain.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued a $24.4 million contract to a private firm to perform repairs and maintenance on border barriers, roads, lighting and electrical systems along Arizona’s border with Mexico, announced Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ office.

The contract is the largest of four regionally based agreements that Customs and Border Protection has to maintain fences and roads, said Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Jenny Burke.

It is a one year contract for $7.7 million with two additional one-year options that would make it worth $24.4 million, she said.

The contact — awarded to Houston-based Kellog Brown & Root — includes repairs and maintenance of five areas:

• Fences and gates

• Roads and bridges

• Lighting and electrical systems

• Drainage and grates

• Vegetation control and debris removal

Giffords’ chief of staff, Pia Carusone, applauded the contract, noting that it’s essential that border infrastructure be properly and fully maintained.

Customs and Border Protection agency spends an estimated $97 million annually on this work across the border, Burke said. The 20-year life-cycle costs of maintaining the fences, roads, lighting is estimated at about $6.5 billion, the Government Accountability Office reported in 2009.

The federal government spent $2.4 billion to build 264 miles of pedestrian fencing and 226 miles of vehicle barriers from 2004-2009, the GAO has found. Today, there are a total of 350 miles of pedestrian fences and 299 miles of vehicle barriers along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

More than four-fifths of Arizona's 378 miles of Mexican border have some type of border barrier. There are 123 miles of pedestrian fences, 12- to 25-foot-high barriers designed to stop, or at least slow down, people. There are another 183 miles of vehicle barriers, waist- to chest-high barricades designed to stop cars.

It cost between $2.6 million to $7.4 million per mile to build the new barriers in Arizona. The most recent project, replacing 2.8 miles of old fence in Nogales, cost $4.14 million per mile.

Customs and Border Protection officials acknowledge that fences are not a panacea, but say they help deter, slow and funnel traffic. The impact of barriers on illegal immigration and drug smuggling is unknown because it has not been measured, according to a September 2009 GAO report.

The buildup of fences and roads along the border could have environmental consequences, too. Fencing has caused flooding and erosion, and it could be fragmenting wildlife habitat.

'Invasion' claim over SB 1070 shot down

Arizona Daily Star
July 29, 2011
Howard Fischer

PHOENIX - A federal judge said Thursday that there appears to be no legal basis for a request that she order the Obama administration to do more to protect the border.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton noted that the state wants her to rule the federal government is failing in its mandate to protect the country from "invasion," based on the contention that Arizona and the United States are effectively being invaded by large numbers of illegal immigrants.

But the judge pointed out that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals specifically rejected an identical argument presented by California 14 years ago.

Bolton also said Assistant Attorney General Michael Tryon may be on no more legally secure footing in a separate contention that the federal government is breaking its own law by refusing to fully reimburse Arizona for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who have violated state laws. Instead, Arizona and other states with similar costs get what Tryon called "pennies on the dollar."

"Everyone is getting pennies on the dollar," Bolton responded, noting that Congress has never appropriated enough money to cover all of the costs of all of the states. "I don't have the authority to tell Congress to give the Department of Justice more money."

Thursday's hearing was on a request by the Obama administration that Bolton throw out the claims the state filed against the federal government earlier this year, which are actually counterclaims to the decision by the administration to challenge the key provisions of SB 1070, last year's far-reaching measure designed to give state and local police more power to detain and arrest illegal immigrants.

Bolton has so far sided with the federal government on much of that original lawsuit, enjoining the state from enforcing key provisions of the law until there can be a full trial on the merits. And that is unlikely to occur before next year.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who attended Thursday's hearing, said afterward that she remains hopeful Bolton will allow the state to pursue its claims, despite the judge's comments.

"We know it's an uphill battle," Brewer said.

"I understand there was a precedent set," the governor said of the 14-year-old appellate court ruling. But Brewer said "things have changed" since then.

Tryon tried the same argument in court. For example, he said, Congress has since passed a law requiring the Department of Homeland Security - which did not exist at the time - to gain "operational control" of the border.

Bolton did not appear to buy that argument.

She said the 9th Circuit has ruled the requirement of the federal government to protect its citizens from invasion refers only to actions by a foreign power.

Varu Chilakamarri, an assistant U.S. attorney general, agreed that federal law does require Homeland Security to achieve "operational control" of the border. But she said Congress set that only as a goal, leaving it up to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to determine exactly how to achieve it.

"She is the only one who has an eye across the entire border," Chilakamarri said.

Similarly, Chilakamarri said there is no basis for the state to demand that Homeland Security build more miles of fence along the Arizona-Mexico border.

She said that while Congress directed the agency to build 700 miles of fence, lawmakers provided no deadline. And Chilakamarri said Congress left it up to Napolitano to decide where to put that along the nearly 2,000-mile international border.

That means Arizona cannot seek a court order demanding that Arizona get more miles of fence, Chilakamarri said. At this point, she said, 649 miles have been constructed, with more than 300 miles of that in Arizona.

The state's claim over its prison costs springs from a federal law requiring the Justice Department to reimburse states for locking up people here illegally who have been convicted of violating state laws.

The law authorizes funding at $950 million a year. But the Obama administration has requested - and Congress has authorized - only a fraction of that amount. That amount is split among the states based on the number of inmates.

Bolton told Tryon that judges cannot tell the Justice Department how to divide up its money. Tryon, however, said the formula amounts to an "abuse of discretion" by the agency, something that is within the judge's power.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Border-fence website raises more than $80K

Arizona Daily Star
July 22, 2011
by Brady McCombs

More than $80,000 in donations have come in to a website set up to raise money for a state-supported border fence.

Through Thursday at 5 p.m., the website has received donations from 1,837 people for a total of $80,014, said Mike Philipsen, spokesman for Senate Republicans. Donations have come from every state in the union, he said.

The website went live Wednesday at 12:01 p.m. under a bill passed by the Arizona Legislature in April and sponsored by first year Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa. Smith said he won't accept the federal government's stance that there are enough barriers along the border.

More than four-fifths of Arizona's 378 miles of Mexican border have some type of border barrier already. There are 123 miles of pedestrian fences, 12- to 25-foot-high barriers designed to stop, or at least slow down, people. There are another 183 miles of vehicle barriers, waist- to chest-high barricades designed to stop cars.

If donations continue coming in as briskly as they did the first two days, it would take about 130 days to raise enough money - $5.2 million - to build at least two miles of the type of border fence Smith envisions.

Smith said his wish would be to build an 18-foot-high steel beam fence such as the one up along 6.24 miles of border west of the San Pedro River in Cochise County. That fence was built by Kiewit Western Co. under a $16.6 million contract in 2008 - an average of $2.6 million per mile, information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows.

It cost between $2.6 million to $7.4 million per mile to build hundreds of miles of new fencing in Arizona over the last five years. The most recent project, replacing 2.8 miles of old fence in Nogales, cost $4.14 million per mile.

But Smith expects a state-supported fence to cost less because the state would use inmate labor at 50 cents an hour and because he expects competitive bids from construction companies.

What is the impact of the border fence on Texas animals?

Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine
August 2011
by Rob McCorkle

On a mild December day in the subtropical Rio Grande Valley, I’m following wildlife biologist Steve Benn along U.S. Highway 281 southeast of Weslaco toward the Hidalgo-Cameron County line. Winter crops like cabbage and onions poke from fecund Rio Grande delta soil along the narrow blacktop that heads south toward the river. An ink-black indigo snake — one of the Valley’s rare species — slithers across the road.

Pulling up behind Benn’s Texas Parks and Wildlife Department truck just north of the levee next to a large gap in the border wall, which rises 18 feet from the dirt, I spot two bobcats about 30 yards away on a bulldozed road that parallels the wall. Cut off to the south by the concrete and steel wall, the cats cast a furtive glance my way before wheeling and dashing north into the thin line of brush adjacent to the bare sugar cane fields just beyond. Had we not been parked next to the gap in this segment of the border wall on TPWD property, where federal government contractors will eventually install a gate, the cats might have slipped through and headed south toward the Rio Grande.

Though I’d read about the fence and seen photos, seeing the border wall with my own eyes bordered on the surreal. Broken segments of the 18-foot-tall, picket-like steel fencing zigzag across the tabletop-flat South Texas landscape, often beginning and ending in the middle of a field, visible at times from the highway, while at other times hidden beyond a distant tree line. While news coverage in the past few years has focused on the wall’s human-related purpose and impacts, little has been communicated about what effects the border fence might have on wildlife, land management practices and ecotourism in one of the state’s most impoverished regions.

* * *

The imposing fence inside the Anacua Unit of the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area represents but one small part of Texas’ 110 miles of the 670 miles of congressionally mandated Southwest border fence hopscotching across the almost 2,000 miles of border from San Diego to Brownsville to deter drug smuggling and illegal crossings from Mexico into the United States.

In the lower Rio Grande Valley, all but a few of the 22 segments of the called-for 70 miles of pedestrian fencing (as opposed to vehicle fencing) already have been built under the direction of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of the shorter segments measure about a mile in length and were erected adjacent to international bridges or at traditionally heavily trafficked border crossings.

The half-mile-long Anacua Unit segment sits in the middle of 2.52 acres purchased by the federal government under condemnation proceedings initiated by the Department of Homeland Security under authority of the Secure Fence Act. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission opposed the land seizure, expressing concern that it would negatively affect wildlife habitat conservation efforts begun some 40 years ago in one of North America’s most important ecological regions, where nature tourism produces a $125 million-a-year economic impact. But federal authorities got the property and installed bollard-type fencing on a 60-foot-wide strip of land in the heart of the unit.

“When finished, and the gate’s put in, bobcats and many other terrestrial wildlife won’t be able to get through this fence here,” explains Benn, project leader for the 3,300-acre Las Palomas WMA, originally purchased by TPWD for white-winged dove nesting habitat with federal excise taxes on hunting equipment and white-winged dove stamp sales. The Anacua Unit is one of 18 units that make up the WMA, and three of them are adversely affected by the wall. “There’s only a 4-inch gap between the steel bars, and with the bars set into a 9-foot-deep concrete trench, animals won’t be able to burrow under it.”

The wildlife biologist worries that the border fence will only compound the Valley’s ongoing habitat fragmentation. He says the wall complicates the area’s wildlife management efforts and threatens indigenous rare species such as the ocelot, Texas tortoise, indigo snake and Texas horned lizard. Benn wonders, too, where animals trapped north of the wall, away from the river, will find drinking water.

Ironically, the wall has gone up in an area where TPWD, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an army of conservation organizations have spent more than $150 million and several decades acquiring acreage and restoring native habitat in the Valley, where 95 percent of the Tamaulipan thornscrub and riparian woodlands has been eradicated. The result is a sprawling checkerboard of almost 200,000 acres under conservation protection in the Rio Grande delta, a government-protected wildlife corridor that facilitates animal migration and supports plant and animal diversity.

Conservationists fear the border wall will reverse much of that progress and hasten the demise of species such as the endangered ocelot, whose breeding U.S. population — confined to South Texas ranchland and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge — has dropped below 100.

* * *

In the field of wildlife biology, empirical evidence rules. But trying to discern just what kind of impact the still-unfinished border wall is having on wildlife proves to be a less-than-exact science. USFWS and TPWD biologists in 2008 struggled to establish baseline data before fence installation.

Biologists trapped and collared bobcats in several areas, including the Anacua tract, so they could track their movements as the wall went up. At TPWD’s Champion Unit in Hidalgo County, managed by the USFWS, biologists did a series of three-minute bird counts before fence construction began to see how bird populations might be affected by any habitat destruction, as well as the noise associated with building the fence and future U.S. Border Patrol operations. Although birds can fly over any barrier, conservationists note that destruction of riparian habitat for wall construction means many bird species would have less habitat in which to survive.

Much of the Valley’s wildlife exists in the USFWS South Texas Refuge Complex. The Santa Ana, Laguna Atascosa and Lower Rio Grande Valley national wildlife refuges include 100 tracts totaling 180,000 acres. Biologists and volunteers sampled wildlife and bird populations along wall segments being built inside the complex.

USFWS wildlife biologist Mitch Sternberg coordinates biological programs for the refuge complex. He oversaw pre- and post-construction wildlife track surveys conducted along roads at the base of four sections of the fence in Cameron County south and east of Brownsville in the Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, the Southmost Preserve and Boscaje de la Palma.

Biologists found numerous animal tracks from coyotes, lizards, snakes and raccoons skirting the end of the fence segments, which typically abut roads used to access the river levee. In addition, biologists found that the wildlife crossings (8-by-11-inch “cat holes”) were being frequented primarily by raccoons. While the more than 300 passages incorporated into the various Valley fence segments at the request of USFWS can accommodate smaller terrestrial creatures, they are too small to allow passage of larger animals, such as coyotes, bobcats or tortoises.

In the summer of 2009, Sternberg conducted bobcat tracking surveys at several future fence construction sites. He set up infrared cameras near several wildlife corridors along natural drainages. Sternberg followed the movements of a bobcat mating pair and their kitten as construction got under way. When an adult female came into their territory, the bobcat pair killed her.

“In December, I saw both the male and female dead by Highway 281,” Stern recalls. “Their territory had been squeezed down to 400 square yards of agricultural fields and brush near the wall and highway. They were likely searching for more territory. There are 600 acres of brush south of the wall, but it was a mile to the gate opening and they didn’t find it.”

In Arizona, the border fence has been in place long enough for conservation scientists and others to track some of the consequences caused by fragmented habitat for specific wildlife populations. Aaron Flesch, senior research specialist with the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, documented some of the effects of habitat connectivity issues on desert bighorn sheep and ferruginous pygmy owls in an article published in Conservation Biology.

Of the diminutive owls that tend to fly only a few feet off the ground, Flesch wrote: “They tend to avoid large vegetation openings. And when they encounter large vegetation openings greater than 200 meters, they tend to turn around.” He concluded that large vegetation gaps coupled with tall fences “could limit trans-boundary movements” of the owls.

Flesch’s team also concluded that the “disruption of trans-boundary movement corridors by impermeable fencing would isolate some populations [of female bighorn sheep] on the Arizona side,” likely having a negative effect on the overall population living in the resulting fragmented Arizona habitat.

Flesch and his team suggested additional funding was needed to support research among governmental agencies, universities and other organizations to find the best ways to balance border security and the needs of wildlife species.

To that end, a team of University of Arizona researchers working with the U.S. Geological Survey in 2010 developed a protocol for monitoring the border wall’s potential effects on wildlife to help identify locations that need to have mitigation actions. It has been submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Homeland Security and is still under review.

“What we’ve got now is anecdotal information and studies that look at one species or one section, but we really need a comprehensive analysis of the impacts over a large stretch of the area,” says Laura Lopez-Hoffman, assistant professor of the university’s School of Natural Resources.

Nancy Brown, public outreach specialist for the South Texas Refuge Complex, estimates the border wall has affected 60 to 75 percent of the complex’s land. Three-quarters of the federally owned acreage fronts the Rio Grande, which snakes for 275 miles through the Valley. In her Santa Ana NWR office is a map of the green swath of the river corridor marked with red squiggles that look like tiny worms, denoting the proposed segments of the wall to be built between Brownsville and Lake Falcon.

In Hidalgo County, contractors built roughly 20 miles of concrete wall — not along the river, but atop the meandering earthen levees that protect the southern part of the county from floodwaters. Here, no wildlife passages exist at the wall’s base.

The opposite end of the county is home to the Valley Nature Center. Overseeing the center’s operations in the heart of Weslaco is Martin Hagne, who moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 1979 and serves on the board of the Friends of Santa Ana NWR.

While the wall’s present impact on the Valley ecology and wildlife is just now becoming known, at least anecdotally, Hagne frets over the long-term effects of closing off wildlife corridors in so many different places, where the river sometimes takes wicked twists and turns.

Although the Valley Nature Center is far enough inland not to be impacted, the wall has affected operations at two of Cameron County’s most significant nature preserves bordering the Rio Grande.

Uncertainties surrounding the wall’s construction and access issues forced Audubon in May 2009 to close its Sabal Palm sanctuary, home to the nation’s last substantial stand of the subtropical sabal palm. The 527-acre nature preserve did reopen in January 2011 when a private group, the Gorgas Science Foundation of Brownsville, stepped forward to help fund and run the refuge.

A few miles downriver lies the 1,034-acre Southmost Preserve, another major native sabal palm sanctuary as well as a native plant nursery, organic citrus operation and critical native wildlife habitat for rare snakes, cats and other critters. The Nature Conservancy has filed suit contesting U.S. condemnation and seizure of eight acres that today hosts a 6,000-foot-long, 60-foot-wide strip of land bisected by the border fence. Its location cuts off the northernmost part of the preserve, isolating 900 acres between the wall and Rio Grande in what critics call a “no man’s land.” Preserve operators find themselves grappling with myriad land management challenges.

“My concern now is how do we manage the property, operate the nursery where we’re growing 80,000 seedlings under contract with the USFWS and keep the wetlands and resacas pumped full of water,” says John Herron, the Nature Conservancy’s director of conservation.

Herron says many people don’t realize that the fence doesn’t follow the river, that huge gaps exist between fence sections and that hundreds of acres end up stranded between the wall and river.

“The fence is exempted from environmental laws, so there hasn’t been any assessment of the environmental impact,” Herron says. “Who should pay for that? The USFWS hasn’t been given any money for that, nor have we. Here we are three years into it and there are lots of areas with no clarity.”

Fifth-generation South Texan Max Pons, who manages the preserve and lives on the property, hopes the wall’s presence doesn’t threaten the preserve’s wildlife that thrives amid the native Tamaulipan thornscrub and ancient stands of Sabal mexicana. The native palms once forested much of the Rio Grande Valley, but are now found only in deep South Texas and northern Mexico. Each palm, which can grow up to 40 feet tall, creates a micro-habitat of its own.

“You can have a population of southern yellow bats living under its leaves,” Pons explains, “and turkeys and other birds nesting and roosting. Invertebrates collect in leaf litter at the base, which attracts lizards and snakes such as the endangered indigo. Wood rats live in the trees and hop from one tree to the other.”

Pons credits the federal government, however, with working with him and other conservation agencies to try to mitigate some of the wall’s impact on wildlife. On a drive along a recently installed wall segment, he gets out to show me a hard-to-spot, notebook-paper-size opening that has been cut out at the bottom of the steel fencing to allow snakes and other small critters to pass through. In another concession to conservation organizations, he says federal contractors dug up several hundred sabal palms in the fence right-of-way for replanting at Southmost Preserve, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary and Bosque de la Palma NWR.

Some representatives of the Valley’s lucrative nature tourism industry, a business fueled by world-class birding that draws enthusiasts hoping to add such local specialty birds as the green jay and chachalaca to their life lists, worry about the wall’s impact on local economies.

Nancy Millar, director of the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau, says news of the border wall has already resulted in one British birding company canceling future tours to the area. And, she says she gets plenty of questions about the impact of the fence when she attends travel shows in the U.S. and abroad.

For Keith Hackland, president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor and owner of the Alamo Inn and Outdoor Store in Alamo, concerns remain about what impact the border wall will have on prime birding spots in riparian forests farther upriver.

“The greatest fear I have is for the part of the wall being built from Rio Grande City to Falcon Dam in Starr County,” Hackland says, “because the plan is to place it along the river. Clearing the narrow strip of riparian forest on the banks would be an ecological disaster, eliminating the red-billed pigeon, Audubon’s oriole, Muscovy duck and all of the rare nesting birds.”

He contends that such habitat destruction in such an ecologically rich region blessed with more than 500 bird and 300 butterfly species will have a huge impact on wildlife,
conservation efforts and the economy.

“If nature tourists lose confidence in this area and can’t access the river forest,” Hackland says during my visit to his inn, “I’ll be looking for new use for this building. They are the ones who pay the bills and help make this enterprise work.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fundraising website for border fence starts quest

Arizona Daily Star
July 20, 2011
by Brady McCombs

The website where people can donate to build a state-supported border fence is up - but it'll likely take millions of dollars for the ballyhooed plan to lead to actual construction.

Modern, sturdy border fences are expensive - it cost between $2.6 million to $7.4 million per mile to build hundreds of miles of new fencing in Arizona over the last five years. The most recent project, replacing 2.8 miles of old fence in Nogales, cost $4.14 million per mile.

The Arizona lawmaker who sponsored the fence bill is aware of the high costs, but Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, says that standing by and accepting the federal government's refusal to build more fences is not an option.

"Somebody has to put the first foot on the ladder and start climbing," said Smith. "Border security is the name of the game. That's why we are doing this."

Under the legislation passed in April, the governor is allowed to enter an "interstate compact" to build and maintain an international border fence using private or public donations.

Critics call Smith's plan a misguided stunt that will only inflict more damage on the border environment that has already been harmed by the unprecedented buildup of barriers, roads and agents in the last decade.

"Their intent is to score some cheap political points by acting tough on immigration," said Dan Millis, program coordinator for the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign. "These lawmakers are misled if they think this a project they are going to be able to complete."

More than four-fifths of Arizona's 378 miles of Mexican border have some type of border barrier already. There are 123 miles of pedestrian fences, 12- to 25-foot-high barriers designed to stop, or at least slow down, people. There are another 183 miles of vehicle barriers, waist- to chest-high barricades designed to stop cars.

The rest of the Arizona-Mexico border doesn't have barriers due to natural barriers such as mountains and other difficult terrain, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Victor Brabble.

The agency declined to comment on the state project because it is a state legislative issue, Brabble said.

The federal government spent $2.4 billion to build 264 miles of pedestrian fencing and 226 miles of vehicle barriers from 2004-2009, the Government Accountability Office reported in 2009. Today, there are a total of 350 miles of pedestrian fences and 299 miles of vehicle barriers along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

Customs and Border Protection officials acknowledge that fences are not a panacea, but say they help deter, slow and funnel traffic. The impact of barriers on illegal immigration and drug smuggling is unknown because it has not been measured, according to a September 2009 GAO report.

Saying the fence is "basically complete," as President Obama did during a May 10 speech in El Paso, is disingenuous because the vehicle barriers are not fences, Smith said.

"It might stop a car, but it certainly isn't going to stop anyone on foot," Smith said. "If we really had a secure border and fencing that is adequate, explain to me how we have 12 million illegal aliens in this country?"

The type of fence built will be contingent on how much money is raised and upon the decision of the committee that will be formed, Smith said. But his wish would be to build an 18-foot high steel beam fence such as a the one up along 6.24 miles of border west of the San Pedro River in Cochise County.

"That's exactly what I think the state needs," Smith said.

That fence was built by Kiewit Western Company under a $16.6 million contract in 2008 - an average of $2.6 million per mile, information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows.

But this fence should cost less because under the legislation approved in April, the state would use inmate labor at 50 cents an hour, Smith said. He also expects very competitive bids from construction companies.

Ideally, they'll be able to build fence on the federal government's 60-foot "Roosevelt easement" right next to the border, Smith said. But he's not expecting to get permission and said he's already identified several tracts of state or privately owned land that are highly trafficked areas where a fence would be helpful.

If they are able to raise enough money to build fences, it will be bad news for border wildlife and habitat, Millis said.

While it could take years to fully gauge the environmental toll of border fences, there are already examples of flooding caused by the barriers and wildlife being blocked by the barriers.

A recent study in the Diversity and Distributions journal of amphibian, reptile and some mammal species that live along the border found that additional barriers would further increase the number of threatened species whose survival would be at risk, Millis said.

"That's why we are fighting so hard against additional barriers," Millis said. "We're already seeing problems."

Smith said they won't build fences through riverbeds, for instance, and that there will always be open sections for animals to migrate.

The website - - will be simple, offering opportunities to donate online or by mail with a simple click of a button. It will also feature a letter from Smith about why the fence is needed.

"No matter if you live in Arizona or Maryland, you will be able to clearly understand the problem we are facing and why we need to do something about it," Smith said.

He hopes to get donations from all over the country from people who recognize illegal immigrants and drug smugglers who cross through Arizona end up throughout the nation. Donors will be able to print out a certificate that shows they donated to the border fence, he said.

If they can't raise the millions needed to build a fence, Smith said the project may at least pressure the federal government into continuing to build more fences.

This isn't the first time the state has set up a special fund for a border-related cause. In 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer set up a defense fund to accept private donations to pay the legal costs in fighting challenges to SB 1070. To date, more than 45,000 people had given almost $3.8 million to the fund, said spokesman Matthew Benson.

As soon as they have enough money in the fence fund, construction can begin, Smith said.

"I have teams that are ready now," he said. "It's all contingent on the amount of money raised."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Critics blast proposal while supporters decry limitations

Nogales International / Cronkite News
July 12, 2011
by Matthew Trotter

A bill that would grant the Department of Homeland Security unprecedented access to federal lands near the border was sharply criticized Friday for giving the department unchecked authority.

The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would let DHS waive 36 environmental-protection laws for patrol activities within 100 miles of U.S. borders.

Opponents of the legislation went so far as to call the bill, HR 1505, “particularly stupid” during Friday’s hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. They called it overly broad and said it opened the door for DHS to completely disregard environmental-protection laws.

“1505 may succeed in decreasing immigration, but only because the water, air and environments of border communities will be so degraded, no one will want to come here,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who represents Nogales and Rio Rico in Congress.

John Leshy, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, testified that the legislation would make DHS “immune from review by the courts, except for constitutional claims.”

Supporters of the bill, however, said the current setup — a memorandum of understanding between DHS and federal land-management agencies — makes it impossible for Border Patrol to do its job.

“There’s a problem here in that Border Patrol is being restricted,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the bill’s sponsor. “They are not the problem.”

The memorandum of understanding requires Border Patrol officials to get permission from land-management agencies before conducting operations on federal lands, from maintaining roads to installing surveillance systems.

Claude Guyant, founder of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, said the current system is an unnecessary distraction.

“Border Patrol’s focus must be on preventing illegal entry,” said Guyant.

While Border Patrol agents have the discretion to bend some rules in emergency situations, they typically have to comply with all laws affecting an area they want to access. In designated wilderness areas, for example, that would mean traveling only on foot or horseback.

Kim Thorsen, an Interior Department law enforcement official, testified that Border Patrol agents do have the latitude to do their jobs under the current setup.

“There is absolutely no restriction for Border Patrol to pursue anyone anywhere on federal lands,” said Thorsen, the Interior deputy assistant secretary for law enforcement, security and emergency management.

In April, the Government Accountability Office reported the agreement had its flaws and the agencies were not always in full cooperation, but that most of the supervising officers surveyed said federal land laws were not affecting their areas’ security.

But Gary Thrasher, a veterinarian and rancher from Hereford, Ariz., told the committee he’s witnessed the impact of federal land laws on border security.

Thrasher, an Arizona Cattle Growers Association board member, said that more than once he’s had immigrants “crawl through the cat door” to spend the night in his locked barn.

Republicans on the committee said the bill was an attempt at keeping citizens like Thrasher safe, not a way of granting DHS unlimited power.

“All we’re trying to do is protect our nation, protect the people of the United States,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.

Leshy — referencing the unchecked power of the British king who moved the U.S. to declare its independence — said those who oppose the bill are also trying to protect the people.

“1505 would make DHS the George III of our age,” he said.

Bill proposes Homeland Security takeover of National Seashore, coastal locations

Cape Cod Day
July 14, 2011
by Kaimi Rose Lum

PROVINCETOWN — A bill proposing to give the Dept. of Homeland Security ultimate control over federal lands located along maritime and international borders, including Cape Cod National Seashore, is making its rounds in the U.S. House of Representatives.

HR Bill 1505, the “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” would force the Secretary of the Interior to cede authority of coastal public lands, as well as lands located along the borders of Canada and Mexico, to the Secretary of Homeland Security when the latter sees fit. It would give the Dept. of Homeland Security the ability to construct roads and fences, deploy patrol vehicles and set up “monitoring equipment” in the National Seashore with impunity. And it would waive the need for the Dept. of Homeland Security to comply with environmental laws in areas within 100 miles of a coastline or international border.

The laws from which the Dept. of Homeland Security would be exempt include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Air Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and virtually every other piece of environmental legislation passed by Congress.

Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, introduced the bill in April. It was referred to the House committees on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Homeland Security, and on Friday, July 8, had its first hearing before the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, of which Bishop is chair.

Although it’s in its early phases, the proposed law has already met with strong criticism from Lynn Scarlett, a former deputy Interior secretary under President George W. Bush. And a spokesperson for Congressman William Keating (10th District) said Tuesday that the bill was in need of further clarification.

“While HR 1505 is just starting to be reviewed by the appropriate committees and as such, is subject to extensive modification, Congressman Keating believes the legislation in its current form needs to be clarified so as to appropriately assess the border security risk levels of various locations throughout the country and balance our national security against other vital protections, such as environmental safeguards, which should not be discarded haphazardly,” said Lauren Amendolaro, communications director for Keating.

Keating currently sits on the House committee on Homeland Security.

The Pew Environment Group has condemned the bill, calling it a “sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws” that has little to do with accomplishing the goal of national security.

“Instead, the proposed legislation would give unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands, impair downstream water quality and restrict activities such as hunting, fishing and grazing. It would leave Congress and the public without a voice, even though at stake are hundreds of popular destinations,” including Glacier National Park, the Great Lakes, the California coastline and Cape Cod, said Jane Danowitz, director of U.S. public lands for the Pew Environment Group.

Areas in which environmental laws would be waived under the proposed law include the entire border of Alaska, most of Puerto Rico, all of Hawaii and all of Florida. Other national parks that be would affected include Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainer National Park in Washington, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Big Bend National Park in Texas, Acadia National Park in Maine and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.

The text of the bill states that its purpose is to “prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes.”

Congress' border security bill could have big impact in Maine

Sun Journal
July 14
by Steve Mistler

Environmentalists and the state's congressional delegation are closely monitoring a controversial bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to waive dozens of federal environmental laws along the nation's borders and coastline.

If enacted as written, the legislation could have a significant impact in Maine. The proposed broadening of Homeland Security power would allow the agency to conduct activities across the entire state while avoiding any one of 36 federal environmental regulations, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The legislation is born of congressional lawmakers' concerns over illegal immigration and increased calls to tighten border and coastal security.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who in April argued that a "turf war" between land managers and Homeland Security prevented border patrol agents from effectively enforcing the southern border with Mexico.

But the proposal also includes a 100-mile waiver belt that wraps around the nation's northern and southern borders and its coastline. The zone engulfs several entire states, including Maine.

Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environmental Group, based in Washington, D.C., said the bill would allow DHS to unilaterally waive 36 core environmental laws without consulting state or federal agencies.

"People in Maine, certainly people in the country, think that our borders should be safe and secure," Danowitz said. "But this, a sweeping waiver of environmental laws, doesn’t seem to be the way to accomplish this goal."

Jane West of the Conservation Law Foundation said the bill could have a wide range of consequences, including the impairment of hunting and fishing habitat.

"Imagine if the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was completely waived for the North Woods," West said. "Nesting eagles now could potentially have their habitat completely destroyed because Homeland Security deems that a fence may be appropriate for that particular area."

Opponents also note that DHS already has authority to bypass federal environmental laws through a 2006 memorandum of understanding drafted under President George W. Bush.

According to Danowitz, the memo includes checks and balances not present in the federal bill, H.R. 1505.

Rep. Bishop said during the bill's April 15 hearing that bureaucracy among agencies prevented the U.S. Border Patrol from moving quickly to plug holes in the border or to install surveillance and security equipment.

Bishop cited one case in which it took four months for Border Patrol to obtain a waiver from the required land manager to install a mobile surveillance camera. The result, he said, was a porous border where violence and drug and human trafficking were rampant — arguments he attempted to reinforce with a video set to foreboding music.

"People are being assaulted, raped and murdered on American land," Bishop said.

While the bill's opponents concede there are problems on the southern border, they are concerned about the breadth of DHS empowerment in H.R. 1505.

Former Clinton administration Department of Interior Solicitor General John Leshy told lawmakers in April that the bill was the "most breathtakingly extreme legislative proposal of its kind."

Leshy said the bill effectively would allow Homeland Security, armed with 200,000 employees and a $55 billion budget, to "do what they want, without any advance notice, check, or process." He said such activity might include building fences, barracks or support equipment that would restrict the public's recreational and commercial activities.

Environmentalists hope the ranging impacts will be scaled back as the bill makes its way through Congress. However, West, with the Conservation Law Foundation, worried about the Washington political climate.

"Right now, it’s popular to cut the head off anything that looks green, especially when you throw in that immigration dynamic," West said.

Most of the state's congressional delegation have responded cautiously to H.R. 1505.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called for tighter border security along the northern border. Collins cited a Government Accountability Office report that called for additional oversight and coordination between U.S. and Canadian authorities to prevent drug trafficking and other illegal activity.

In a written statement, Collins said gaps in border security made the country vulnerable to criminal activity and terrorism, but added that "securing our borders and protecting our environment need not be conflicting goals."

Collins also cited testimony from President Barack Obama's administration that securing the border would result in less harm to the environment.

That argument was also made by Bishop, who said in April, "It's not national security that threatens our environment. It's a lack of national security that threatens our environment."

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a written statement that securing the country's "porous borders" while protecting the environment were not mutually exclusive goals.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, was more critical of the legislation, saying that he wasn't sure it solved the problem of border security. He encouraged better cooperation among the agencies.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, opposed the bill outright.

"I just don’t see how protecting endangered species and clean water stands in the way of national security," Pingree wrote in a statement.

She added, “We should certainly do everything to tighten our borders and make sure agencies are working together. But that doesn’t mean we should give Homeland Security the power to damage our environment and our way of life while they do it.”

Pew skewers border-security bill that would roll back environmental laws on public lands

Colorado Independent
July 8, 2011
by David O. Williams

Pew Environment Group officials on Thursday said a proposed U.S. House bill aimed at increasing border security gives “unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands …”

The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), debated Thursday by the House Natural Resources Committee, would allow the Department of Homeland Security to override 36 environmental laws and other types of laws governing the management of federal, state and private lands within 100 miles of the United States border and coastline.

“While we strongly support making America’s borders more secure, this sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws has little to do with accomplishing that goal,” said Jane Danowitz, Pew Environment Group’s director of U.S. public lands.

Introduced in April by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, H.R. 1505 would “prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes.”

Bishop is chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and his bill would apply to 10 states in their entirety, including all of Hawaii and Florida (see detailed Pew map).

“The proposed legislation would give unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands, impair downstream water quality and restrict activities such as hunting, fishing and grazing. It would leave Congress and the public without a voice, even though at stake are hundreds of popular destinations including Glacier National Park, the Florida Everglades and beaches along Cape Cod, the Great Lakes and the California coastline,” Danowitz said.

All in the name of border security, the bill would waive the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Wilderness Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Park Service Organic Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

“We urge lawmakers to reject this and any future attempt to undercut fundamental environmental protections that have been on the books for decades,” Danowitz concluded.

US-Mexico border disturbs ecology

Daily Texan
July 14, 2011
by Diego Cruz

A UT study reveals that barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border are disturbing ecosystems and endangering animal species in the area.

The study assessed the impact barriers have on the ecosystems they bisect along the 750-mile border.

Researchers analyzed data that conservation organizations have compiled over several years to compare the locations of ecosystems with those of border barriers, said Jesse Lasky, ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student and co-author of the study.

Lasky said the study, which began in Spring 2009 and was published in May, found 50 vulnerable species populations, including the Coues’ Rice Rat, the Jaguarundi, which is a small feline, and the California red-legged toad.

“By creating barriers, you can actually limit the amount of species that can get to an ecosystem, so there’s a real possibility that you could end up with a loss of diversity,” he said.

Many of the species are also found in environments away from the border, meaning any impacts would spread, Lasky said.

He said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is exempted from following environmental regulations when building barriers, which makes stopping their production nearly impossible.

Timothy Keitt, associate professor of integrative biology and study co-author, said the different barriers limit migrations between populations around the borders and impact genetic diversity.

Keitt said the most severely endangered species have smaller ranges and population sizes that were being divided by barriers, which threaten the loss of their genetic history.

“It presents a really interesting challenge because just the general nature of species that span geopolitical boundaries lead to potential differences,” he said.

Keitt said a number of conservation groups, non-governmental organizations and government agencies are interested in the problem and gathering data, but it will still take time to get a clearer picture of the situation.

The impact of barriers can be quite severe in the long run since ecosystems depend on interactions between species, said Sahotra Sarkar, philosophy and section of integrative
biology professor.

Sarkar said there was a lot of concern in both the U.S. and Mexico, and it was a constitutional obligation to attempt to preserve endangered species.

“I don’t know of anybody who thinks that, ecologically, putting up those fences would be a good idea,” Sarkar said, “I think the only option in the long run is to remove the barriers.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Violence on U.S.-Mexico border declines

Deseret News
July 18, 2011
by Elizabeth Stuart

Violent crime along the U.S.-Mexico border is on the decline, according to a recent USA Today analysis.

U.S. border cities are statistically safer on average than other places in their respective states, according to the analysis, which drew upon data from more than 1,600 local law enforcement agencies, federal crime statistics and interviews in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The murder and robbery rates in cities within 50 miles of Mexico's border were lower than the state average in nearly every year from 1998 to 2009, according to the report. The number of FBI kidnapping cases along the border fell from 62 in 2009 to 25 in 2010 and 10 so far in 2011.

"Over the last five years, whether you take a look at violent crime or property crime, we've seen a 30 percent decrease," said Chula Vista (Calif.) Police Chief David Bejarano, whose city is seven miles from Tijuana.

The study flies in the face of public perception. Eighty-three percent of Americans believe the rate of violence along the southwestern border is higher than the rest of the country, according to a recent Gallup Poll. Politicians have painted a bloody picture of America's southwestern border in recent months, telling stories of human skulls rolling through the desert and using words like "out of control" to describe the drug violence spilling out of northern Mexico.

"Of course there is spillover violence along the border," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said during a recent congressional hearing. "It is not secure and it has never been more violent or dangerous than it is today. Anyone who lives down there will tell you that."

When presented with the study, some saw the numbers as proof that the violence has been exaggerated to promote political agendas like "stalling efforts to pass a national immigration reform law" and "fueling stringent anti-immigration laws in Arizona and elsewhere," USA Today reported.

In Arizona, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor expressed frustration about reports of violence.

"It's so distressing and frustrating to read about these reports about crime going up everywhere along the border, when I know for a fact that the numbers don't support those allegations," he said.

Others maintain, though, that the study was not an accurate portrayal of the situation in border cities.

"I have families and citizens in my county, 70 miles north of the border, who don't feel safe in their homes," Phoenix Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told KTAR. "This is not a time to high-five and say everything is fine."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

SCC opposes move to back DHS environmental waiver

Nogales International
July 12, 2011
by Jonathan Clark

A proposal for the upcoming meeting of the National Association of Counties would see the organization support a bill that seeks to waive environmental laws on certain federal lands in the name of border security. But the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors is critical of the plan, and passed a resolution last week urging the association not to back it.

The pending legislation, known as the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, or HR 1505, would exempt the Department of Homeland Security and its subordinate agencies from more than 30 environmental regulations on federal lands within 100 miles of any U.S. border or coastline.

The pending legislation, known as the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, or HR 1505, would exempt the Department of Homeland Security and its subordinate agencies from more than 30 environmental regulations on federal lands within 100 miles of any U.S. border or coastline. A resolution sponsored by five county officials from Utah and Arizona would have the National Association of Counties (NACo) urge Congress to pass the measure during its annual conference starting July 15 in Portland, Ore.

But by a 2-1 vote, the local board of supervisors passed its own resolution on July 6 to oppose the move. Supervisor John Maynard, who introduced the resolution, said that among other problems, HR 1505 raises questions of fairness.

“If law enforcement in the state of Arizona, or for that matter in our county or sheriff’s department, has to follow regulations, then I feel the officers in the federal government should have to follow those same regulations,” he said.

As for the proposed NACo resolution, Maynard noted that is not sponsored by any official from a border county (the Arizona sponsors are from Maricopa and Navajo counties), and he said that 100 miles of regulation-free access is too much.

“A half-mile within the border, anybody can build a road and do what they need to do, and maybe that’s part of the environment that we need to sacrifice for the situation we’re in,” he said. “But I think 100 miles is really excessive.”

What’s more, Maynard said, federal authorities are already doing a good job within the current parameters.

“The Department of Homeland Security, I quite frankly think, has improved significantly the work they are doing on the U.S.-Mexico border,” he said.

Supervisor Rudy Molera joined Maynard in voting to oppose the NACo resolution.

“We have so much wildlife and plant life that is protected right near the border, and it’s critical that we take care of it,” Molera said.

Dissenting Supervisor Manuel Ruiz said he had mixed feelings. While he understands the importance of protecting the environment, he said, smuggling activity in protected areas is also causing a lot of environmental damage.

Ruiz also expressed concern that current regulations are hindering the Border Patrol’s law enforcement efforts.

The bill

According to HR 1505, “The Secretary of Homeland Security shall have immediate access to any public land managed by the Federal Government ... for purposes of conducting activities that assist in securing the border (including access to maintain and construct roads, construct a fence, use vehicles to patrol, and set up monitoring equipment).”

Under the current rules, the Department of Homeland Security must conduct environmental impact studies before building roads or other infrastructure on public lands (a 2008 waiver excuses DHS of this requirement for the purpose of building border fencing and related access roads). Protected wilderness areas – like the 7,420-acre Pajarita Wilderness in the Coronado National Forest, approximately 15 miles west of Nogales – are generally off limits to motorized vehicles, but a memorandum of understanding in place since 2006 allows law enforcement agencies such as the Border Patrol to use vehicles on protected lands if they are in the midst of a pursuit.

Otherwise, they need special permission from the managing agency to conduct vehicular patrols or set up surveillance equipment.

In a news release announcing HR 1505, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and the bill’s four other sponsors, all Republicans, accused federal land managers of “using environmental regulations to prevent Border Patrol from accessing portions of the 20.7 million acres along the U.S. southern border and over 1,000 miles of the U.S.-Canada border.”

“As a result, our federal lands have become a highway open to criminals, drug smugglers, human traffickers and potentially terrorists,” the news release said. “This has led to escalated violence and also caused destruction of the environment.”

The U.S. Forest Service did not immediately respond to questions about its relationship with the Border Patrol on Coronado National Forest lands. But prepared testimony from Jim Pena of the U.S. Forest Service for a hearing Friday on HR 1505 said the 2006 memorandum had helped to increase interagency cooperation in the area.

“USFS has routinely and expeditiously approved requests by DHS for forward operating bases, fixed and mobile surveillance structures, and road maintenance in the Coronado National Forest,” his statement read.

Local voices

Dan Bell, who runs a cattle ranch west of Nogales and leases grazing land from the U.S. Forest Service, said he doesn’t think the Border Patrol has the access it needs to properly secure the area. He said an exemption from federal environmental law would help.

“The Border Patrol is just not able to get to the border and so to get the infrastructure that needs to be put in place, the exemptions are important,” Bell said.

Environmental restrictions, he said, “just add another process that they have to go through, and there’s a lot of paralysis involved in that. It just gets bound up in process and nothing gets accomplished – or it takes a very long time to get things accomplished.”

But Wendy Russell said she and the other members of her conservation group Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, or PARA, “don’t want to see the land and wildlife sacrificed in the impossible task to secure the border.”

“We also don’t want to see where we live turned into a war zone by Homeland Security,” she said, adding that an environmental waiver for DHS would set a “dangerous precedent.”

“What other exceptions will be next? It’s the top of a slippery slope,” Russell said.

“We can not protect our homeland by degrading it,” said Ben Lomeli, a volunteer with the group Friends of the Santa Cruz River, who called measures like HR 1505 and an expanded border fence “band-aids to the symptom of a much larger underlying problem.”

“We need to recognize that this border represents what is probably the steepest economic gradient in the world,” Lomeli said. “A comprehensive reform of immigration laws is the only sustainable solution.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Border fences said threat to wildlife

United Press International
July 12, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas, July 12 (UPI) -- Border fences to stop illegal immigration are a threat to wildlife, with animals in border areas in Texas and California especially vulnerable, a study says.

Researchers at the University of Texas say most at risk of extinction are smaller populations of wildlife that occur in more specialized habitats, and among them are four species listed as threatened globally or by both the United States and Mexico.

The animals include the Arroyo toad, the California red-legged frog and the jaguarundi wild cat, a university release said Tuesday.

"Our study is the first comprehensive analysis of threats to species across the entire U.S.-Mexico border," researcher Jesse Lasky said. "The scale at which these fences stretch across the landscape is large, so it's important for us to also have a large- scale view of their effects across the continent."

When barriers, including border fences and roads, separate the ranges of these animals their ability to move is limited, which makes them more vulnerable to events such as hurricanes or fire, which can wipe out an entire population, he said.

Some species in California have barriers that block as much as 75 percent of their ranges, the researchers said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is exempt from environmental regulations when building security infrastructure, which now includes almost 750 miles of fences and migration barriers on the border, the UT release said.

"The U.S.-Mexico border spans regions of extraordinary biological diversity as well as intense human impacts," UT biology Professor Tim Keitt said. "Loss of biological diversity can have negative impacts on the ecosystem services that are the basis of our life-support system."

Border Fences Pose Threats to Wildlife on U.S.-Mexico Border, Study Shows

Texas Science
University of Texas Austin
July 11, 2011
by Lee Clippard

AUSTIN, Texas—Current and proposed border fences pose significant threats to wildlife populations, with those animals living in border regions along the Texas Gulf and California coasts showing some of the greatest vulnerability, a new study from The University of Texas at Austin shows.

“Our study is the first comprehensive analysis of threats to species across the entire U.S.-Mexico border,” says Jesse Lasky, a graduate student in the laboratory of Tim Keitt, associate professor of integrative biology. “The scale at which these fences stretch across the landscape is large, so it’s important for us to also have a large- scale view of their effects across the continent.”

Among the species at risk include four species listed as threatened globally or by both the U.S. and Mexico, and another 23 with small range sizes. The animals include the Arroyo toad, the California red-legged frog and the jaguarundi.

“We were able to identify a list of animal species that are most at risk and should be prioritized and monitored for change,” says Lasky. “We’re hoping this helps point decision-makers towards the animals to look at first when making priorities for conservation.”

Most at risk of extinction are smaller populations of wildlife that occur in more specialized habitats, the study shows. Even animals that may appear to have large ranges may live in isolated habitats within those ranges that can be heavily disturbed by border fences. Human population growth along the border also poses threats to the wildlife.

Lasky says when the ranges of these animals are separated by barriers, including border fences and roads, the animals’ ability to move is limited. The isolated populations are then more vulnerable to unforeseen disturbances, such as a hurricane or fire, which can wipe out an entire population. The isolation also increases inbreeding depression, which means the animals have limited opportunities to mix their genes with others and accumulate harmful mutations.

The study analyzed the ranges of 313 non-flying mammals, reptiles and amphibians and identified three major regions where wildlife is most vulnerable: the high human population areas of coastal California and coastal Texas and the unique “sky island” Madrean archipelago habitat in southeastern Arizona.

These regions have high numbers of vulnerable species. Some species in California have barriers that block as much as 75 percent of their ranges.

“The U.S.-Mexico border spans regions of extraordinary biological diversity as well as intense human impacts,” says Keitt. “Loss of biological diversity can have negative impacts on the ecosystem services that are the basis of our life-support system.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is waived from environmental regulations when building security infrastructure. There are about 650 miles of border fences and human migration barriers along the border.

The study, by Lasky, Keitt and coauthor Walter Jetz, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, appeared May 3 online in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

Fence at U.S./Mexico border is cut

Sierra Vista Herald
July 12, 2011
by Derek Jordan

NACO — A section of the border fence was damaged east of Naco recently, a series of photos from a resident living near the damaged area shows.

Richard Hodges, who owns land east of Naco, said he was checking his fence line with his wife when he saw a U.S. Border Patrol agent along the fence in a wash, and behind him a large gap in the fence where several of the concrete-filled steel beams had been brought down.

“They took a torch, and right at ground level, cut the pipes. All five of them,” Hodges said. “Then, when they were ready to go through, they took a strap probably, and pulled it backwards. The concrete snapped right at the ground.”

Photos submitted by Hodges show at least 12 of the pipes laying on the ground, creating a space wide enough for a vehicle to pass through, he said.

Border Patrol Agent Colleen Agle confirmed that there was a cut in the fence east of Naco, but could not say when it was first reported or what the dimensions of the cut were.

This was the worst damage to the re-enforced steel fence that Hodges had ever seen, he said.

“I’ve never seen the new (fence) destroyed at all,” he said.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Security, Wildlife At Stake Behind Brownsville's Border Fence

July 8, 2011
Jessie Degollado

BROWNSVILLE, Texas -- Pamela Taylor's prediction before the border fence was built near her Brownsville home was correct, she said.

"This is referred to as a funnel," Taylor said because traffic flows toward the openings in the massive metal fence with no gates.

Even before her house just beyond the Rio Grande ended up behind the fence, Taylor said she would find illegal immigrants on her property.

Yet despite the fence and the U.S. Border Patrol agents being on the lookout, "we're not safer," she said.

Taylor described a recent incident involving two people who she said were knocking on her door while her dog had corralled others who she said were trying to steal her car parked in the driveway.

Taylor said the juveniles were "coyotes" bringing illegal immigrants across the river.

"They had people from Honduras with them," she said. The illegal immigrants who were apprehended by Border Patrol.

But Taylor said she is prepared to defend herself if necessary.

"If people come in, they're going to have to suffer the consequences," she said.
Her neighbor down the street even has a sign warning, "Caution. Firearms in Use."

Taylor has her own sign that conveys a different message, "We're part of America. We need representation and protection, not a fence."

On the environmental side, the Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve in Brownsville also is now behind the fence.

Since then, Max Ponds, the preserve manager, said it appears little has changed in its operation.

"It may be due to it's not entirely fenced. There are no gates at this point in time," Ponds said.

The preserve's sabal palm forest that once blanketed much of the Rio Grande Valley is often the route taken by a variety of wildlife, like those photographed for El Valle, The Rio Grande Delta, a bilingual book published by the Gorgas Science Foundation that chronicles the region's biodiversity and cultural legacy.

However, once the animals, like endangered ocelots, reach the fence, Ponds said there are openings at its base every 500 feet.

To help creatures find the "notebook paper-sized openings," Ponds said he came up with an idea.

He said he sprays the openings with fox urine, "so they would have a sense of smell they would investigate."

Ponds said he's already seen coyotes come through, although reptiles like the Texas tortoise need larger openings for their hard shells.

Both he and Taylor said although the fence is an unattractive addition to the landscape they appreciate the Border Patrol agents who crisscross back and forth along the fence.

"We have no gripe with Border Patrol. They're here for us," Taylor said.
Ponds said, "I sleep at night knowing someone's out there."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North

New York Times
July 6, 2011
by Damien Cave

AGUA NEGRA, Mexico — The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive.

A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.

Here in the red-earth highlands of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s top three states for emigration over the past century, a new dynamic has emerged. For a typical rural family like the Orozcos, heading to El Norte without papers is no longer an inevitable rite of passage. Instead, their homes are filling up with returning relatives; older brothers who once crossed illegally are awaiting visas; and the youngest Orozcos are staying put.

“I’m not going to go to the States because I’m more concerned with my studies,” said Angel Orozco, 18. Indeed, at the new technological institute where he is earning a degree in industrial engineering, all the students in a recent class said they were better educated than their parents — and that they planned to stay in Mexico rather than go to the United States.

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.

American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. Although some advocates for more limited immigration argue that the Pew studies offer estimates that do not include short-term migrants, most experts agree that far fewer illegal immigrants have been arriving in recent years.

The question is why. Experts and American politicians from both parties have generally looked inward, arguing about the success or failure of the buildup of border enforcement and tougher laws limiting illegal immigrants’ rights — like those recently passed in Alabama and Arizona. Deportations have reached record highs as total border apprehensions and apprehensions of Mexicans have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2000.

But Mexican immigration has always been defined by both the push (from Mexico) and the pull (of the United States). The decision to leave home involves a comparison, a wrenching cost-benefit analysis, and just as a Mexican baby boom and economic crises kicked off the emigration waves in the 1980s and ’90s, research now shows that the easing of demographic and economic pressures is helping keep departures in check.

In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller than they had once been. The pool of likely migrants is shrinking. Despite the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures. So while Mexico added about one million new potential job seekers annually in the 1990s, since 2007 that figure has fallen to an average of 800,000, according to government birth records. By 2030, it is expected to drop to 300,000.

Even in larger families like the Orozcos’ — Angel is the 9th of 10 children — the migration calculation has changed. Crossing “mojado,” wet or illegally, has become more expensive and more dangerous, particularly with drug cartels dominating the border. At the same time, educational and employment opportunities have greatly expanded in Mexico. Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell. Despite all the depictions of Mexico as “nearly a failed state,” he argued, “the conventional wisdom is wrong.”

A significant expansion of legal immigration — aided by American consular officials — is also under way. Congress may be debating immigration reform, but in Mexico, visas without a Congressionally mandated cap on how many people can enter have increased from 2006 to 2010, compared with the previous five years.

State Department figures show that Mexicans who have become American citizens have legally brought in 64 percent more immediate relatives, 220,500 from 2006 through 2010, compared with the figures for the previous five years. Tourist visas are also being granted at higher rates of around 89 percent, up from 67 percent, while American farmers have legally hired 75 percent more temporary workers since 2006.

Edward McKeon, the top American official for consular affairs in Mexico, said he had focused on making legal passage to the United States easier in an effort to prevent people from giving up and going illegally. He has even helped those who were previously illegal overcome bans on entering the United States.

“If people are trying to do the right thing,” Mr. McKeon said, “we need to send the signal that we’ll reward them.”

Hard Years in Jalisco

When Angel Orozco’s grandfather considered leaving Mexico in the 1920s, his family said, he wrestled with one elemental question: Will it be worth it?

At that point and for decades to come, yes was the obvious answer. In the 1920s and ’30s — when Paul S. Taylor came to Jalisco from California for his landmark study of Mexican emigration — Mexico’s central highlands promised little more than hard living. Jobs were scarce and paid poorly. Barely one of three adults could read. Families of 10, 12 and even 20 were common, and most children did not attend school.

Comparatively, the United States looked like a dreamland of technology and riches: Mr. Taylor found that the wages paid by the railroads, where most early migrants found legal work, were five times what could be earned on farms in Arandas, the municipality that includes Agua Negra.

Orozco family members still talk about the benefits of that first trip. Part of the land the extended family occupies today was purchased with American earnings from the 1920s. When Angel’s father, Antonio, went north to pick cotton in the 1950s and ’60s with the Bracero temporary worker program, which accepted more than 400,000 laborers a year at its peak, working in the United States made even more sense. The difference in wages had reached 10 to 1. Arandas was still dirt poor.

Antonio, with just a few years of schooling, was one of many who felt that with a back as strong as a wooden church door, he could best serve his family from across the border.

“I sent my father money so he could build his house,” Antonio said.

Legal status then meant little. After the Bracero program ended in 1964, Antonio said, he crossed back and forth several times without documentation. Passage was cheap. Work lasting for a few months or a year was always plentiful. So when his seven sons started to become adults in the 1990s, he encouraged them to go north as well. Around 2001, he and two of his sons were all in the United States working — part of what is now recognized as one of the largest immigration waves in American history.

But even then, illegal immigration was becoming less attractive. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration added fences and federal agents to what were then the main crossing corridors beyond Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. The enforcement push, continued by President George W. Bush and President Obama, helped drive up smuggling prices from around $700 in the late 1980s to nearly $2,000 a decade later, and the costs continued to climb, according to research from the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. It also shifted traffic to more dangerous desert areas near Arizona.

Antonio said the risks hit home when his nephew Alejandro disappeared in the Sonoran Desert around 2002. A father of one and with a pregnant wife, Alejandro had been promised work by a friend. It took years for the authorities to find his body in the arid brush south of Tucson. Even now, no one knows how he died.

But for the Orozcos, border enforcement was not the major deterrent. Andrés Orozco, 28, a middle son who first crossed illegally in 2000, said that while rising smuggling costs and border crime were worries, there were always ways to avoid American agents. In fact, while the likelihood of apprehension has increased in recent years, 92 to 98 percent of those who try to cross eventually succeed, according to research by Wayne A. Cornelius and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego.

A Period of Progress

Another important factor is Mexico itself. Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.

Here in Jalisco, a tequila boom that accelerated through the 1990s created new jobs for farmers cutting agave and for engineers at the stills. Other businesses followed. In 2003, when David Fitzgerald, a migration expert at the University of California, San Diego, came to Arandas, he found that the wage disparity with the United States had narrowed: migrants in the north were collecting 3.7 times what they could earn at home.

That gap has recently shrunk again. The recession cut into immigrant earnings in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, even as wages have risen in Mexico, according to World Bank figures. Jalisco’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. About a decade ago, the cluster of the Orozco ranches on Agua Negra’s outskirts received electricity and running water. New census data shows a broad expansion of such services: water and trash collection, once unheard of outside cities, are now available to more than 90 percent of Jalisco’s homes. Dirt floors can now be found in only 3 percent of the state’s houses, down from 12 percent in 1990.

Still, education represents the most meaningful change. The census shows that throughout Jalisco, the number of senior high schools or preparatory schools for students aged 15 to 18 increased to 724 in 2009, from 360 in 2000, far outpacing population growth. The Technological Institute of Arandas, where Angel studies engineering, is now one of 13 science campuses created in Jalisco since 2000 — a major reason professionals in the state, with a bachelor’s degree or higher, also more than doubled to 821,983 in 2010, up from 405,415 in 2000.

Similar changes have occurred elsewhere. In the poor southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, for instance, professional degree holders rose to 525,874 from 244,322 in 2000.

And the data from secondary schools like the one the Orozcos attended in Agua Negra suggests that the trend will continue. Thanks to a Mexican government program called “schools of quality” the campus of three buildings painted sunflower yellow has five new computers for its 71 students, along with new books.

Teachers here, in classrooms surrounded by blue agave fields, say that enrollment is down slightly because families are having fewer children, and instead of sending workers north, some families have moved to other Mexican cities — a trend also found in academic field research. Around half the students now move on to higher schooling, up from 30 percent a decade ago.

“They’re identifying more with Mexico,” said Agustín Martínez González, a teacher. “With more education, they’re more likely to accept reality here and try to make it better.”

Some experts agree. Though Mexicans with Ph.D.’s tend to leave for bigger paychecks abroad, “if you have a college degree you’re much more likely to stay in Mexico because that is surely more valuable in Mexico,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

If these trends — particularly Mexican economic growth — continue over the next decade, Mr. Passel said, changes in the migration dynamic may become even clearer. “At the point where the U.S. needs the workers again,” he said, “there will be fewer of them.”

Praying for Papers

The United States, of course, has not lost its magnetic appeal. Illegal traffic from Central America has not dropped as fast as it has from Mexico, and even in Jalisco town plazas are now hangouts for men in their 30s with tattoos, oversize baseball caps and a desire to work again in California or another state. Bars with American names — several have adopted Shrek — signal a back and forth that may never disappear.

But more Mexicans are now traveling legally. Several Orozco cousins have received temporary worker visas in the past few years. In March, peak migration season for Jalisco, there were 15 people from Agua Negra at the border waiting to cross.

“And 10 had visas,” said Ramón Orozco, 30, another son of Antonio who works in the town’s government office after being the first in his family to go to college. “A few years ago there would have been 100, barely any with proper documents.”

This is not unique to Agua Negra. A few towns away at the hillside shrine of St. Toribio, the patron saint of migrants, prayers no longer focus on asking God to help sons, husbands or brothers crossing the desert. “Now people are praying for papers,” said María Guadalupe, 47, a longtime volunteer.

How did this happen?

Partly, emigrants say, illegal life in the United States became harder. Laws restricting illegal immigrants’ rights or making it tougher for employers to hire them have passed in more than a dozen states since 2006. The same word-of-mouth networks that used to draw people north are now advising against the journey. “Without papers all you’re thinking about is, when are the police going to stop you or what other risks are you going to face,” said Andrés Orozco.

Andrés, a horse lover who drives a teal pickup from Texas, is one of many Orozcos now pinning their hopes on a visa. And for the first time in years, the chances have improved.

Mexican government estimates based on survey data show not just a decrease in migration overall, but also an increase in border crossings with documents. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 38 percent of the total attempted crossings, legal and illegal, were made with documents. In 2007, only 20 percent involved such paperwork.

The Mexican data counts attempted crossings, not people, and does not differentiate between categories of visas. Nor does it mention how long people stayed, nor whether all the documents were valid.

Advocates of limited immigration worry that the issuing of more visas creates a loophole that can be abused. Between 40 and 50 percent of the illegal immigrants in the United States entered legally with visas they overstayed, as of 2005, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

More recent American population data, however, shows no overall increase in the illegal Mexican population. That suggests that most of the temporary visas issued to Mexicans — 1.1 million in 2010 — are being used legitimately even as American statistics show clearly that visa opportunities have increased.

Easing a Chaotic Process

One man, Mr. McKeon, the minister counselor who oversees all consular affairs in Mexico, has played a significant role in that expansion.

A lawyer with a white beard and a quick tongue, Mr. McKeon arrived in the summer of 2007. And after more than 30 years working in consular affairs in China, Japan and elsewhere, he quickly decided to make changes in Mexico. Working within administrative rules, State Department officials say, he re-engineered the visa program to de-emphasize the affordability standard that held that visas were to be denied to those who could not prove an income large enough to support travel to the United States.

In a country where a person can cross the border with a 25-cent toll, Mr. McKeon said, the income question was irrelevant. “You have to look at everyone individually,” he said in an interview at his office in Mexico City. “I don’t want people to say, here’s the income floor, over yes, lower no.”

This led to an almost immediate decrease in the rejection rate for tourist visas. Before he arrived, around 32 percent were turned down. Since 2008, the rate has been around 11 percent.

Mr. McKeon — praised by some immigration lawyers for bringing consistency to a chaotic process — was also instrumental in expanding the temporary visa program for agricultural workers. Called H-2A, this is one of the few visa categories without a cap.

Around 2006, as the debate over immigration became more contentious, employers concentrated in the Southeast began applying for more workers through the program. Mr. McKeon began hosting conferences with all the stakeholders and deployed new technology and additional staff members. The waiting time for several visa categories decreased, government reports show. For H-2As, Mexican workers can now receive their documents the same day that they apply.

Mr. McKeon also pushed to make the program more attractive to Mexicans who might otherwise cross the border illegally. Two years ago, he eliminated a $100 visa issuance fee that was supposed to be covered by employers but was usually paid by workers. And he insisted that his staff members change their approach with Mexicans who had previously worked illegally in the United States.

“The message used to be, if you were working illegally, lie about it or don’t even try to go legally because we won’t let you,” said one senior State Department official. “What we’re saying now is, tell us you did it illegally, be honest and we’ll help you.”

Specifically, consulate workers dealing with H-2A applicants who were once illegal — making them subject to 3- or 10-year bans depending on the length of their illegal stay — now regularly file electronic waiver applications to the United States Customs and Border Patrol. About 85 percent of these are now approved, Mr. McKeon said, so that in 2010 most of the 52,317 Mexican workers with H-2A visas had previously been in the United States illegally.

“It’s not easy to go through this process,” Mr. McKeon said, “and I think people who are willing to go through all of that and risk going back to the United States where they have to pay taxes, and withholding, I think we should look favorably on them.”

Speaking as the son of a New Jersey plumber, he added: “My bias is toward people who sweat at work because I really think that’s the backbone of our country. With limited resources, I’d rather devote our efforts to keeping out a drug kingpin than trying to find someone who works a couple of months at Cousin Hector’s body shop.”

A Divisive Topic

In the heated debate over immigration, however, this topic is inevitably divisive. Pro-immigrant groups, when told of the expansion to legal immigration, say it still may not be enough in a country where the baby boomers are retiring in droves.

Farmers still complain that the H-2A visa program is too complicated and addresses only a portion of the total demand. As of 2010, there were 1,381,896 Mexicans still waiting for their green-card applications to be accepted or rejected. And the United States currently makes only 5,000 green cards annually available worldwide for low-wage workers to immigrate permanently; in recent years, only a few of those have gone to Mexicans.

On the other side, Steven A. Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which favors reduced immigration, said that increasing the proportion of legal entries did little good.

“If you believe there is significant job competition at the bottom end of the labor market, as I do, you’re not fixing the problem,” Mr. Camarota said. “If you are concerned about the fiscal cost of unskilled immigration and everyone comes in on temporary visas and overstays, or even if they don’t, the same problems are likely to apply.”

By his calculations, unskilled immigrants like the Orozcos have, over the years, helped push down hourly wages, especially for young, unskilled American workers. Immigrants are also more likely to rely on welfare, he said, adding to public costs.

The Orozco clan, however, may point to a different future. Angel Orozco, like many other young Mexicans, now talks about the United States not as a place to earn money, but rather as a destination for fun and spending.

Today he is just a lanky, shy freshman wearing a Daughtry T-shirt and living in a two-room apartment with only a Mexican flag and a rosary for decoration.

But his dreams are big and local. After graduating, he said, he hopes to work for a manufacturing company in Arandas, which seems likely because the director of his school says that nearly 90 percent of graduates find jobs in their field. Then, Angel said, he will be able to buy what he really wants: a shiny, new red Camaro.