Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Border Fences Cut Off Access To Border Monuments

January 28, 2012
By Adrian Florido

SAN DIEGO — Before there was a fence, all that marked the border between Mexico and the United States were stone and steel monuments, 276 of them dotting the southwestern landscape. They were installed by Mexican and American surveyors starting in 1850, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and the two countries agreed to define their shared border.

But as the U.S. Border Patrol has reinforced the boundary with a new fence, many of these bi-national monuments have been left entirely on the Mexican side of the barriers.

On the scenic stretch of coast where San Diego meets Tijuana, Mexico, the Border Patrol is making the border fence taller and thicker - impenetrable, it hopes, to drug smugglers and illegal crossers.

But peering through the new vertical bars and double mesh on a recent day, you could still make out a marble, pyramid-shaped monument on the other side.

It marks the precise point where Mexico and the U.S. meet, and visitors on opposite sides of the border were once able to approach the monument from both sides and talk through the fence.

But late last year, the Border Patrol moved its fence three feet to the north, fencing the monument out

This has been happening at monument sites across the Southwest. It began when border fencing started going up in the early 1990s and has continued since 2006, when Congress approved the construction of 700 miles of new fence.

In 2008, the Border Patrol signed an accord with the agency responsible for maintaining the monuments - the International Boundary and Water Commission – agreeing not to disturb the monuments during fence construction.

So, in many places along the border, like San Diego, the Border Patrol built the fence a few feet north of the actual international boundary.

“The fence itself is constructed inside the United States,” said Jerry Conlin, a Border Patrol spokesman. The agreement between the two agencies, he said: “is that any type of construction around a monument would be set back three feet.”

Sally Spener is a spokeswoman for the boundary and water commission, which reviews the Border Patrol’s plans to ensure the fence is not inadvertently built on Mexican territory. She said commission officials had been willing to work with the Border Patrol to maintain access to the monument in San Diego.

She would not say whether the agency responded, but in any case, bi-national access was eliminated.

Now San Diego activists are hoping to convince the Border Patrol to change its fence design to restore access to the monument from both sides.

“A border monument needs to be on the border, not just on one side or the other. It’s a shared marker between two nations,” said Jim Brown, a local architect and activist. “To have the fence jog around and have it be almost ownership by Mexico doesn’t make any emotional sense, it makes no physical sense, it makes no common sense.”

Brown is a member of the Friends of Friendship Park, a group of activists that takes its name after the area where loved ones used to chat through the border fence until access was blocked.

Brown said he’s come up with a relatively simple design change that would make the monument accessible from both sides again.

Conlin said the Border Patrol was willing to listen, but stressed that border security was the agency’s mandate and priority.

David Taylor, an art professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, has been photographing all 276 monuments since he realized the new fencing was going to make many of them inaccessible from the U.S.

He believes the monuments, once a symbol of bi-national cooperation, have become casualties of the push for greater border enforcement.

“It’s one of those very unfortunate situations where this thing that’s part of our shared heritage with Mexico isn’t easily accessible.”

On the other side, visitors have expressed their thoughts too.

An engraving on the monument warns vandals that defacing it is a crime punishable by Mexico or the United States. But someone recently used purple ink to cross out the words, United States

Photographing the American Wall

Los Angeles Times
January 28, 2012
by Liesl Bradner

An ominous barrier meanders through a remote landscape appearing to float across the desert sands, reminiscent of a stark, modern-day Great Wall of China. The structure is not filled with ancient wonder but rather conjures up the controversy and hostility associated with the Berlin Wall. This barricade is the American wall that divides the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since 2006, fine art photographer Maurice Sherif has spent sweltering days documenting the wall that hopscotches 2,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean in California to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. His collection of 96 photos, along with essays from scholars, can be viewed in his giant two-volume book, "The American Wall" (MS Zephyr Publishing).

Sherif, who was born in France, attended the University of San Francisco. The recurring theme of silence and large spaces is evident in his work, which includes photographs of glaciers in Patagonia and architecture in Paris.
For some, Sherif's dreamy photos of the border fence are an eye-opener, illuminating a subject that was an abstract idea, a topic of political discourse. Published in December, the book was ranked by L.A.-based think tank Zócalo Public Square as among its top 10 best nonfiction of 2011.

The black-and-white minimalist photos reveal a fragmented wall in various stages, styles and materials. Eastward from San Diego, the structure snakes through a variety of landscapes, including rugged backcountry, populated towns and isolated backyards. No life forms are seen. Instead, the images show deterrents such as high-powered klieg lights, cameras, warning signs and X-shaped metal beams similar to those seen on the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-day.

Using Polaroid PN 55 film, Sheriff would venture out between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to get more abrasive lighting that creates sharp-edged shadows.

In its fourth generation since 1969, the wall has gone through several transformations, including the addition of electric fencing, barbed wire, concrete and steel. The pictures are already obsolete, however, as a new, uniform upgrade is in the works.

A self-described social documentarian, Sherif believes the barrier is a misguided project driven by fear. "It's built like a prison," he noted.

Sherif believes that the billions spent on the wall could be put to better use. "I wanted to bring attention to people's consciousness what was going on," Sherif said of his motivation. On a visit to Albuquerque, New Mexico he was shocked to find everyone so detached to the situation.

"There's so much irony," said Sherif. "In the '80s, you have President Reagan telling Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to 'tear down this wall'; at the same, time he's building one in his own country."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Military engineers dig in to support Border Patrol

Nogales International
January 24, 2012
by Jonathan Clark

On Jan. 6, members of an Alaska-based Army airborne engineer brigade parachuted out of an Air Force plane at Fort Huachuca. Since then, they've been working to cut 0.7 miles of border access road through rugged terrain approximately three miles west of the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales.

Project organizers say the experience, from the parachute drop-in to the remote road-building and eventual departure on Feb. 27, mirrors the type of mission the 40 soldiers might conduct if they were deployed to a place like Afghanistan.

"This will prepare them for future deployments, especially in the areas of current contingency operations," said Armando Carrasco, spokesman for the Department of Defense's Joint Task Force North (JTF North), the agency that coordinated the mission.

Standing on a hilltop above the work site Friday as heavy machinery dug through a steep slope below her, mission commander Lt. Michelle Zak spoke of the difficulties of maneuvering large earth movers around the mountains, canyons and ravines of western Santa Cruz County.

"It's been challenging, but also a great opportunity for us to train," she said.This effort, along with other military road-building projects that have been conducted in the county in recent years, also provides a great opportunity for agents at the U.S. Border Patrol's Nogales Station to gain better access to some of their hardest-to-control areas.

"You've got to look at it as a win-win situation," said Agent Steven Passement, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector.

"One, for the unit that's here and the units that will come, it's real-world training experience," he said. "And for us, we're getting infrastructure put in place that's going to be permanent.

"Those permanent roads, built with drainage culverts to keep them from washing out, helps agents responds faster to illegal activity in the area and provide aid more quickly to migrants in distress. What's more, Passement said, a better road surface means less wear-and-tear on Border Patrol vehicles, and therefore less expenditures on new tires, shock absorbers and struts.

Local residents and businesses are also benefiting from the arrangement. The current group of 40 engineers is staying at a local hotel and spending some of their pocket money at local establishments.

"I know a lot of the soldiers have been out on the town, and they've enjoyed the tacos that come from the trucks," Zak said.Rancher Dan Bell, who grazes cattle in the same section of Coronado National Forest lands where the road are being built, says he's seen an improvement in security in the area since the road-building began.

"Prior to these roads going in, there really wasn't any way to get to the border in a lot of these areas," Bell said. "It's allowed (Border Patrol) to actually get down to the border and patrol the actual border rather than a larger area that they'd have to hike or go into on horseback.

"The soldiers themselves are not engaged in any law enforcement activity while on the road-building projects, Carrasco said. That duty is left up to the Border Patrol.Environmental concernsSince the construction is taking place on National Forest land, the U.S. Forest Service has been included in the project planning, and an environmental monitor is on hand to make sure the project stays within the construction easement, said Maj. Chris Neels, mission planner for JTF North.

Even so, environmentalists like Jenny Neeley, conservation policy director at the Tucson-based Sky Island Alliance, say they are worried about the long-term effects of border-infrastructure projects that are conducted outside of federal environmental law. Since April 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has operated under a waiver that allows it to build border fencing and related infrastructure in the U.S. Southwest without having to adhere to more than 30 environmental regulations.

"We're extremely disappointed that none of it is subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act because of the existing waiver along the border," Neeley said. "Those roads are being installed without any oversight whatsoever, in terms of regulatory oversight or having to follow best practices."

Neeley said she hadn't seen the particular roads being built west of Nogales, but she said there have been numerous projects carried out under the waiver that have later led to erosion and flooding. She cited an example from the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where rainwater runoff collapsed a 40-foot stretch of new border fence in August 2010 due to faulty design.

A Department of Homeland Security-sponsored public forum in December 2010 laid out the technical details and environmental analysis that had gone into the planning of the agency's border road and fence projects in and around Nogales. Still, Greg Gephart, program manager for tactical infrastructure for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, acknowledged that the projects would be conducted under the environmental waiver."The waiver doesn't mean we're throwing out all environmental considerations," Gephart said at the time. "It's just a method that allows us to expedite the construction."

‘Good feeling'

The 40 Army engineers currently deployed to Nogales work six days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Even so, due to the terrain, theirs is the first of three phases necessary to complete the 0.7 miles of roadway.

What's more, military units are scheduled to execute four additional engineering missions in the Nogales area in support of the Border Patrol during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

It's all organized by JTF North, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, which has been supporting federal law enforcement agencies along the Southwest border since 1989. Working as a liaison between law enforcement and all four branches of the military, JTF North has coordinated engineering missions that built and improved roads and installed border lighting, fencing and vehicle barriers in areas stretching from California to Texas.

The majority of the costs of the projects are paid for with Department of Defense counter-drug funds, JTF North says; the participating law enforcement agency covers only the cost of materials.

For example, Tucson-based Hertz Equipment Rental has been contracted to provide the heavy machinery for the current road effort, as well as training and maintenance. That's all covered by JTF North, Carrasco said.

As for the price tag for the 0.7-mile road project, Carrasco estimated $400,000 for Phases 1 and 2 and $350,000 for Phase 3 - a grand total of $1.15 million.Part of the expense includes the cost of housing the soldiers at an area hotel, which is also contracted to provide the team with a hot breakfast and dinner each day. (JTF North declined to name the hotel, citing security concerns.)"It also creates a good quality of life for them while they're deployed on this mission," he said. "Obviously they work very hard, so it's important that we also take care of them during their down time."

As for the military engineers, they say they are greatly appreciative of the good meals and soft beds - as well as the warm, sunny weather of Southern Arizona. After all, they left their home base in the middle of the frigid, snowy and daylight-deprived Alaska winter.

Specialist Nickalous Herd, a native of Atlanta, praised the "wonderful weather, wonderful people and wonderful state" as he stood at the worksite Friday under clear blue skies and 70-degree temperatures. And while the local terrain has been a challenge to work with, Herd said, he has also enjoyed its rugged beauty.

"It is beautiful, it is extremely beautiful here," he said.Sgt. Everell Gustave, a native of the Boston area, said the experience of coming to a new area and working under new conditions with new equipment has been an important skill-builder for his team, which, if deployed to Afghanistan, might parachute into a remote area to rebuild roads, supply routes and airstrips.

"It is definitely a good feeling for our guys. We are getting the training that we need to be successful anywhere around the world," Gustave said. "Helping out the Border Patrol is just a plus."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Migrant deaths in Arizona fell in 2011

The Arizona Republic
December 29, 2011
by Daniel Gonzalez

The Border Patrol says the remains of 192 illegal immigrants who died crossing the border were found in Arizona last year.

That is 23 percent fewer than the year before, a record year, when the remains of 250 migrants were found in Arizona by the Border Patrol.

Still, Arizona remains the deadliest state for illegal border crossings. Fifty-four percent of the 353 migrant deaths recorded along the entire Southwest border last year occurred in Arizona, down from 67 percent of the 373 total migrant deaths the year before, according to Border Patrol.

Of the 192 migrant deaths recorded in Arizona, 191 occurred in the Tucson Sector, which covers most of the state's border with Mexico.When it comes to illegal border crossings, the Tucson Sector is the busiest of the nine Border Patrol sectors that stretch from California to Texas.

Steven Passement, a supervisory Border Patrol agent, said migrant deaths fell last year because fewer people were crossing the border illegally. Border Patrol apprehensions, a measure of illegal-immigrant traffic, fell 41 percent in the Tucson Sector compared with the year before.The Tucson Sector also has more agents who are able to reach remote areas to rescue migrants in distress, he said.

He said the ability to reach remote areas may have been a factor in the spike in migrant deaths in 2010 since agents often find skeletal remains of migrants who died years earlier.

Juanita Molina, executive director of Humane Borders, a humanitarian group based in Tucson, said migrant deaths remain a major concern despite the decrease last year.

She said migrant deaths have not fallen at the same rate as the drop in illegal-immigrant traffic. Tighter border security has closed the corridors illegal immigrants used in the past. As a result, they are crossing through ever more remote and dangerous areas, she said."They are still dying at the same rate, and people are dying in more remote areas," she said.

In the Yuma Sector, deaths have dropped sharply from the record 40 deaths recorded in 2005. Last year, only one migrant was found dead.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Romney would veto potential Dream Act

The Boston Globe
January 1, 2012
by Matt Viser

LE MARS, Iowa – Mitt Romney, coming to a family diner in this self-proclaimed “Ice Cream Capital of the World,” said this afternoon that if he were elected president he would veto legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for certain illegal residents.

“The answer is yes,” Romney said to a voter who asked whether he would veto the Dream Act if it gets passed by Congress under his watch.

Although the former Massachusetts governor has been critical of the proposed legislation in the past, he hadn’t said so explicitly that he would veto it. The issue is likely to be a theme of the general election, particularly in states with high Hispanic populations such as Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.

The Dream Act, which some Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully in Congress, would create a path to legal residency for youths who arrived before they turned 16; have lived in the United States for five consecutive years; and have no criminal record. In order to become citizens, they would have to graduate from high school or obtain a GED, complete two years in college or the military, and be under 35 years old.

Romney today distinguished between components of the proposal, however, saying that he supports allowing immigrants who serve in the military to become permanent residents.

“I’m delighted with the idea that people who come to this country and wish to serve in the military can be given a path to become permanent residents of this country,” he said. “Those who serve in our military and fulfill those requirements, I respect and acknowledge that path.”

An aide said Romney opposes other portions of the Dream Act that provide a pathway to residency through education.

He also opposes granting in-state tuition, or other benefits, to illegal immigrants.

“If I’m the president of the United States, I want to end illegal immigration so that we can protect legal immigration,” Romney said. “I like legal immigration. And so I will secure the border with a fence, make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure that fence, and I will also crack on employers that hire people who are here illegally.”

Romney flew back to Iowa today after a brief trip to New Hampshire, preparing for the final sprint before Tuesday’s caucus vote in Iowa. He was joined by his youngest son, Craig, who introduced his father by telling a story of how competitive Romney is in the family’s annual tradition of holding a triathlon.

“My wife had just had a baby,” Craig Romney said. “She just had her second child about a month or two previously and she decided to go for it and compete in the race. All the boys had finished at that point and it was down to my wife and my dad over here.”

“I tripped her, I tripped her,” Mitt Romney joked from the side.

“He gave it a good kick and he beat her in the end,” his son added. “And he did almost die trying, by the way, he passed out in the lawn chair and we didn’t see him the rest of the day.”

Craig Romney sought to make a connection between the dedication of completing the triathlon and the work he would do in the White House.

“I changed the nature of the triathlon after that,” Mitt Romney said. “I didn’t like this idea that these were only swimming, biking and running. We had to add some sports. So now we have log sawing, nail hammering. We added some things I excel at so I don’t come in last every year.”

On the way to the event, Romney said, they pulled the bus over so he could get rocky road ice cream at Blue Bunny ice cream.

When asked what he would be doing for New Year’s Eve, he said he would be spending it with his wife, Ann.

“I looked at the website to see what’s going on in Des Moines over New Year’s Eve and there’s a celebration of the music of the Doors at a place called the, is it the Brickyard?” Romney said. “So we’ll see if we go there or just hang out in the lobby of the hotel. Not sure yet.”

When asked if he was a fan of the Doors, he said, “I enjoy their music.”

As for his New Year’s resolution? “To be more thankful and appreciative of people who I owe appreciation to,” Romney said.

Wildlife: Border fences more effective against wildlife than illegal immigrants

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
January 1, 2012
by Scott Shalaway

For better or worse, wildlife populations pay no attention to human political borders. State lines certainly make no difference to coyotes or white-tailed deer crossing back and forth between Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, it's a different story.

Walls and fences that stretch intermittently along the nearly 2,000-mile international border are intended to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States. Based on news reports, they are not terribly effective. Long, sophisticated tunnels seem easy to build. And a 2009 government report revealed that there had been 3,363 breaches of the fence January through May of that year.

But under the heading of "unintended consequences," border fences are proving to be very effective at disrupting the movements of wildlife. The current issue of The Wildlife Professional, a publication of The Wildlife Society, reports that endangered species such as jaguars, ocelots, Sonoran pronghorn and many smaller, less glamorous species are being disturbed.

In the name of homeland security, we seem to be doing our best to destroy border wildlife populations. In 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act required portions of the fence to be cleared of all vegetation within 50 feet of either side of the fence. So even if animals try to find a way through the fence, they must do so without any cover.

In 2005, the Real ID Act authorized the waiver of any laws that might delay construction of barriers along the California border.

Consequently, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act have all been ignored in the name of national security.

And since passage of the Secure Fence Act in 2006, more than 30 federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Wilderness Act, have been waived.

The impact of waivers of environmental laws is still being studied, but it is clear that border wildlife populations are suffering. In one study using cameras and radio collars, bobcats influenced by fences moved their territories and experienced more collisions with highway traffic.

Fences restrict movement and gene flow and induce stress. Biologists fear that species with dwindling U.S. populations will suffer as access to Mexican populations disappears. Long-term survival of U.S. populations of larger species such as jaguars and ocelots is in doubt.