Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Power to Build Border Fence Is Above U.S. Law

New York Times
April 8, 2008

Securing the nation’s borders is so important, Congress says, that Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, must have the power to ignore any laws that stand in the way of building a border fence. Any laws at all.

Last week, Mr. Chertoff issued waivers suspending more than 30 laws he said could interfere with “the expeditious construction of barriers” in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The list included laws protecting the environment, endangered species, migratory birds, the bald eagle, antiquities, farms, deserts, forests, Native American graves and religious freedom.

The secretary of homeland security was granted the power in 2005 to void any federal law that might interfere with fence building on the border. For good measure, Congress forbade the courts to second-guess the secretary’s determinations. So long as Mr. Chertoff is willing to say it is necessary to void a given law, his word is final.

The delegation of power to Mr. Chertoff is unprecedented, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. It is also, if papers filed in the Supreme Court last month are correct, unconstitutional.

People can disagree about the urgency of border security and about whether it is more or less important than, say, the environment. Congress is entrusted with making those judgments, and here it has spoken clearly. In the process, it has also granted the executive branch more of the sort of unilateral power the Bush administration has so often claimed for itself.

No one doubts that Congress may repeal old laws through new legislation. But there is a difference between passing a law that overrides a previous one and tinkering with the structure of the Constitution itself. The extraordinary powers granted to Mr. Chertoff may test the limits of how much of its own authority Congress can cede to another branch of the government.

Mr. Chertoff explained the reasoning behind the law in a news release last week. “Criminal activity at the border,” he said, “does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation.”

Mr. Chertoff has issued three similar waivers, and a challenge to the constitutionality of one of them has just reached the United States Supreme Court. If the court decides to hear the case, its decision will almost certainly apply to last week’s waivers as well.

The case was brought by two environmental groups, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.
They sued Mr. Chertoff last year over his decision to suspend 19 laws that might have interfered with the construction of a border fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona.

Congress, the groups said, had given Mr. Chertoff too much power.

“It is only happenchance that the secretary’s waiver in this case involved laws protecting the environment and historic resources,” the groups told Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of Federal District Court in Washington. “He could equally have waived the requirements of the Fair Labor Relations Act to halt a strike, or the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in order to force workers to endure unsafe working conditions.”

(Happenchance? You don’t see that word every day, and certainly not in a court filing.)

The groups said Congress cannot hand over unbridled power to the executive branch even as it cuts the courts out of the picture. They relied mostly on a 1998 Supreme Court decision striking down the Line Item Veto Act, which had allowed the president to cancel parts of laws.

In December, Judge Huvelle rejected the challenge and allowed construction to proceed. She said she had no jurisdiction to decide whether Mr. Chertoff was correct in saying the waivers were necessary, and she ruled that the delegation of power to him was constitutional.

“The court concludes that it lacks the power to invalidate the waiver provision merely because of the unlimited number of statutes that could potentially be encompassed,” Judge Huvelle wrote.
A petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case was filed three months later.

Did you notice the missing step? In addition to forbidding judges from second-guessing Mr. Chertoff’s decisions, Congress forbade federal appeals courts from becoming involved at all. After losing before Judge Huvelle, the groups’ only recourse is to hope the Supreme Court decides to hear their appeal.

In their petition, the environmental groups said the Supreme Court had never upheld a broad delegation of power like that given to Mr. Chertoff without the possibility of judicial review of executive branch determinations. Nor, they said, has any appeals court.

It is the combination of those two factors — the broad granting of power to the executive branch and cutting the judicial branch out of the process — that makes the 2005 law so pernicious, the groups say.

The government’s response is due next week. In a brief filed in the district court last year, Justice Department lawyers told Judge Huvelle that the urgency of border security must trump other interests. They added that Congress may delegate particularly broad powers in the areas of national security, foreign affairs and immigration because the Constitution gives the executive branch great authority in those areas.

The line-item veto decision does not apply, the government lawyers said, because Mr. Chertoff is not repealing laws for all purposes, just suspending them for his fences.

It is true, of course, that Congress gave up its powers here voluntarily. But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had a response to that point in his concurrence in the line-item-veto case.

“It is no answer, of course, to say that Congress surrendered its authority by its own hand,” he wrote. “Abdication of responsibility is not part of the constitutional design.”

Justice Kennedy made a broader point, too, one perhaps more apt today than it was 10 years ago.

“Separation of powers was designed to implement a fundamental insight,” he wrote. “Concentration of power in the hands of a single branch is a threat to liberty.”


Monday, September 29, 2008

Border wall sparks big debate in small town

San Antonio Express-News

September 29, 2008

By Hernan Rozemberg

PRESIDIO — This tiny border city in the Chihuahuan Desert has steered clear of international political controversy since the Mexican Revolution nearly a century ago, when Pancho Villa set up his headquarters in Ojinaga, across the Rio Grande, after capturing the town in a bloody assault.

But although people here are now mostly worried about a major flood threat after massive water releases from Mexican reservoirs, their attention might soon return to the issue that for months has placed them amid the uproar known as the border fence.

The Department of Homeland Security is following a congressional mandate to erect nearly 700 miles of barriers along the 1,952-mile border with Mexico by the end of this year. Some 346 miles are in place.

The move has drawn opposition up and down the border, with national attention focused on the fierce legal showdown taking place in South Texas, where many border landowners are fighting government efforts to condemn land for the project.

Hundreds of miles away in the middle of the desert, Presidio hasn't made national headlines, though a similar outcry is taking place over plans to build 6 miles of fencing to straddle the international bridge here.

With about 5,000 people and the only legal crossing point between El Paso and Del Rio, it's not known as a hub for illegal activity. It's in the Border Patrol's Marfa Sector, the agency's largest — with 510 miles of border — but by far its least active.

In the fiscal year that ends Tuesday, the sector has seen 4,741 illegal crossers detained and nearly 54,665 pounds of marijuana and cocaine seized. That pales in comparison with areas such as the Rio Grande Valley Sector, where agents have netted 94,225 crossers and 387,241 pounds of drugs.

In Presidio, the Border Patrol wanted to replace river levees — federal property, no private land affected — with guardrail-topped concrete walls. But the agency put the project on hold when bids estimated the cost at $20 million per mile, or about $120 million in total.

Going back to the drawing board, the government intends to ask engineers to retool the wall design to bring costs down. But construction has now been pushed back to July 1 thanks to that and flood delays, said Angela De Rocha, a Border Patrol spokeswoman in Washington.

Neither De Rocha nor Bill Brooks, spokesman for the Marfa Sector, would comment on why the agency deemed Presidio, a small town in no man's land, an “urban area” akin to other border cities targeted for fencing, such as Laredo and Brownsville.

But Brooks and his bosses spoke at length for months to the local media and in public meetings on why they sought fencing in Presidio.

Actually, they had asked for fencing for years, even before Congress approved the move two years ago. They said the concrete wall would both protect low-lying areas in Presidio from flooding and push illegal crossers and drug traffickers away from downtown, making them easier targets for border agents.

“It only takes a couple of minutes, and once (crossers) get into the community then they're lost to us,” Brooks told the Marfa-based Big Bend Sentinel in May. “So the point of the fence is to make them go around.”

Many community leaders and local residents said they'd reluctantly buy the anti-flooding argument. But try the national security claim and they scoff.

“I'm completely against the concept of fencing the border,” said Presidio County Judge Jerry Agan, who ended a 29-year career with the Border Patrol in 1999 as deputy chief of the Marfa Sector. “They've done quite a few things that have gotten away from the agency's mission, such as the fence.”

Other officials, from the Presidio city manager to chamber of commerce board members, concurred with Agan's assessment, arguing that a fence would go against the area's historic rapprochement — Presidio is composed mostly of Mexicans who migrated north of the river from Ojinaga.

The Mexican government has consistently labeled the move a slap in the face to cross-border partnership.

Raul Acosta, who has served for two years as the Mexican consul in Presidio, said strained relations would be devastating, since in such a desolate region, the border towns lead an “existence in complete mutual dependence.”

Presidio's reliance on Mexican shoppers became evident in recent weeks, as major floods in Ojinaga closed the international bridge, leaving stores along Presidio's main drag nearly empty.
The bridge is still closed, and folks in Presidio now are without ready access to health services — most typically seek treatment in Ojinaga, since the closest clinic on the U.S. side is 250 miles away in Odessa.

Terry Bishop, who moved to Presidio when he was a teenager and now runs his family's 2,000-acre farm, as well as a golf course, is against the fence politically, but can accept it as a flood-control measure.

“They're going to build it no matter what, so let's at least try to do something right with it,” said Bishop, 54, who leases portions of his property, which is next to the levee, to the government.
A mile or so up the road, preparing to throw just-sliced pork chops on the grill, Polo Pérez was not so willing to give the Border Patrol the benefit of the doubt.

As he saw it, resources are scarce in these parts, and it would make sense that the government invest its millions not in a border fence but in common-sense, needed projects, said Pérez, 50, who is married with three children.

Most roads, such as his, are dirt or gravel and could use paving, he said as two pickups drove by, kicking up plumes of dust. And it would be great to have a local hospital, he added.

That's just for starters — if the government wants it, he could quickly make a longer list, Pérez said.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Border fence in El Paso county costing $220 million

El Paso Times
September 26, 2008

AUSTIN -- Nearly all of the 110 miles of border fencing planned for West Texas and New Mexico have been contracted out at the cost of more than $220 million, a Department of Homeland Security official said Thursday.

Angela de Rocha, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said the department has awarded 11 contracts for fencing in the U.S. Border Patrol's El Paso sector, which includes Hudspeth and El Paso counties in Texas and all of New Mexico.

Homeland Security is working to complete 670 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of this year. About 340 miles of fence has been built, and Congress has approved $2.6 billion for construction. But Homeland Security officials recently told Congress the project might not be finished on target and asked for an additional $400 million for construction.

The El Paso sector contracts, which are composed of all but one mile of fencing planned for the region, total about $228 million, de Rocha said.

"Until this final contract is awarded, the completion date for the El Paso sector is to be determined," she said in an e-mail.

Doug Mosier, a spokesman for the El Paso Border Patrol sector, said just more than three miles of pedestrian fencing, 15- to 18-foot-high wire mesh barriers, have been completed in Doña Ana County.

Three other stretches of fence are now under construction. One project is in Luna County, N.M.
In Santa Teresa, a one-mile stretch is being built beginning at the port of entry and running east.
And in El Paso County, a 9.6-mile section of the fence is being built, starting one mile east of the Bridge of the Americas port of entry and extending to one mile east of the Ysleta port of entry.
That is part of a 60-mile stretch of fencing that will extend east to Fort Hancock.

Mosier said the goal is to complete all fencing in the El Paso sector by the endof the year.

"The overall goal is to be able to impede illegal immigrants and the smuggling activity that comes with that at times," he said.

The fencing, he said, would also reduce attacks on Border Patrol agents.

Border fencing has met perhaps the stiffest opposition in Texas, where Homeland Security has faced legal challenges and loud protests from border residents and community leaders.

This week, El Paso County decided to take its case against the DHS to the Supreme Court.

The lawsuit -- which the city, the Tigua tribe and other local groups joined -- challenges the constitutionality of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cher toff's use of waivers to bypass dozens of laws and build the barrier quickly.

"If we don't pursue this, É what we are saying is we will accept whatever the government wants to dish out regardless of whether it violates our civil rights," said El Paso County Commissioner Veronica Escobar.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Border visits no longer will be day at beach

New barrier to limit families' socializing

San Diego Union-Tribune
September 24, 2008

It was like any seaside picnic, with family members sitting on folding chairs, colorful umbrellas and a cooler full of sodas. The only unusual thing was the steel mesh fence running through the middle of it.

On a recent Sunday, the Sotomayor family of Riverside rose early, packed a lunch and drove south to Border Field State Park, where the fence that separates the United States from Mexico meets the ocean.

As many Mexican-American families have done for years, they were there to spend the day with relatives unable to legally cross north to hug them and must be content to visit at the see-through fence.

This binational social scene, as it exists now, is unique along the southern border of the United States. Soon, it will be a memory.

The federal government's effort to slam the door on illegal immigration, drug smuggling and the threat of terrorism means a new secondary fence will be built in the park, creating a 90-foot-wide no-man's land of patrol roads and security lights that extends to the sea.

Construction is to begin next month. The barrier will not be solid, but it will block most access to the primary fence, which is composed chiefly of loosely spaced metal pilings on the beach and mesh on the bluff above.

Federal officials said a gate in the new fence will allow visitors to reach the 1851 border monument that marks the point where the United States and Mexico agreed on a common border after the Mexican-American War. The worn marble obelisk is accommodated by a cutout in the fence.

Access details to a roughly 40-foot-wide space surrounding the monument are being worked out between federal and state officials. When the gate is closed, visitors will still be able to see into Mexico, but any socializing will be limited to waving from a distance.

The construction, which involves installing a 15-foot-high picket-style fence that runs the length of the park, is part of a $60 million federal project that includes filling in Smuggler's Gulch, a deep canyon to the east.

The idea to close gaps in a 14-mile section of secondary fence running inland from the ocean is part of a national security plan that has been in the works since the mid-1990s, said Angela de Rocha, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman. The project is not affected by a budget shortfall that could derail more recently authorized fencing along the southern border.

Work in the park has begun. Visitors once could set up their chairs along the fence on the beach or on a dirt strip between the fence and the parking lot. Recently installed plastic mesh blocks access to all but the monument area and the lower section on the sand.

The monument's history dates to shortly after the 1848 signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which Mexico ceded what is now the southwestern United States to its northern neighbor after the war. According to the Web site for Border Field State Park, delegations from both countries began surveying the boundary at this location in 1850, and the monument was erected shortly afterward.

The marble spire became so popular that bits were chipped off as souvenirs; according to state parks officials, it had to be reshaped and re-installed in 1894. The area was dedicated as a state park in 1971, acquiring the nickname “Friendship Park” along the way.

While a few informal meeting spots exist along the southern border, Border Field State Park is unique in that it is a refuge within an urban area where people can park their cars, pull a chair to the fence and spend the day with relatives and friends on the south side.

“It's like a day in the country, a picnic. Only they are there, and we are here,” said José Sotomayor, 38, holding his 2-year-old son while his wife chatted through the fence with her mother and siblings, who had driven north from Ensenada.

The location also is a rendezvous spot for people who have organized cross-border events ranging from protests to salsa classes.

Other visiting spots include the communities of Sunland Park, N.M., and Anapra, Mexico, where an annual binational Mass is held at the steel mesh fence; the twin East County-Baja California towns of Jacumba and Jacume; and the fence by the port of entry separating downtown Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico.

Jacumba locals say that tight security now bars most social interaction. In New Mexico, the fence abuts a patrol road, which makes sitting and talking difficult. In Nogales, Ariz., the steel mesh is flanked by sidewalks, port officials say, and most conversation is limited to brief exchanges between shoppers on the north side and relatives waiting on the south.

The appeal of a meeting place such as Border Field State Park is strongest for those who can't travel to Mexico to see family, either because they are in the process of adjusting their immigration status or because they are undocumented.

Sitting a few feet from the Sotomayor family, members of the Vera family of El Monte, a Los Angeles suburb, included two sons who are U.S. citizens; the father, who is a legal resident; and the mother, who is in the process of being sponsored for residency by her husband. Her status prohibits her from leaving the country.

“In our case, it doesn't matter if there is a fence,” said Armando Vera, 42, of himself and his sons. “But my wife can't travel. She has to wait another two years.”

The family makes regular trips to the fence to see Leticia Vera's mother, who lives in Tijuana. In the time they have traveled to the fence, they have noticed several changes. Holes in the fence have been fixed, they said, and border agents have become stricter about visitors passing food through the barrier.

“We learned today that we can't even give each other a soda,” said Leticia Vera, 42. “Before, we could reach through the fence and hug each other.”

The Border Patrol has set up a checkpoint near the park entrance. Agent Jason Rodgers said that in spite of existing fencing and patrols, human and drug smuggling still occurs in the area.

“Obviously, we value family unity,” Rodgers said. “However, our priority here is the safety and security of our nation's borders, and this fencing, in that regard, is a piece of the puzzle.”

The fence plan has drawn complaints from several U.S.-based environmental, immigrant-rights, border friendship and religious groups.

“It's going to kind of scare people away,” said Daniel Watman, a Spanish teacher and organizer of Border Meetup, which has conducted yoga, surfing and other events at the fence to promote cultural interaction. “When they see the Border Patrol checking IDs, and all of a sudden there is a 20-foot wall, people are going to say, 'Nah, why bother.' ”

Although some have been meeting at the fence for years, the Sotomayor family learned about Border Field State Park recently. They were making their second visit. Both José Sotomayor and his wife, Rosa Cobian, are awaiting their green cards and can't travel out of the country.

On the south side of the fence, Cobian's mother, Cecilia Nuñez, reveled in getting to know her four grandchildren, whom she only knew through photographs until recently. She hoped the new fence wouldn't get in the way of afternoons like these.

“I'd like to have better communication with them,” said Nuñez, 67, as toddler Jesse giggled on the other side of the mesh, a yard or so away. “I hope we can still keep seeing each other.”


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who will build the fence?

U.S. government awards 3 contracts for border barrier construction

Brownsville Herald
September 23, 2008

Contracts to build the border fence in Cameron County were awarded to three private companies Monday, after Congress approved a $378 million appropriations request to continue the barrier's construction.

Despite longstanding opposition from the county's residents and politicians, construction could begin soon on the Texas border's southernmost stretch.

The contracts are for fence segments in Bluetown, Los Indios, El Calaboz and La Paloma, all rural communities established by 18th century Spanish land grants. The communities are now home to some of the border fence's most vociferous opponents, many of whom have been fighting the barrier in court for nearly a year.

Clute, Texas-based Jaco Construction, Colorado-based MCC Construction and Omaha-based Kiewit Corporation were each awarded contracts to build a total of 7.6 miles of fencing for almost $37 million.

The government must now clear mounting judicial obstacles in order to meet Congress' mandate to build 670 miles of fencing by Dec. 31. So far, 340 miles of fencing have been constructed along the southwest border.

Ninety-seven landowners in the Rio Grande Valley have refused to sell their property to the federal government, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Sept. 10.

Some of those property owners, including Eloisa Tamez of El Calaboz, wonder how contracts can be awarded before lawsuits have been resolved.

"(Homeland Security Secretary) Chertoff is going completely outside of the Constitution, not allowing the federal court to make its decision before he moves on," Tamez said.

Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said he had always maintained that DHS was going to build "something" if the county did not offer an alternative to them.

"I still think that the border/levee combo project was a viable alternative, and I'm just saddened that DHS thought it was not," Cascos said. "For now, we are just going to wait and see what the fence is going to look like."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not announce when construction is expected to begin in Cameron County.


Price wants Inspector General to audit DHS's border fence contracts

Rio Grande Guardian
September 23, 2008

BROWNSVILLE, September 23 - The chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security wants the Inspector General to begin an immediate audit of the Department of Homeland Security’s contracts and task orders for the border fence.

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina, made clear his displeasure over the way DHS is handling the border fence project in a letter sent Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Price voted against the Secure Fence Act.

Price's letter confirmed that DHS can have the additional $378 million it needs to build the remainder of the 670 miles of border fencing. So far, only 344 miles of fencing have been erected.

“I am also copying the Inspector General on this letter and requesting that he immediately begin to audit contracts and task orders associated with site acquisition and construction related to pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers to ensure that the government’s fiduciary responsibilities are carried out,” Price wrote, in his letter to Chertoff.

Price said U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, concurs with the recommendations made in the letter.

In his letter, Price said he does not want DHS having its border fence funds tied up in long term contracts in case delays exist well into fiscal year 2009. “I strongly urge you to consider applying the reprogrammed funds for fencing or barriers only to contracts and task orders of a limited duration, with expiration dates not later than February 2009,” Price wrote.

CBP has told Price’s committee that it plans to obligate funding for most remaining tactical infrastructure projects and complete them before Jan. 31, 2009. “If construction is significantly delayed by litigation or other unforeseen problems, a shorter contract period would help CBP more quickly recover and reapply these funds to high priority technology solutions, rather than let them site unused in long-term contracts,” Price wrote.

DHS Undersecretary Elaine Duke had requested $378,000 from Congress to offset unanticipated cost increases for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The funds should come, Duke said, from a combination of reprogramming, transfers, redirection, and reallocations.

Price responded that the magnitude of the cost growth underlying Duke’s request was “surprising.” The increase in anticipated costs is up 87 percent for pedestrian fencing and 40 percent for vehicle barriers. Price said this was “surprising” because Customs and Border Protection stockpiled steel and other materials in advance.

“It is also surprising that his cost increase seems to have had no impact on the Department’s assessment of the costs and benefits of tactical infrastructure, compared to other means of attaining effective border control,” Price wrote, in his letter to Chertoff.

“It is also alarming that the request would shift technology improvements to the border into 2009 or 2010, although we understand qualification testing of those systems is underway and the Department planned to move ahead soon thereafter with initial deployment.”

Price said that while delays in constructing 670 miles of fencing are in part due to increased costs, they are also a consequence of predictable environmental, flood control and litigation considerations.

Price also said he has “misgivings” about the proposed offsets DHS plans to make, in order to spend more money on the border fence project. The $35 million reduction in Border Patrol spending is “contrary to the bipartisan priority” the Homeland Security subcommittee has placed on manned presence on the border, Price said.

“While CBP says it will achieve its 2008 hiring targets for agents, I am discouraged to learn that most of these ‘savings’ are dud to CBP failure to fill almost 900 support positions required by Border Patrol, Price said. “I direct CBP to intensify its efforts to fill these positions, and expect an accounting of those efforts in the regular hiring briefings provided to the Committee.”

Price said he was “alarmed” that DHS proposed to use $20 million for the southern border fence that was supposed to be used in fiscal year 2007 for the northern border technology project.
“This initiative was specifically funded and directed by this Committee and Congress two years ago, in recognition that the northern border represents a massive vulnerability,” Price wrote. “Given the delay in implementing the project – and the fact that virtually all the $2.7 billion appropriated to BSFIT have gone on the southwest border efforts – the proposal to reprogram these funds is ill-advised.”

Price said that while his subcommittee will not stand in the way of DHS’s efforts to construct the border fence, he has a “serious doubt” about the agency’s ability to accomplish its stated goals. Price denied the proposed use of $20 million for the northern border project but supported a DHS alternative to use $15 million in funding from other sources that would likely lapse if not reprogrammed.

Price also called on Chertoff to direct CBP and Border Patrol to revisit border areas that remain in dispute with local communities, landowners and local government officials. He said he wants an improvement in the “hands-on consultation process” and an assessment of how a border security system can best be designed to meet national, local and regional priorities.

“I understand that the Border Patrol has been engaged in discussions with the Texas Border Coalition to directly review the environmental and other concerns about fencing plans on the border by literally “walking the line” in Cameron, Hidalgo, El Paso and Starr counties,” Price wrote. “Such collaboration would help ensure that border infrastructure is designed in a way to be more secure and cost effective, and I expect you to undertake it.”


$400 million reallocated to construct border fence

San Antonio Express-News
September 23, 2008

WASHINGTON – Congress approved a shift of $400 million from technology accounts to construction of the U.S. border fence despite a Customs and Border Protection admission that it cannot be completed by year's end, officials said Monday.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security agreed to a CBP proposal to transfer funds from other accounts to build the remainder of the 670 miles of border fence.

Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, voiced disappointment over Congress' decision to continue to fund “the border wall.”

“It won't work. It is lethal to people and wildlife and eventually will be torn down,” Foster said.
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the homeland security subcommittee, notified the Bush administration that the funds would be reallocated, a spokeswoman said.

Price also directed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to revisit border areas where there is dispute and work with local officials to improve consultation and assessment.

In a letter to Chertoff, Price said the committee would not stand in the way of the department's attempt to build the fence, “even though I have serious doubt about its ability to accomplish its stated goals.”

The government has built 344 miles of fence, but lawsuits and legal squabbles with landowners in the Rio Grande Valley and in other Texas locations have delayed most construction in the Lone Star state.

Ralph Basham, the CBP commissioner, told Congress earlier this month that the federal government could not meet President Bush's goal of building the fence by the time he leaves office.

Basham also told lawmakers that he needed an additional $400 million, citing the cost overruns from the rising price of steel, materials and fuel.

Customs and Border Protection asked Congress for permission to shift funds from other accounts, most notably high-technology surveillance projects, to the border fence.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, in a letter to Price, asked House appropriators to block the shift in funds. Other Texas border lawmakers signing the letter were Reps. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Congress approves additional border fence funding

The Monitor
September 22, 2008

By Kevin Sieff

Members of Congress will not stand in the way of the border fence's construction, despite the project's rising costs.

The Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved a reprogramming request worth nearly $400 million, allowing construction of the barrier to continue in South Texas. Rising costs of raw materials exhausted funding allocated for the project.

"This committee will not stand in the way of (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's) efforts to construct fencing by the end of the year solely because of funding shortfalls, even though I have serious doubt about its ability to accomplish its stated goals," wrote Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-NC, in a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Price, who voted against the border fence in 2006, expressed his concern about the barrier's construction, urging DHS to "walk the line" in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, and to limit the duration of contracts to February 2009. But the appropriations request was approved with few concrete stipulations.

The money will be redirected from a number of DHS accounts, including $214 million from planned technology investments and $35 million from U.S. Border Patrol. Technology improvements on the border will now be shifted into 2009 or 2010, Price said.
Congress' decision was greeted with derision from the barrier's opponents.

"The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) is disappointed that Congress has approved the reprogramming of $400 million in fiscal 2008 funding to cover the cost overruns for the border wall," said TBC Chairman Chad Foster. "TBC is convinced that the border wall is a waste of taxpayer funds - it won't work, it is lethal to people and wildlife and eventually will be torn down."

With its funding problems resolved, the federal government must now settle more than 200 pending lawsuits before the fence can be constructed in parts of South Texas, including Cameron County. Only 341 miles of the proposed 670 miles of new fencing have been constructed to date.
In response to recent legal and financial holdups, DHS now states that the barrier will be under contract, rather than completed, by the end of 2008.


Border fence in funding limbo

Brownsville Herald
September 21, 2008

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has run out of money to build remaining segments of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere, and the project already is $400 million over budget.

Unexpected construction costs and legal holdups have paralyzed construction just weeks after DHS broke ground in the Valley.

A Sept. 10 Government Accountability Office report said the average cost of fencing has increased more than 40 percent this year.

With 17 miles of fencing in Brownsville "on deck," according to DHS officials, the city's fate now could lie in the hands of a single congressman charged with approving a federal funding request.

DHS can redirect some funding without approval, by cutting down other border security expenditures to salvage $238 million for fencing.

But to secure an additional $140 million, DHS will need the approval of U.S. Rep. David Price, D-NC, chairman of the Sub-Committee on Homeland Security.

Without Price's approval, the border fence likely will remain unfinished at the end of 2008.

If Congress does not comply, "We're out of money and operations will stop," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham told the House Homeland Security Committee on Sept. 10.

Price voted against the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and against a 2007 amendment allotting an additional $89 million for border fencing, infrastructure, and technology.

"I am very concerned about the rapidly escalating costs of border fencing and want to be sure that CBP is being a wise steward of taxpayer dollars," Price said in a statement. "Because the reprogramming would reduce non-fencing activities, including the hiring of Border Patrol personnel, I also want to be sure that the agency is not robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Currently, 341 miles of a proposed 670 miles of new fencing are in place along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

Regardless of the current funding scenario, DHS spokeswoman Angela Rocha said the department "is planning at this time to build the fence in the Brownsville area."

Bids to build segments of the fence in Cameron County have been received but contracts have not yet been awarded.

Congressmen along the Southwest border are unwilling to accept that fencing is a foregone conclusion in their districts. Last week, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, wrote a letter to Price, urging him to deny DHS' reprogramming request. Five congressmen along the southwest border, including U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, signed on.

"We find it irresponsible that the Bush Administration continues to ask Congress for additional funding to finish a fence which will do little to improve the security of our nation," the letter states. "As original opponents of the Secure Fence Act, we ask that your committee block the recent reprogramming request."

Staff at Price's office would not comment on when the reprogramming request will either be approved or denied. But Jean-Louise Beard, Price's chief of staff, denied DHS' assertion that the request was a routine measure.

"This one is out of the ordinary not only because it involves the border fence, which has been very controversial," Beard said, "but also because the request is much larger than the norm and has come very late in the fiscal year."


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Holes in the Wall

Homeland Security won’t say why the border wall is bypassing the wealthy and politically connected.

Texas Observer
February 22, 2008

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security marches down the Texas border serving condemnation lawsuits to frightened landowners, Brownsville resident Eloisa Tamez, 72, has one simple question. She would like to know why her land is being targeted for destruction by a border wall, while a nearby golf course and resort remain untouched.

Tamez, a nursing director at the University of Texas at Brownsville, is one of the last of the Spanish land grant heirs in Cameron County. Her ancestors once owned 12,000 acres. In the 1930s, the federal government took more than half of her inherited land, without paying a cent, to build flood levees.

Now Homeland Security wants to put an 18-foot steel and concrete wall through what remains.

While the border wall will go through her backyard and effectively destroy her home, it will stop at the edge of the River Bend Resort and golf course, a popular Winter Texan retreat two miles down the road. The wall starts up again on the other side of the resort.

“It has a golf course and all of the amenities,” Tamez says. “There are no plans to build a wall there. If the wall is so important for security, then why are we skipping parts?”
Along the border, preliminary plans for fencing seem to target landowners of modest means and cities and public institutions such as the University of Texas at Brownsville, which rely on the federal government to pay their bills.

A visit to the River Bend Resort in late January reveals row after row of RVs and trailers with license plates from chilly northern U.S. states and Canadian provinces. At the edge of a lush, green golf course, a Winter Texan from Canada enjoys the mild, South Texas winter and the landscaped ponds, where white egrets pause to contemplate golf carts whizzing past. The woman, who declines to give her name, recounts that illegal immigrants had crossed the golf course once while she was teeing off. They were promptly detained by Border Patrol agents, she says, adding that agents often park their SUVs at the edge of the golf course.

River Bend Resort is owned by John Allburg, who incorporated the business in 1983 as River Bend Resort, Inc. Allburg refused to comment for this article. A scan of the Federal Election Commission and Texas Ethics Commission databases did not find any political contributions linked to Allburg.

Just 69 miles north, Daniel Garza, 76, faces a similar situation with a neighbor who has political connections that reach the White House. In the small town of Granjeno, population 313, Garza points to a field across the street where a segment of the proposed 18-foot high border wall would abruptly end after passing through his brick home and a small, yellow house he gave his son. “All that land over there is owned by the Hunts,” he says, waving a hand toward the horizon. “The wall doesn’t go there.”

In this area everyone knows the Hunts. Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt and his relatives are one of the wealthiest oil and gas dynasties in the world. Hunt, a close friend of President George W. Bush, recently donated $35 million to Southern Methodist University to help build Bush’s presidential library. In 2001, Bush made him a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, where Hunt received a security clearance and access to classified intelligence.

Over the years, Hunt has transformed his 6,000-acre property, called the Sharyland Plantation, from acres of onions and vegetables into swathes of exclusive, gated communities where houses sell from $650,000 to $1 million and residents enjoy golf courses, elementary schools, and a sports park. The plantation contains an 1,800-acre business park and Sharyland Utilities, run by Hunt’s son Hunter, which delivers electricity to plantation residents and Mexican factories.
The development’s Web site touts its proximity to the international border and the new Anzalduas International Bridge now under construction, built on land Hunt donated. Hunt has also formed Hunt Mexico with a wealthy Mexican business partner to develop both sides of the border into a lucrative trade corridor the size of Manhattan.

Jeanne Phillips, a spokesperson for Hunt Consolidated Inc., says that since the company is private, it doesn’t have to identify the Mexican partner. Phillips says, however, that no one from the company has been directly involved in siting the fence. “We, like other citizens in the Valley, have waited for the federal government to designate the location of the wall,” she says.

Garza stands in front of his modest brick home, which he built for his retirement after 50 years as a migrant farmworker. For the past five months, he has stayed awake nights trying to find a way to stop the gears of bureaucracy from grinding over his home.

A February 8 announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the agency would settle for building the fence atop the levee behind Garza’s house instead of through it, which has given Garza some hope. Like Tamez, he wonders why his home and small town were targeted by Homeland Security in the first place.

“I don’t see why they have to destroy my home, my land, and let the wall end there.” He points across the street to Hunt’s land. “How will that stop illegal immigration?”

Most border residents couldn’t believe the fence would ever be built through their homes and communities. They expected it to run along the banks of the Rio Grande, not north of the flood levees—in some cases like Tamez’s, as far as a mile north of the river. So it came as a shock last summer when residents were approached by uniformed Border Patrol agents. They asked people to sign waivers allowing Homeland Security to survey their properties for construction of the wall. When they declined, Homeland Security filed condemnation suits.

In time, local landowners realized that the fence’s location had everything to do with politics and private profit, and nothing to do with stopping illegal immigration.

In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, authored by Republican Congressman Peter King from New York. The legislation mandated that 700 miles of double-fencing be built along the southern border from California to Texas. The bill detailed where the fencing, or, as many people along the border call it, “the wall,” would be built. After a year of inflamed rhetoric about the plague of illegal immigration and Congress’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the bill passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and a few Democrats. All the Texas border members of the U.S. House of Representatives, except San Antonio Republican Henry Bonilla, voted against it. Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn voted for the bill.

On August 10, 2007, Chertoff announced his agency would scale back the initial 700 miles of fencing to 370 miles, to be built in segments across the southern border. Chertoff cited budget shortages and technological difficulties as justifications for not complying with the bill.

How did his agency decide where to build the segments? Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass, says he thought it was a simple enough question and that the answer would be based on data and facts. Foster chairs the Texas Border Coalition. TBC, as Foster calls it, is a group of border mayors and business leaders who have repeatedly traveled to Washington for the past 18 months to try to get federal officials to listen to them.

Foster says he has never received any logical answers from Homeland Security as to why certain areas in his city had been targeted for fencing over other areas. “I puzzled a while over why the fence would bypass the industrial park and go through the city park,” he says.

Despite terse meetings with Chertoff, Foster and other coalition members say the conversation has been one-sided.

“I think we have a government within a government,” Foster says. “[This is] a tremendous bureaucracy—DHS is just a monster.”

The Observer called Homeland Security in Washington to find out how it had decided where to build the fence. The voice mail system sputtered through a dizzying array of acronyms: DOJ, USACE, CBP, and USCIS. On the second call a media spokesperson with a weary voice directed queries to Michael Friel, the fence spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. Six calls and two e-mails later, Friel responded with a curt e-mail: “Got your message. Working on answers…” it said. Days passed, and Friel’s answers never came.

Since Homeland Security wasn’t providing answers, perhaps Congress would. Phone conversations with congressional offices ranged from “but they aren’t even building a wall” to “I don’t know. That’s a good question.” At the sixth congressional office contacted, a GOP staffer who asked not to be identified, but who is familiar with the fence, says the fencing locations stemmed from statistics showing high apprehension and narcotic seizure rates. This seems questionable, since maps released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed the wall going through such properties as the University of Texas at Brownsville—hardly a hotbed for drug smugglers and immigrant trafficking.

Questioned more about where the data came from, the staffer said she would enquire further. The next day she called back. “The border fence is being handled by Greg Giddens at the Secure Border Initiative Office within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office,” she said.

Giddens is executive director of the SBI, as it is called, which is in charge of SBInet, a consortium of private contractors led by Boeing Co. The group received a multibillion dollar contract in 2006 to secure the northern and southern borders with a network of vehicle barriers, fencing, and surveillance systems. Companies Boeing chose to secure the southern border from terrorists include DRS Technologies Inc., Kollsman Inc., L-3 Communications Inc., Perot Systems Corp., and a unit of Unisys Corp.

A February 2007 audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office cited Homeland Security and the SBInet project for poor fiscal oversight and a lack of demonstrable objectives. The GAO audit team recommended that Homeland Security place a spending limit on the Boeing contract for SBInet since the company had been awarded an “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for 3 years with three 1-year options.”

The agency rejected the auditors’ recommendation, saying 6,000 miles of border is limitation enough.

In a February 2007 hearing, Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had more scathing remarks for Giddens and the SBInet project. “As of December, the Department of Homeland Security had hired a staff of 98 to oversee the new SBInet contract. This may seem like progress until you ask who these overseers are. More than half are private contractors. Some of these private contractors even work for companies that are business partners of Boeing, the company they are supposed to be overseeing. And from what we are now learning from the department, this may be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Waxman said of SBInet that “virtually every detail is being outsourced from the government to private contractors. The government is relying on private contractors to design the programs, build them, and even conduct oversight over them.”

A phone call to Giddens at SBI is referred to Loren Flossman, who’s in charge of tactical infrastructure for the office. Flossman says all data regarding the placement of the fence is classified because “you don’t want to tell the very people you’re trying to keep from coming across the methodology used to deter them.”

Flossman also calls the University of Texas at Brownsville campus a problem area for illegal immigration. “I wouldn’t assume that these are folks that aren’t intelligent enough that if they dress a certain way, they’re gonna fit in,” he says.

Chief John Cardoza, head of the UT-Brownsville police, says the Border Patrol would have to advise his police force of any immigrant smuggling or narcotic seizures that happen on campus. “If it’s happening on my campus, I’m not being told about it,” he says. Cardoza says he has never come across illegal immigrants dressed as students.

Flossman goes on to say that Boeing isn’t building the fence, but is providing steel for it. Eric Mazzacone, a spokesman for Boeing, refers the Observer to Michael Friel at Customs and Border Protection, and intercedes to get him on the phone. Friel confirms that Boeing has just finished building a 30-mile stretch of fence in Arizona, but insists other questions be submitted in writing.

Boeing, a multibillion dollar aero-defense company, is the second-largest defense contractor in the nation. The company has powerful board members, such as William M. Daley, former U.S. secretary of commerce; retired Gen. James L. Jones, former supreme allied commander in Europe; and Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff. The corporation is also one of the biggest political contributors in Washington, giving more than $9 million to Democratic and Republican members of Congress in the last decade. In 2006, the year the Secure Fence Act was passed, Boeing gave more than $1.4 million to Democrats and Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A majority of this money has gone to legislators such as Congressman Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who championed the Secure Fence Act. In 2006, Hunter received at least $10,000 from Boeing and more than $93,000 from defense companies bidding for the SBInet contract, according to the center. During his failed bid this year for the White House, Hunter made illegal immigration and building a border fence the major themes of his campaign.

In early February 2008, Chertoff asked Congress for $12 billion for border security. He included $775 million for the SBInet program, despite the fact that congressional leaders still can’t get straight answers from Homeland Security about the program. As recently as January 31, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members sent a letter to Chertoff asking for “greater clarity on [the Customs and Border Protection office’s] operational objectives for SBInet and the projected milestones and anticipated costs for the project.” They have yet to receive a response.

Boeing continues to hire companies for the SBInet project. And the congressional districts of backers of the border fence continue to benefit. A recent Long Island Business News article trumpeted the success of Telephonics Corp., a local business, in Congressman King’s congressional district that won a $14.5 million bid to provide a mobile surveillance system under SBInet to protect the southern border.

While Garza and Tamez wait for answers, they say they are being asked to sacrifice something that can’t be replaced by money. They are giving up their land, their homes, their heritage, and the few remaining acres left to them that they hoped to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

“I am an old man. I have colon cancer, and I am 76 years old,” Garza says, resting against a tree in front of his home. “All I do is worry about whether they will take my home. My wife keeps asking me, ‘What are we going to do?’”

Besides these personal tragedies, Eagle Pass Mayor Foster says there is another tragedy in store for the American taxpayer. A 2006 congressional report estimates the cost of maintaining and building the fence could be as much as $49 billion over its expected 25-year life span.

“They are just going to push this problem on the next administration, and nobody is going to talk about immigration reform, and that’s the illness,” Foster says. “The wall is a Band-Aid on the problem. And to blow $49 billion and not walk away with a secure border—that’s a travesty.”


Saturday, September 20, 2008

McCain, Obama Mislead on Immigration

Washington Post
September 20, 2008

INTERVIEWER: "You voted for the construction of the wall between Mexico and the United States..."
JOHN MCCAIN: "I didn't vote for an...I am not sure what you are talking about, but we can secure...our borders with walls and/or fences in urban areas, and then virtual fences, vehicle barriers.
INTERVIEWER: "But, you did vote for the wall."
MCCAIN: "I didn't vote for an...I don't know what you are exactly what you are referring to."
--Interview with Univision, Sept. 15, 2008.

Trolling for the votes of Hispanic Americans, John McCain distanced himself this week from plans to build a 700-mile wall along sections of the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border. He suggested that he preferred a "virtual" electronic wall, with actual physical fences only in urban areas. But that claim misrepresents his vote back in September 2006, when he helped pass the "Secure Fence Act."

The Facts

As a leading proponent of immigration reform, the Arizona senator long took the view that action designed to stop the flow of illegal aliens into the country should be combined with offering a path to legal citizenship to those that were already here. But he changed his position in 2006 as he prepared for his presidential bid, and voted for a law that was focused almost exclusively on keeping illegal aliens out. The law stipulates that a large stretch of the new wall would be built in McCain's home state of Arizona.

Most of the top presidential candidates, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, joined McCain in voting for the "Secure Fence Act," which passed the Senate by 80-19.

Questioned by the Spanish language television station Univision about his support for the fence, McCain claimed that he did not know what the interviewer was talking about. But the language of the legislation is very clear. Section 3 of the Act orders the Department of Homeland Security to oversee the construction of "at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors" along five sections of the border, totaling 700 miles.

In the meantime, the Obama campaign has also put out a television adaccusing McCain of "lying" to win Latino votes while supporting hardline Republican policies on immigration and other matters. The advertisement attempts to link McCain to the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who appears on screen along with quotes like "Shut your mouth or get out."

As several bloggers have pointed out, here and here, the Limbaugh quotes have been taken out of context. The attempt to link McCain to Limbaugh is also unfair, given the fact that the radio host has frequently criticized McCain, particularly on the issue of immigration reform.

The Pinocchio Test

Both McCain and Obama have taken liberties with the truth in seeking the support of Hispanic-Americans, who are emerging as a crucial voting bloc in the presidential election. McCain had a politically convenient memory lapse in forgetting his vote for a physical wall along long sections of the Mexican border, while Obama incorrectly suggested that his rival shares Limbaugh's ideas on immigration.


Friday, September 19, 2008

GAO: Border-fence woes Homeland Security's fault

Arizona Daily Star
September 19, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office — the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress — on Thursday blamed mismanagement in the Department of Homeland Security for delays and failures in the construction of the planned 670-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

There were "some serious gaps" in the DHS approach, the GAO said, citing what it said was the department's failure to specify performance requirements for a high-tech segment of the fence and to implement effective testing.

Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems issues for the GAO, told the House Homeland Security Committee that the failure to complete the fence was "not a technical issue, it's an acquisition-management issue."

Congress directed the DHS in the 2006 Secure Fence Act to construct the fence by Dec. 31, 2008, as part of a larger effort to combat illegal immigration. The so-called "virtual fence" consists of cameras, sensors and radar along sections of the Mexican border in Texas and Arizona.

Hite said completion of the fence will spill over into the administration that takes office in January.

Richard Stana, director of homeland security for the GAO, said the DHS did not set strict "performance standards" for Project 28, a virtual fence pilot led by the Boeing Co. along a 28-mile stretch of border flanking Sasabe, Ariz.

Project 28 has faced significant technical difficulties and does not meet performance expectations, Stana said.

The DHS has blamed delays in the virtual fence on technical problems and demands by the GAO and the House Homeland Security Committee that the technology be thoroughly tested before being used.

Hite said the new administration should press for the creation of clear goals for the project to ensure the fence's success.

The DHS has said troubles in acquiring land have also slowed the project, although 341 miles of the planned 670 miles of fence have so far been constructed and contracts for the project's entire span have been completed.

"If the property acquisition is not done by the end of this month, all bets are off for finishing by the end of this year," Stana said on Wednesday. "If the goal was to have a contract, they will be in by the end of the year."

The project's physical fence has also faced higher-than-projected material costs, both as a result of changes to the project's initial design and higher concrete and steel costs.

Some committee members voiced frustration with the delay.

"Clearly, we're dealing with B.S.," quipped Rep. Al Green, D-Texas. "I'm not sure that we're getting as much for the B.S. as we are allocating."

When pushed to identify whether the department now possesses "operational control" of the Mexican border, defined as the ability to identify, classify and respond to any threat, Stana noted recent improvements but responded: "We're not at that point yet, and it could be years before we get there."


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mexico, US find no al-Qaida links since 9/11

Associated Press / San Jose Mercury News
September 12, 2008

MEXICO CITY—Mexico says it has arrested 12 people on terrorism charges in the years since the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S., but an official said none were linked to Muslim extremist groups like al-Qaida nor were any planning to strike in the United States.

Officials from both nations say there hasn't been any sign of the southern U.S. border becoming an entry point for terrorists, as had been feared after the suicide jetliner hijackings that struck New York and Washington.

The Mexican government revealed the 12 arrests to The Associated Press this week in response to a public information request seeking details of any terrorism arrests in the last seven years. The request was made in February.

Many Americans feared Islamic terrorists from al-Qaida might try to slip into the United States by linking up with the criminal gangs and drug cartels that control large swaths of Mexico and smuggle drugs and migrants across the border.

Months after the 2001 attack, President Bush pushed Mexico to increase security. "We need to use our technology to make sure that we weed out those who we don't want in our country, the terrorists, the 'coyotes,' the smugglers, those that prey on innocent life," he said.

Asked whether Mexico's 12 terrorism arrests were linked to plots against the United States, an official at the Mexican Attorney General's office said none "had anything to do with that."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to be quoted by name, said those detained had links to Basque militants in Spain or were involved in radical domestic activities in Mexico.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Friday the U.S. continually works with Mexico to ensure terrorists don't turn to Mexico and so far there is no evidence that has happened.

"There's no indication that there's been a direct al-Qaida presence in Mexico," he said. "But there certainly have been individuals that present security concerns."

He wouldn't elaborate, but one of the U.S. government's recent worries has been smuggling networks moving East African migrants through Latin America and into the U.S. Two such smugglers operating in Mexico and Belize were arrested last year.

In a speech Wednesday on international terrorism threats, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the biggest threat in Mexico is likely the powerful drug trade, in which gangs target both police and civilians and often behead their enemies.

"These enterprises may currently be criminal enterprises, but we cannot rule out the possibility in the future that they may take on a more political coloration," he said.

The U.S. has dramatically increased border security, adding fencing and border agents and monitoring more closely those who cross at border stations.

Mexico also has become much more vigilant of foreigners entering both legally and illegally.

Many people from Muslim countries now have trouble getting visas to visit Mexico, and officials have arrested dozens of Christian Iraqis who fled violence in their homeland and tried to sneak into Southern California through Mexico.

Thomas Sanderson, deputy director of the transnational threats project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said al-Qaida usually sends its members through Europe because, unlike Mexico, citizens of those countries can enter U.S. territory without a visa.

"We are more likely to see people come in through airplanes," he said.

He also doubts al-Qaida operatives would expose themselves to organized crime or smuggling groups in Mexico. "They'd be concerned that their cover or their effort would be exposed. It's unfamiliar territory for them," he said.

Pressed to discuss the 12 peopled arrested, the Mexican official would say only that five were Spaniards linked to the Basque separatist group ETA and that seven were Mexicans detained in domestic cases.

She said the purported ETA members were living in Mexico to help finance the group's operations in the Basque region of northern Spain and were not planning attacks.

The official said some of the seven Mexican suspects were tied to murky domestic militant groups that have planted crude bombs at banks, government offices and oil pipelines across Mexico in recent years.

None of those attacks caused human casualties but several of the pipeline attacks had a big financial impact by interrupting fuel supplies to major industries.


Are feds on track on fence?

Sierra Vista Herald
September 14, 2008

BISBEE — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security claims that more than half of the fencing called for in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 has been built along the U.S.-Mexico border.But a local border watch group is claiming those figures are not accurate.

The U.S. government is building the fence in an effort to make the border more secure and help decrease illegal immigration.As of Aug. 29, a total of more than 344 miles of fencing had been constructed under the Secure Border Initiative program, including 190 miles of pedestrian fence and more than 154 miles of vehicle fence.

In other words, more than half of the proposed 670 miles is finished, according to Angela de Rocha, office of public affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

“The completed fence is mainly in New Mexico, Arizona and California, with construction under way in Texas,” she states in an e-mail to the Herald/Review. “I think the numbers are actually a little higher, in that we have completed some segments since August 29, but this is the official mileage count.”

Glenn Spencer, president of American Border Patrol, a non-governmental organization that performs aerial surveys of fence construction, said the figures supplied by the Department of Homeland Security are wrong.

His group’s data shows that only 108 miles of fence have been built so far, in addition to about 161 miles of vehicle barriers, according to http://www.americanpatrol.com/.

An amendment to the Secure Fence Act in December 2007 requires the government to complete 340 miles of fencing by Dec. 31. But survey data recently released by American Border Patrol shows that only 23 miles were added since April, or about five miles per month. At that rate of construction, Spencer said, “It seems most likely that they will fall far short.”

He also responded to reports that the Bush administration needs an additional $400 million to finish the border fence this year. He criticized officials for playing games with the budget “in order to make sure they could stop the fence now before it was discovered they had no plans to do the job anyway.”

Fence construction recently started on the west side of the San Pedro River. Spencer said the new fence design there is a major improvement compared to much of the fencing that has been built so far.

“For most of the Naco Border Patrol area, there is a mesh-type fence that is about 13 feet tall,” he said during an interview. “What they are installing now, west of the river, is 18 feet tall and it is made of steel beams with a steep plate at the top. It is more effective because number one, it is taller, and number two, it doesn’t have mesh where you can put in screwdrivers and climb up the fence.”

But, Spencer stressed, even though the new fence design is improved, the government needs to build two layers of it. That is, one fence and then another fence built parallel to it. With only a single layer, it is too easy to place items, such as tires or a ladder, against the fence and use them to climb over, he added.

Richard Hodges, who owns a ranch near Bisbee Junction, said he is pleased with a section of border fence the government built along his property earlier this year. Previously, only a barbed wire fence existed there.

The new fence there is made with steel poles that stand about 13 feet tall. Hodges said he thinks this style of fencing is far better than the mesh-type fencing that has been built in other areas.

“From what I have seen, it is effective,” Hodges said.

Spencer, on the other hand, said he does not think the fence near the Hodges ranch is effective.

Hodges acknowledged “it would be possible for someone wearing tennis shoes to tie their feet together, shimmy up the round poles of the fence, swing over the top and shimmy down the other side.”

“With the square tubing, you are not supposed to be able to do that,” Hodges added. “I suppose that is probably true in theory, but I don’t know how many people could do that. I couldn’t.”

The Arizona Sierra Club, a grass-roots environmental organization, is not pleased with the current construction of border fence near the San Pedro River.

“They have already completed the wall on the east side of the bank. Now that they are building the wall on the west side of the bank, it is just going to further inhibit wildlife from being able to use that area to cross back and forth across the border,” said Sean Sullivan, spokesman for the group.

He added that border fence construction also has caused flooding problems recently in Nogales and in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Sullivan said the fencing does not have the desired effect of stopping illegal immigration. Rather, it is simply moving illegal immigrants to another area to cross the border.

The Sierra Club recently finished a documentary about border wall construction from California to Texas. The film is intended to urge people to tell representatives to repeal Section 102 of the Real ID Act, which is how the government is able to move forward with construction without adhering to laws.

A screening of the film will take place in Tucson on Saturday. DVDs are available. For information, visit www.arizona.sierraclub.org/border. To view a six-minute version, click on “border film.”


On the border, on the edge

Boston Globe
September 14, 2008

COLUMBUS, N.M. - On a bumpy dirt road along the US-Mexico border, the mayor of this tiny town pulled his truck tight beside the government's multimillion-dollar new fence. He wanted a closer look, but someone else was watching, too.

A sport utility vehicle was on him in minutes, lights blazing.

"The Border Patrol is right in back of us now," Mayor Eddie Espinoza said with a sigh, pulling over for what has become a routine stop, even for him. "Most of the guys, they're not local. . . . It used to upset me quite a bit. Now it's part of the situation that you've got to deal with."

The federal government has poured millions of dollars into barricading the border here, erecting a 15-foot-tall steel fence and bringing in hundreds of new agents to patrol it. But in the village beside the fence, resentment simmers. Residents say they feel neglected by politicians whose focus is on a line in the sand 3 miles to the south, and not on the worsening hardships of the Americans living within sight of it.

With New Mexico a swing state in the coming presidential election - and even more influential as the state with the nation's highest proportion of Latinos - villagers hope their votes will matter.
"What is the point of putting everything on the border, and nothing here?" said Arnoldo Rubio, a town councilor. "Why don't they come here and pay attention to the town?"

Columbus, population 1,765, is a farming town along Highway 9, a two-lane ribbon of road flanked by endless scrub-covered desert, with a ragged mountain range on the horizon. Though it is New Mexico's only 24-hour border crossing, the town is eerily quiet, a spare grid of gravelly streets and weedy lots, with a post office, one bank and no stoplights.

It is hard to imagine now, but Columbus was fleetingly famous in 1916, when Pancho Villa's revolutionary army raided it from Mexico. For a time Columbus was the state's biggest city, but it dwindled, and the last train stopped in 1961. An immigration amnesty in 1986 helped revive the town: From 1990 to 2000, the population nearly tripled. The vast majority are Latino.

Barely half of the town's adults are citizens and eligible to vote. The rest are a mix of noncitizen legal residents, and some illegal immigrants. Of the 680 registered voters, about half are Democrats, and the rest are Republicans or independents. Turnout ranges from more than 60 percent for a local election to a few dozen voters in this year's presidential primaries.

The village is not lacking for issues. Half the townspeople live in trailers, some without phones or electricity. More than a third of the families earned less than $10,000 a year, according to the 2000 census. Residents went without clean running water until last spring - and then the water bills nearly doubled.

The shortage of decent jobs is Columbus's biggest problem, according to the mayor as well as the gray-haired farmhands and the school principal. Most of the town depends on the onion, chile, and cotton fields - but the jobs are grueling and unstable. For about six months a year, farm workers labor in the dirt under the searing sun, with an eye out for scorpions and rattlesnakes. They can earn roughly $15 an hour, if they work fast.

But the rest of the year, there is nothing. Workers move away or collect unemployment. About half of the adults here have less than a ninth grade education and aren't fluent in English. Up to 14 percent of the town is unemployed, triple the state's rate.

Teenagers see little future here. In the onion fields, the biggest employer in town, more than 90 percent of the pickers are aged 50 and older. María and Simón Medina, knelt side by side one recent morning, clipping fat onions and dumping them in a bucket. A son was away at college.

"We don't have young people here anymore," said María Medina, 57, eyes squinting under a straw hat.

At 4 a.m. the same field is full, half-lit by giant klieg lights and miners' bulbs strapped to workers' foreheads. The owners, the Johnson family, let them work at night to avoid the sun.
But Juan López, was uneasy. A snake bit a worker two weeks earlier, and the nearest hospital is 30 miles away.

"After 50 years this town doesn't grow," said López, 63, clippers in hand. "There are so many things missing."

Espinoza said he is trying to improve things. But to attract employers, he needs better roads and utilities and more educated workers.

He is building the first new school in 50 years, working with the government to expand the border crossing to attract more business, and shutting off water service to delinquent residents to force them to pay their bills. Next he plans to tackle the town's falling-down trailers.

"Right now if we [were] to go and inspect houses most of them would be condemned," Espinoza said.

On Missouri Street, Jesús Miramontes, 72, lives in a rickety trailer without heat or electricity. To survive, he keeps pigs and chickens for his wife and two grandchildren, who live with him.
Miramontes was a life-long farmhand who now lives on a cramped lot, with a vast field behind it. He keeps talking about adding electricity, but never does it.

"Everything's so expensive," said Miramontes.

He is a legal resident, and would like to vote in the elections. But he cannot afford the $675 fee to apply for US citizenship. It is a tenth of what he earned last year.

Francisca and José Morales expected more from America when they moved here from Mexico more than a decade ago. José and a daughter, María, became US citizens, and she has earned her GED. But now the family lives 12 to a trailer on Iowa Street, on a dirt yard filled with chickens and strewn with children's Matchbox cars.

José, María, and another daughter, Hilda, all head to the chile fields at dawn, anxious to save money for the hard months when the work runs out. Lately, they have noticed that the owner is buying giant tractor-like machines to replace them.

"We need a factory," said Francisca Morales, swatting away flies in her kitchen, where she sorted and soaked dry beans for dinner.

"I have two girls who should be working in other things and not in the fields."

As gas, food, and water prices soared this summer, the family hunkered down in the 90-degree heat. They turned off the air-conditioning, drained the wading pool, and stopped watering the plants. Morales, who works at home caring for eight children, started showering every three days.

Many of the issues in the presidential election are crammed under their roof: lack of health insurance, little education, unstable jobs, and desperation for change. The two adults who can vote, José and María, say they are backing Barack Obama.

"He's promising to help the people," said José.

María had dreamed of becoming a nursing assistant when she came here at age 15 from Mexico. Now 27, she comes home caked in dirt from pulling chiles from branches all day.

"If this town would progress, I would stay," María Morales said in Spanish.

"The truth is I want to go to Colorado. There's more work. Here, you have to fight for everything. Here it doesn't matter if you're a US citizen. The opportunities are the same."

. . .

In Columbus people like to say they don't even notice the border. They straddle two cultures, languages and towns.

James Johnson, the boss of the onion field, speaks Spanish with a Mexican lilt, and Rubio, the town councilor, is a US citizen who has never learned to speak English. Columbus residents regularly flow across the border to the bigger city of Palomas for cheaper eyeglasses, prescription drugs, and Mexico's government-subsidized gas (almost $2 cheaper a gallon).

But in the eight years of the Bush administration, the border has become much more visible to everyone. For one thing, there is the fence. To boost national security after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and curb illegal immigration, the US government last year built a fence of concrete-filled steel poles that runs 6 miles east to west and 5 feet underground.

Along with the fence, the federal government deployed hundreds of agents to patrol it.

Seemingly overnight, the area's border patrol rose to roughly 400 people from only 80 six years ago - and from only two guys who lived in town when Espinoza was a kid in the 1960s.

Now agents are all over town - perched on lookout towers, riding all-terrain vehicles in the dead of night, in helicopters, and on horseback. The Border Patrol says the number of illegal immigrants tromping through fields and backyards has plunged from about 300 a day two years ago to almost none. They also credit the build-up of agents with keeping the bloody drug war and other crime in Mexico from spilling onto US soil.

"For the last year it's been nothing but 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' " said James G. Acosta, a supervisory border patrol agent for the Border Patrol. Espinoza has been trying to get the border agents - who can earn upward of $70,000 a year - to move to Columbus and create a middle class. The average Columbus resident earned $6,700 a year, according to the 2000 census.

But Columbus has no shopping mall and no movie theater. Kids hang out in parks or make music CDs at the library. For adults, the town has three restaurants and one bar, the Pancho Villa Salon, which attracted four women one recent Friday for "Ladies Night."

Acosta winced at the thought of moving here.

"What do you have for a family from New York or Michigan to ask them to move to this little town?" said Acosta, who lives almost two hours to the north in Las Cruces.

"How the hell do you keep busy?"


River draws a muddy line on Texas' unfenced border

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
September 14, 2008

REDFORD, Texas — The Rio Grande takes a wide southern detour when it hits West Texas, as if unwilling to draw too straight a line between the U.S. and Mexico. Locals along this remote stretch of shallow river share the feeling.

People living on both sides of the Big Bend, as the curve is known, are glad to be mostly skipped over by plans for 700 miles of new fence along the U.S.-Mexico border — even if their unspoiled desert boundary risks drawing more illegal traffic as the rest of the line is sealed off.

"The river doesn't divide us here," said local historian Enrique Madrid, raising his voice over the joyful screams of kids, from both sides of Rio Grande, whacking at a pinata during a recent birthday party in the tiny river hamlet of Redford.

"We've crossed it long before the United States existed," he continued. "And we'll be crossing it a long time after the United States disappears."

New walls are doubling up existing barriers in California, closing wide desert valleys in Arizona and New Mexico and fencing off more populated areas of the South Texas riverbank. The new construction will leave some 630 miles along the Big Bend as the longest unfenced piece of southern U.S. frontier.

Here the Rio Grande cuts an elegantly simple border, splitting the two countries into cane-choked banks or towering limestone cliffs. The wet line in the sand means nothing to the desert's circling buzzards and migrating black bears, but it complicates life for the two-nation families and isolated local economies that need both halves of this desert to survive.

Redford, a knot of adobe homes and alfalfa fields some 300 miles downriver from El Paso, made headlines in 1997 when U.S. Marines on a secret anti-drug mission mistakenly gunned down a local high school student, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., as he herded goats along the Texas bank.
His death prompted the cancellation of U.S. military anti-drug operations amid heated debate over whether soldiers trained to kill foreign enemies can sort friend from foe along America's often uncertain edges.

The alliances are tangled even within Hernandez's own family: A brother has pleaded guilty to smuggling immigrants, while a nephew is applying to the Border Patrol.

Such is life along this skinny stretch of the river, where native peoples built the first settlement on the site of present-day Redford around 1200 A.D.

Local residents crossed freely with the Border Patrol's tacit permission until 2001. Following the 9/11 attacks, agents declared the crossing closed and blockaded its bank with a few small boulders.

The rocks do not stop Amado Bustamante, 79, who lives across from Redford in the Mexican village of El Mulato, from wading across once a month to buy a box of lard.

"It's cheaper" on the Texas side, he said with a smile. "And they haven't caught us yet."

With only 373 agents to cover 510 miles of river, the Border Patrol's Marfa Sector tends to play its defense well behind the line, focusing on highway checkpoints between the border and Interstate 10, a hundred miles or more to the north. Agents also patrol back roads through mountain ranges stretching as much as 5,000 feet above both sides of the river. They visit traditional crossings like Redford as time permits.

"Nature has kindly fenced a lot of this area for us," says Chief Patrol Agent John Smietana.
"We're not able to cover, or even get to, the river in a lot of places on a regular basis. So it is possible to cross the river very easily in some of those places. The hard part is then getting from the river up to one of the roads to get away."

Anecdotal evidence suggests more migrants and smugglers may be willing to try.

Trend-spotting is difficult in the Big Bend since its relatively small enforcement numbers can be tipped by one big bust. But marijuana seizures are up 16 percent this year while the Border Patrol has rescued 11 stranded migrants — more saved than any year on record, though still a trickle compared to the hundreds rescued each year farther west in Arizona.

Other indicators are harder to miss. Ojinaga, a small Mexican border city across from Presidio, just upriver from Redford, has seen an unheard-of 10 drug-related killings so far this year — the last two in a midday hail of bullets on a main street.

The violence has kept to the Mexican side, even as the smuggling crosses over. In March, Border Patrol investigators broke up a local migrant smuggling operation that employed Francisco Hernandez, brother of the late Esequiel, and his wife, Paula.

Hernandez admitted bringing at least 29 migrants through the Redford crossing over the last three years, allegedly receiving $400 per person from the ringleader, Jose Franco of Odessa. Franco then paid a local cowboy to drive them on ranch roads around a Border Patrol checkpoint, according to court documents.

The cowboy was released without charge after helping investigators set up the sting that brought the group down. In August, Franco received a reduced 21-month sentence after testifying against the Hernandez couple, whose small Redford home faces likely government seizure. Both pleaded guilty to transporting illegal aliens, and face sentencing this month. Court documents allege Paula gave dry clothes to migrants after they crossed the river.

The cowboy — who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from others involved — said word had spread quickly of an easy crossing on the Big Bend's back roads, where migrants did not need to risk a long desert hike or crowd dangerously into sealed tractor-trailers.

"Word of mouth would get around that not only was it safe, but they were treated well," the cowboy said. Migrants generally rode north on the floor of a Chevy Suburban with a sheet over their heads, he said. "They weren't wrapped up in carpets. They were fed. They were able to go to the bathroom."

Smuggling wages are tempting in Presidio County, one of the poorest in the country, where a third of the 8,000 residents live in poverty.

A year after Esequiel's death, the Hernandez family won a $1.9 million wrongful death settlement from the government. But the money was set aside to care for his aging parents, and Francisco never saw much of it, according to his older brother Margarito Hernandez, Sr., a police officer in Presidio.

Francisco "doesn't have a steady job, and he's got five kids," said Margarito. "Those are factors people will take advantage of, if they know you're in need."

The Border Patrol now plans to double its Marfa Sector agents and install vehicle barriers at 30 illegal Big Bend crossings, including Redford's. Six miles of proposed fence flanking Presidio have been postponed after construction bids came in over budget.

But these barriers will not stop locals from splashing through a boundary their forebears have crossed for centuries.

Margarito Hernandez Jr., son of the Presidio policeman, remembers pedaling bikes with his cousins into the Rio Grande "just to see who could actually get to the other side."

Chatting at the birthday party, Margarito, 19, said he has applied to the Border Patrol and dreams of being posted to his family's often unpatrolled hometown as an agent who understands just how muddy a line the river can be.

He nodded his cowboy hat towards a low rise over the river where a white cross marks the spot Esequiel was killed.

"I don't see why an agent couldn't be up there on that hill."


Saturday, September 13, 2008

First US-Mex fence: fewer migrants, more violence

Washington Post
September 13, 2008

TIJUANA, Mexico -- There is a moment each evening, as the sun melts into the Pacific, when Colonia Libertad is at peace.

The dimming light blurs the hilltop slum's rough edges, camouflaging piles of trash in long shadows and making it difficult to tell that some of the tightly packed homes clinging to vertical canyonsides are made of old packing crates and cast-off plastic tarps.

The stadium lighting that towers over the corrugated metal wall marking the U.S.-Mexico border is dark, permitting residents a bird's eye view of Tijuana, where lights are blinking on, blanketing hills that lead toward the ocean. Farther inland, the dark shadows of mountains are sketched across the sky.

There are no helicopters reverberating overhead, no drone of all-terrain vehicles. Even the bony guard dogs chained outside their homes respect the silence. Fathers stroll lazily behind children who steer beat-up tricycles along the rutted dirt paths that serve as streets.

For a moment, residents are reminded of what it was like before the wall, when children ducked under a barbed wire fence to play soccer in U.S. territory and returned home for dinner. When smuggling meant giving directions to migrants who simply outran border agents and melted into the crowds of tourists.

But it is only a moment.

The floodlights click on, bathing the neighborhood in a blinding light. The helicopters return, clattering past. And the smugglers arrive with their ladders and blow torches and groups of people desperate to escape a fate similar to the one residents of Colonia Libertad long ago accepted.

As the U.S. government battles environmentalists and residents to build hundreds more miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, both sides would be well served to take a long look at Colonia Libertad _ Freedom Neighborhood.

In the early 1990s, Colonia Libertad became one of the first places to coexist with the recycled, corrugated-iron barrier that has become a symbol of the conflicted relationship between a first-world superpower and the developing nation that lives in its shadow.

The fence didn't stop the migrants. It didn't stop the drugs. It merely pared down the hopeful crowds that used to flood San Diego hillsides, diverted the drugs underground and into the mountains, and helped create a ruthless smuggling industry dedicated to beating the U.S. Border Patrol at its own game.

But that's not to say the sections of fence that have been built haven't been successful. The barriers, combined with high-tech security measures such as surveillance cameras and ground sensors, have made getting into the U.S. extremely difficult. And as security has increased in recent years, the number of people trying to cross has fallen dramatically.

The downside, residents on both sides say, is that the border has become a violent battleground, shattering a shared American and Mexican history that is blind to things such as fences and borders.

Once, the only barrier between Colonia Libertad and San Diego was a barbed-wire fence.
Residents would squeeze between its rusty spikes, escaping the crowded barrio for the open hillsides of U.S. territory. Adults roasted meat in barbecue pits while children ran free.

"It used to be fun, because we'd cross and play soccer or baseball or volleyball," says Jaime Boites, 35, whose home is steps from the border. "Nobody cared. When we were done, we'd just go back to our houses in Mexico."

U.S. Border Patrol agents left the picnickers alone. Sometimes they even strolled over and shared a taco.

They were more concerned with the other side of Colonia Libertad, the smugglers who used the neighborhood as a staging ground for vanloads of people or drugs or some other kind of contraband that the gringos legally didn't want but were always willing to pay for.

It wasn't hard to get to the United States, which had few agents and little security. Sometimes migrants gathered at the border in large groups to rush past outnumbered guards, like a crude game of sharks and minnows. Others packed into vans that raced drugs or people across the hills.

"Back then, there used to be vans going through U.S. territory, just like nothing," Boites says. "Vans full of people, any time of day."

Boites was 8 when one van struck and killed a 5-year-old girl.

That was the main reason the wall went up: to stop the vehicles.

When the first stretch of wall went up, made of material recycled from landing strips left over from Vietnam, Boites was a teenager living in San Diego. Back at his family home, the fence cut off the view of the United States.

Little changed in Colonia Libertad. Smugglers cut holes in the fence and drove their vans through. Migrants scrambled over the wall, using the corrugated ridges like the steps of a ladder.

But to people in Colonia Libertad, it was still a slap in the face, proof the gringos weren't willing to acknowledge that they needed Mexicans to cut their lawns and take care of their kids.

"Sometimes we get the feeling that we aren't wanted over there," Boites says, gazing at the graffiti-covered wall.

Americans saw the fence as a necessity because millions of undocumented workers and tons of illegal drugs were streaming into their cities.

But it had consequences they never intended: Seasonal workers unable to easily go back and forth built permanent lives north of the border. Migrants were pushed into the searing desert of Arizona, and more than 1,600 have died, often of thirst and exposure.

In Tijuana, the United States kept increasing security, using the area to test new anti-smuggling methods and expanding the ones that worked. It added a second layer of fencing at some points, redesigning each barrier to make it more difficult to overcome.

Smugglers responded by charging migrants more money and becoming more violent. They used slingshots to launch rocks, bottles, nail-studded planks, Molotov cocktails. Sometimes they wanted to hurt border agents, but mostly they were trying to create diversions while they moved people or drugs across at another point.

Since last October, there have been 340 assaults on Border Patrol agents patrolling the California border. The Border Patrol says it doesn't know whether any agents were injured in those attacks.

The response, however, has taken a toll. In 2005, an 18-year-old Mexican boy was fatally shot by the Border Patrol. In August, a Mexican man was shot and wounded by an agent trying to disperse a group of rock throwers at a dry, concrete-lined gulley near Colonia Libertad.

During one assault, agents fired pepper and tear gas across the border into Colonia Libertad.
In a ramshackle house that uses the border fence as its back wall, Esther Arias' eyes began to water, her throat burned and she couldn't catch her breath. Her 3-week-old grandson screamed in pain, confused by the air that singed his tiny lungs.

A tear gas canister punched a hole in her father's house across the street and landed on the floor.

"Soccer field" is written on the U.S. side of the fence facing Colonia Libertad.

That's the only reminder that Mexican children once played here. Now it's a marker for the Border Patrol.

High-powered cameras look in every direction from atop towering poles. Ground sensors let agents know when someone is moving through the fields.

"We've got bodies," a voice crackles over James Jacques' walkie-talkie.

In the distance, a few people dressed in black jump from lightweight handmade ladders they used to scale the second layer of fencing. They run into a ditch, but agents catch them within seconds. A van pulls up, and they are loaded inside to be driven back to Mexico.

Those are the easy ones. Jacques says many smugglers have become violent, once stringing a nearly invisible wire across a path to knock agents off all-terrain vehicles. One took out a camera tower with a shotgun.

"Before, they wouldn't fight back if caught," Jacques says. "Now it's military-style tactics."

He defends the use of tear gas and pepper balls, saying the alternative is worse.

Studying Colonia Libertad through binoculars, Jacques sees not a neighborhood of families, but a smugglers' den.

"That's a lookout tower," he says, pointing to a small room built on top of a house. "You'll see them all along the border."

Drug smugglers have gotten more sophisticated as well. They have built more than two dozen tunnels under the border since 1994. One opened into a warehouse steps from the border, and drug dealers posing as businessmen quietly shipped their wares across the U.S. until agents shut them down.

Other drug runners have taken to the mountains, using blowtorches to cut large doors in the fence and then taking four-wheel-drive vehicles across the rugged terrain.

In one of the new subdivisions carpeting the hills north of the border, Alma Beltran, 42, turns her sport utility Volvo into her two-car garage and carries groceries into the kitchen for dinner.
She and her husband, both Mexicans, own a factory that makes packaging labels in the beach resort of Ensenada, but they moved to the U.S. a few years ago so that their daughter could go to American schools and speak fluent English.

But they didn't go far: Their home is two miles from the border.

"If we go on a walk _ and we like to go on walks _ every time we try to do that, we are stopped by border patrollers," Beltran says. "They are always pleasant and say, 'Ma'am, you shouldn't be walking here. It is dangerous.'"

Beltran says she is polite, but rarely turns back. Having grown up in both Mexico City and the U.S., she's not frightened by the increased security in the U.S. or the violence in Mexico.

"It's the same problem: People trying to cross. Agents chasing people home," she says. "There's nothing new."

Her neighborhood is a sprawling collection of cavernous terra-cotta homes that sell for double what most Mexicans will make in a lifetime. Spanish is the predominant language, and most of her neighbors are upper-class Mexicans driven north by a wave of kidnappings and drug violence south of the border.

But even in the carefully groomed suburbs of San Diego, it is impossible to escape Mexico.

Beltran has only to look out her kitchen window to be reminded that she is caught between two worlds.

As she makes dinner, she can see the hillsides worn bald by the Border Patrol, the fences dividing the San Diego suburbs' neat grid from the jumbled streets of Tijuana. In the distance, the stadium lights flooding Colonia Libertad flicker on.