November 14, 2008
El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez was invited to testify last week before the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC) of the Texas House of Representatives in relation to the federal lawsuit the County and the City of El Paso filed this summer challenging Congress’ delegation of authority that allowed Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to waive more than 30 federal, state, and local laws, in order to accelerate the construction of the border wall. You can view the testimony, with attachments, via the link below this article.
Rodriguez's argument was:
-- The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended by the Border Patrol dropped 60 percent in relation to the previous year.
-- That the billions of dollars that the federal government will spend building the border wall would be better invested in providing more resources to the federal agents that patrol the border.
-- That the border wall will negatively impact the water supply to many farmers in the Lower Valley and potentially affect the ability of the El Paso County Improvement District #1 to supply water to 50 percent of El Paso residents, as well as hinder bi-national efforts to re-introduce endangered species.
-- Harm conservation efforts that are underway to protect the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, in El Paso’s lower valley, and affect the cultural history of the region, as the border wall cuts through sacred ceremonial land used for centuries by the Ysleta Pueblo del Sur Tribe (Tigua).
José R. Rodríguez El Paso County Attorney Testimony to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus On the Border Wall November 13, 2008
I am El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus regarding the challenges and consequences El Paso County faces as a result of the construction of the Border Wall. The Texas/Mexico border and particularly my jurisdiction in El Paso, Texas is a unique bi-national community. An aerial view of our border community captures the seamless span of our metropolitan area that comprises well over 2 million people within the cities of El Paso and Juarez. El Paso and Juarez share more than just a physical barrier; they share a common identity and culture, and even history, that forms a unique demographic in our region. As such, El Paso’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistically distinct characteristics require a deeper understanding by lawmakers on the needs of this region. A multi-billion dollar Border Wall will serve no purpose other than to avoid the real issue that lawmakers must address- comprehension immigration reform. In fact, if the purpose of the Border Wall is to stop illegal immigration, data proves otherwise, instead showing that illegal immigrant apprehensions have decreased significantly in recent years. For El Paso County, a Border Wall represents not only a waste of time, money, and resources, but also a disruption of crucial waterways, desert ecosystems, sacred Native American land, and long-standing relations between the El Paso and Juarez communities.
El Paso’s Response
In El Paso there is wide spread opposition to the Border Wall. Recognizing that the relationship with its sister city transcends boundaries, El Paso has passed resolutions and filed lawsuits opposing the Border Wall. In 2006, El Paso County Commissioners approved a resolution recognizing the contributions immigrants have made to our communities and condemning efforts by the federal government to erect ineffective physical barriers such as a Border Wall to address illegal immigration. (See Attachment A) In my capacity as El Paso County Attorney, I joined other elected officials in signing a resolution advocating for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. (See Attachment B) El Paso County Commissioners renewed their stance against ineffective policies aimed at curbing illegal immigration by approving a resolution in May 2008 again recognizing immigrants’ contributions to the United States and calling for federal authorities to stop construction of the Border Wall. (See Attachment C) In Summer 2008, El Paso County joined the Texas Border Coalition’s lawsuit against the Wall and, along with the City of El Paso, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, El Paso County Water Improvement District #1, Hudspeth County Conservation and Reclamation District No. 1, Frontera Audubon Society, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, and Friends of Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge filed a separate lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional delegation of authority that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive more than 30 federal laws, as well as state and local laws, in order to accelerate construction of the Border Wall. Waiving these laws poses severe threats to El Paso County’s environment, water resources, Native American religious customs, economic development, and its ability to enforce state and local laws affecting our community. Although the El Paso federal court dismissed the lawsuit, the case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The unprecedented waiver authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security raises several constitutional issues including whether waiver of state and local laws violates Texas’ sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Questionable Need for a Border Wall
Recent Department of Homeland Security statements claiming the Border Wall is needed in El Paso to obtain operation control of the border are refuted by the government’s success in keeping immigrants out. In 1993, Operation Hold the Line was implemented throughout the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. The initiative placed Border Patrol agents in close proximity to one another along a certain area of the border to prevent illegal immigration. In 1992, one year before Operation Hold the Line began, the number of “deportable aliens located by the Border Patrol” was approximately 248,642. In 1994, one year after Operation Hold the Line was implemented, there was an immediate drop in apprehensions to 79,688, a 68 % decrease. Although subsequent years show some fluctuation in the number of arrests, recent years’ data indicate an overwhelmingly decrease in arrests. (See Attachment D) A recent article in the El Paso Times quotes Border Patrol officials as acknowledging that given current resources and zero tolerance policy against illegal immigrants, they “do not anticipate a surge of attempted illegal entries in the coming year”. (See Attachment E) This data clearly indicates that current resources and policies are effective in deterring illegal immigration, thus raising serious questions concerning the federal government’s insistence that a border wall is necessary to stop illegal immigration.
Disruption, Destruction, and Polarization within El Paso County
Impact to El Paso’s Water Supply
Located in El Paso’s lower valley, Water Improvement District #1 (WID) provides water for 69,010 acres of water right lands. According to the WID website, WID contains 156 square miles of water that delivers critical irrigation water to El Paso County residents. As a result of the Border Wall, the WID has been inundated with concerns from area farmers who are worried that the Border Wall would block access to irrigation water provided by the Riverside Canal and prevent them from sustaining their farmlands. Along the canal, the presence of border patrol vehicles is evident by the disintegration of the canal banks. Coupled with the placement of the Border Wall alongside the Riverside Canal, the ability of WID to maintain and control the flow of water that funnels through its canals is in jeopardy. The placement of the Border Wall along an area parallel to the Riverside Canal, along the south bank, poses several threats to El Paso’s water supply including the ability of WID maintenance workers to maintain control gates that direct the flow of water into a canal. Failure to properly maintain the canals could potentially prevent water from reaching the Jonathon Rogers Treatment Plant for processing and distribution to about 50% of El Paso County residents. To date nothing has been memorialized in writing between the WID and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to address WID’s concerns. In recent weeks, discussions have taken place between the two entities with CBP claiming to reduce the impact that the Border Wall will have by proposing to place the Border Wall up on the river’s levee. WID officials continue to warn that this proposal will affect their ability to maintain the canal and will require the WID to heavily invest in herbicides and special equipment.
The Border Wall’s anticipated adverse impacts on El Paso County’s desert ecosystem and economic development include serious long term effects to border wildlife and plants, a break in bi-national conservation efforts, and the loss of an emerging eco-tourism market. Although the extent of the long term effects of a Border Wall in the El Paso region is not immediately ascertainable, it is probable that they are irreversible and, over time, can lead to significant loss and even permanent destruction in the ecosystem of the border region. El Paso is a refuge for endangered species including the Mexican gray wolf. Studies indicate that the protection of wolf habitats require open corridors in the border region. Efforts by the United States and Mexico to provide safe habitats and reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf are in direct contrast to the construction of a border wall, which will hinder the free movement of the animal on both sides of the border. Mexico has been vocal in its opposition to the construction of the border wall in large measure because past efforts between the United States and Mexico were underway to protect vital border ecosystems. Decisions made by the United States to place the wall on sensitive environmental lands hinder efforts between the United States and Mexico to collaborate and work on innovative and important environmental issues that are unique to the border region. Rio Bosque Wetlands Park Construction and inevitable maintenance of the Border Wall will harm conservation efforts that are underway to protect the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. At Rio Bosque, the goal is to re-establish, over time, approximate examples of native plant and animal communities historically found in the river valley. The proposed wall would compromise their ability to achieve this goal which has already received substantial funding from the state and federal government. In a letter to the El Paso Sector Tactical Infrastructure Environmental Assessment (EA), John Sproul, Program Coordinator for Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, raises serious concerns regarding the placement of the wall. Sproul notes the various cumulative effects on Rio Bosque in his comments to the draft EA report: impacts to wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; visual impacts; and, access issues. (See Attachment F) Sproul’s comments regarding efforts by DHS to integrate those proposals were abandoned once the Secretary issued his waiver of all laws that would hinder the Wall from being built. Rio Bosque Wetlands Parks has the potential for becoming a haven for environmental enthusiasts, similar to the Sabal Palm Audubon Center in the Rio Grande Valley. However, the Rio Bosque is likely to fall victim to a similar fate that the Sabal Palm Audubon Center is facing as a result of the Border Wall. Thus, the goal of creating the Rio Bosque into a wetlands sanctuary and possible thriving tourist destination is now in jeopardy.
Cultural Impact to the Ysleta Pueblo del Sur Tribe
The Border Wall will cut through sacred ceremonial land to the Ysleta Pueblo del Sur Tribe (Tigua). This area covers approximately 6-7 miles from the Ysleta Port of Entry to Socorro, Texas. Discussions between the Tigua’s and the CBP were described by Tribal War Captain, Rick Quesada, as minimal at best and plans by Customs and Border Protection to disrupt the ceremonial area are still underway despite protests from the Tiguas.
Polarization between the El Paso and Juarez Communities To many of us, the Border Wall symbolizes a hostile barrier between two communities that have traditionally been closely intertwined. Its construction will impact Mexico’s relationship with the United States on many levels including diplomatic relations and local cooperation. El Paso and Juarez have historically worked close together on important policy issues that affect the community; for example, extending each other assistance during the heavy floods that blanketed the El Paso/Juarez region in 2006. The two communities routinely work jointly on local drug policy, pollution control, and bi-national health initiatives. Instead of bi-national cooperation, the border wall will create distrust and endanger the existing collaborative relationship between the two communities.
Finally, the Border Wall could potentially cause social, cultural, and familial ties in both communities to falter. Both U.S. citizens and Mexican citizens cross the border through the Ports of Entry to shop, visit family, attend schools and recreational events, and obtain medical care. The Border Wall would symbolize a hostile barrier and could potentially affect the cross border services and tourism that both populations take advantage of, causing both communities to suffer economic consequences.
As El Paso County Attorney I have provided testimony to the Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade discussing border security and issues related to local enforcement of immigration law. The current focus on border security again brings to the forefront the need for lawmakers to engage in meaningful discussions regarding comprehensive immigration reform. A multi-billion dollar effort to construct the Border Wall simply does not make sense. At a time when America faces a severe financial crises it is simply irresponsible to pour additional money into a wall that will scar our environmental landscape and damage our relationship with communities across the border. Instead of deterring illegal immigration, the Wall will symbolize not only a failed immigration policy, but also a country barricading itself from the rest of the world. Thank you.