Thursday, November 13, 2008

Texas Border Coalition leaders testify against border wall in Austin today

Rio Grande Guardian
November 13, 2008

AUSTIN, November 19 - Five leading members of the Texas Border Coalition will testify against the federal government’s border wall plan at a hearing hosted by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus at the state Capitol today.

The five are Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who chairs the TBC, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez, and Texas Produce Association President and CEO John McClung.

The Guardian has the submitted written testimony of all five in its Border Life section.

Click here to read the testimony submitted by Foster.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by Salinas.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by Rodríguez.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by McClung.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by Ahumada.

The MALC hearing is being chaired by state Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-San Benito, a member of the non-partisan group. Lucio said the hearing will allow Texas House members to gain an insight on the impact a border wall will have on the economy, environment, and private property rights of Texans living along the border.

“The Texas border with Mexico thrives due to its close relationship with its neighbor to the South; it is imperative that we understand how a border wall would affect Texas’ relationship with Mexico,” Lucio said.

Lucio took members of Congress on a tour of parts of Brownsville last April to show where the border wall might be built. It included parts of the historic Fort Brown complex. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reached an agreement with the University of Brownsville to limit the amount of fencing that will be built.

Opponents of the border wall, including South Texas congressmen, are hoping that the incoming Obama administration will halt construction of the border wall and put more emphasis on cameras, sensors and extra Border Patrol agents as a means of securing the border. Last week, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar announced that DHS had halted plans to build movable border fencing in Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.

Lucio said the border wall directly impacts South Texas communities. Raising awareness of how federal legislation affects Texan constituents is essential to ensuring that local rights and concerns are not overlooked at the national level, he said, arguing that the federal government needs to take account of local and state viewpoints when implementing policy that affects border communities.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is the chair of MALC. He agreed with Lucio’s analysis. “Every community on the Rio Grande is unique, a border wall may not address the varying concerns along the Texas border,” Gallego said.

The TBC has been a vocal critic of the border wall plan. Just this week, the group slammed U.S. Customs and Border Protection for blocking the input Valley landowners could have made in federally-required talks over the border wall.

The TBC also condemned a CBP decision to continue land acquisition near Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos even after the agency announced it would indefinitely halt construction of movable fencing.

“TBC is dumbfounded by CBP’s continued resistance to consultation with local landowners and the community, and by CBP’s unjustifiable demands for secrecy,” Foster said.

“Equally disturbing, CBP is continuing to pursue legal action to condemn the land of the people in Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos for a fence that the International Boundary & Water Commission won’t support,” Foster said.

Foster pointed out that TBC and DHS officials agreed in April to participate in a series of fence site tours in the Valley, known as “walk the line,” to help satisfy federal requirements outlined in the Consolidated Fiscal 2008 Appropriations Act.

Under the law, homeland security officials are obliged to consult with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, states, local governments, Indian tribes, and property owners in communities where the wall is to be built. The point is to minimize the barrier’s impact on Rio Grande Valley communities and residents from an environmental, cultural and economic standpoint, Foster said.

TBC members had hoped the tour would take place before the congressionally imposed fence construction deadline of Dec. 31. But on Nov. 4, Foster said, CBP officials told TBC that attendance would be limited to coalition members only and that individual landowners or their attorneys would not be allowed to “walk the line.”

Rodríguez said he was looking forward to testifying at the MALC hearing about a federal lawsuit El Paso County and the City of El Paso filed this summer challenging Congress’ unconstitutional 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.

Rodríguez said a border wall will not keep immigrants out of the U.S. What it will do, he said, is bring serious environmental, economic and cultural consequences to the El Paso and Juarez region.

Rodríguez pointed to recent data from DHS which shows that this year, in the El Paso Sector, the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended by the Border Patrol dropped 60 percent in relation to the previous year. He pointed out that the drop in detentions was achieved before the construction of the border fence even began.

Rodríguez says the data refutes DHS’s contention that the border wall is necessary to maintain operational control of the border.

“A multi-billion dollar effort to construct the Border Wall simply does not make sense. At a time when America faces a severe financial crisis 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,” Rodríguez said.

“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.

Rodríguez said he will explain to members of the Texas House of Representatives that the best way to tackle the problem of illegal immigration is to seek approval of comprehensive immigration reform.

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