Wednesday, December 3, 2008

El Paso leaders write to Obama about border wall

Rio Grande Guardian
December 3, 2008

EL PASO, December 3 - El Paso leaders have written to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team urging the border wall project to be stopped. Details of the letter were unveiled at a press conference at El Paso Wednesday.

Among those participating were state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, El Paso County Attorney José Rodriguez, who is also a board member of the Texas Border Coalition, and El Paso City Rep. Steve Ortega.

The press conference coincided with a two day conference in El Paso about the border wall hosted by the Border Ambassadors group.

Among those participating in the conference were Stefanie Herweck, a Weslaco resident and co-founder of the No Border Wall group, and Matt Clark, a member of Defenders of Wildlife.

As well as to Obama's transition team, the letter was also sent to Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security designee Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Commerce designee Bill Richardson, and Presidential Transition Team Co-chair John Podesta.

Here below is the full letter:

Dear President-Elect Obama: All along the U.S.-Mexico border, our local economies thrive due to our close relationship with Mexico. In fact, in 2007 alone, the U.S.-Mexico export and import trade totaled $347.3 billion. Texas alone trades more with Mexico than all the European Union combined. At a time when our country faces a severe financial crisis, we believe it is irresponsible to spend billions of dollars on a wall that will not only scar our environmental landscape but also damage our relationship with communities and countries across the Americas. The $6.3 billion[1] that the federal government plans to spend on the border wall would be better spent on developing the infrastructure of the border region. The recent appointment of Governor Janet Napolitano clearly signifies the importance of immigration reform to your administration. I sincerely hope that your plan will not include the main component of immigration reform pursued by the Bush administration and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff—the border wall.

Already, in churches and homes from Chihuahua to Buenos Aires, these walls are called "muros de odio," symbols of a new hatred for which America is now known. For centuries, America has served as a symbol of freedom and democracy throughout the world. How long will it take for our great nation to repair the ill will that these walls have already engendered around the world?

Border walls are currently under construction in all four southern border states, and hundreds more miles of walls called for by the Secure Fence Act are in the planning stages. In April 2008, for the fifth time, Secretary Chertoff used the power granted to him by the Real ID Act to waive laws along the border so that walls and roads could be built without regard to public health and safety or environmental protection.

Already, erosion has begun to degrade the Tijuana River Estuary, a direct result of the canyon that DHS has filled in above it. The border wall between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, caused severe flooding, which threatened life and damaged property.

In Texas, condemnation proceedings have been initiated against border municipalities and landowners, in spite of the fact that the Consolidated Fiscal 2008 Appropriations Act obliges homeland security officials to consult with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, states, local governments, Indian tribes, and property owners in communities affected by the wall.

During an October 2006 visit to The University of Texas–Permian Basin, the former Soviet President and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev commented on the importance of innovative ideas to control the flow of immigration and argued against the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In a reference to President Reagan's 1987 visit to the Berlin Wall, when Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev, "this wall should be torn down," Mr. Gorbachev said, "I don't think the U.S. is so weak and so much lacks confidence as not to be able to find a different solution… Now the United States seems to be building almost the Wall of China between itself and this other nation with which it has been associated for many decades and has had cooperation and interaction with."

For our country to prosper, we must lead the way in the safe, fast and secure movement of people and products in a post-9/11 world. To achieve success, our borders need adequate staffing, state-of-the-art technology, modern infrastructure and effective enforcement. As Governor Napolitano aptly stated in a 2007 address to the National Press Club:

I also have refused to agree that a wall by itself is an answer…As I often say, ‘You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder’…I also refuse to concede that illegal immigration is a political winner for those who simplistically suggest we can just “seal” the border…Here are some of the key elements of a real border plan: The first is the development of innovative, technology-driven border control between the ports of entry. Boots on the ground definitely help, but we can shore up our border gaps with ground-based sensors, radar, and unmanned aerial vehicles for wide-area intrusive-detection. Any combination of the above will work far better than any 10 or 20 or 50 miles of wall. The Department of Homeland Security is now installing this kind of technology. They need increased funding to sustain their efforts.

We ask you to stop building muros de odio on our southern border—let us stop building these ill-conceived walls founded in current notions of racism. As the next President of the United States, we hope your administration will lead the U.S. to once again be the beacon of hope to the world.

Let us make the case for safer, faster ports to move people and products in a 21st Century world. And most of all, let us work together, strengthened by the proud legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to reach out to our neighbors, family and friends in all the Americas to build lasting bridges of friendship, safety and prosperity—not walls of hatred and division.

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