Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Protester stops work on border fence

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
December 17, 2008

EL PASO, Texas — A 55-year-old Army veteran hunkered down in front of construction crews who were building the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, halting work for about eight hours before she was arrested.

Judy Ackerman, one of about a dozen people at a peaceful protest east of El Paso on Wednesday, was handcuffed by Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers after several hours of figuring out which authority was responsible for removing her.

Ackerman was arrested on a charge of criminal trespass, a state misdemeanor. Ed Hernandez, one of three local attorneys who volunteered Wednesday to defend Ackerman, said the retired Army sergeant major was released from jail late Wednesday afternoon after being issued a summons to appear in court.

Work on the fence resumed immediately after Ackerman was led away. Before her arrest, the white-haired woman sporting a reflective vest and hard had cheerfully chatted with authorities. About 20 workers were milling around the site, leaning against heavy equipment and dump trucks and taking pictures of her with their cell phones.

"They have a job to do, but today their job is to take a break," said Ackerman, who spent 26 years in the Army.

Ackerman crossed a canal before workers arrived and took up a position on a levee where large steel poles were being erected. The levee is in a desolate area several miles east of downtown El Paso, near the 370-acre Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

"They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up," said Ackerman, who said she's never been arrested before. "This is life. The river is life. But not the wall; the wall is death."

Ackerman was on land maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission land, the binational agency that maintains the boundary between Mexico and the U.S.

Al Riera, the principal engineer for the IBWC, said officials there were notified about her presence early Wednesday and told to contact authorities to have her removed. Officials spent several hours trying to figure out the proper authority. Riera said this is the first such protest on IBWC land.

Government officials said Tuesday that 500 miles of fencing has been built along the Southwest border.

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