Thursday, December 31, 2009

No signs of letup in entrant deaths

December 27, 2009
Arizona Daily Star
By Brady McCombs

The final fiscal year 2009 tally of border deaths confirms a lethal trend: illegal border crossers face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.

The 241,600 apprehensions made in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector marked a 10-year low, Border Patrol figures show. These figures, along with declining remittances from the U.S. to Mexico and anecdotal reports that the economic recession has slowed illegal immigration, point to a dramatic slowdown in illegal border crossings.

Yet the 213 bodies of suspected illegal border crossers found in the Tucson Sector are the third-most ever, behind 230 in 2005 and 223 in 2007, the Arizona Daily Star's border-death database shows. That means the risk of dying is more than twice as high today compared with five years ago and nearly 30 times greater than in 1998.
There were 88 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in the area covered in the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector in fiscal year 2009, which ended on Sept. 30, the Star's database indicates. That's up from 39 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in 2004 and three per 100,000 apprehensions in 1998.

The increased risk of death coincides with the unprecedented buildup of agents, fences, roads and technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, casting doubt on a mantra often used by the Border Patrol that a "secure border is a safe border."

There are now 3,300 agents, more than 200 miles of fences and vehicle barriers, and 40 agents assigned to the agency's search, rescue and trauma team, Borstar, yet illegal immigrants are still dying while trying to cross the Border Patrol's 262-mile-long Tucson Sector.

Border-county law enforcement, Mexican Consulate officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the increase in fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.

The Border Patrol disagrees that it's pushing illegal immigrants into more hazardous terrain and points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them. Agents in the Tucson Sector rescued 586 people in fiscal year 2009, Border Patrol figures show, up from 443 the previous year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Border deaths at four-year high

Green Valley News
December 2, 2009
By Jaime Richardson

Migrant deaths in the Tucson Sector are the highest in four years, and a border activist expects that number to grow next year.

The Border Patrol reported that 208 bodies of suspected illegal immigrants were discovered in the sector in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30; 171 deaths were reported a year earlier. The Tucson Sector covers all of the Arizona border with Mexico except Yuma.

A spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector said it took two months to release the official tally because the agency wanted to be sure it was accurate. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it’s routine for numbers to be released several months after the end of the fiscal year because of the large amount of data that must be compiled.

However, local Border Patrol authorities routinely supply Tucson Sector monthly numbers a day or two after the end of the month.

The high number of bodies — 37 more than last year — was a surprise to the founder of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson human rights organization that keeps its own count of deaths in the desert.

Derechos Humanos counted 206 deaths in fiscal year 2009, compiling data from medical examiner reports from Pima, Cochise and Yuma counties. Their number is usually higher than the Border Patrol because it includes the entire state.

Isabel Garcia, head of Derechos Humanos, said the Border Patrol’s number could mean the agency is becoming more accurate in its reporting.

“Either way, numbers this high are an abomination,” she said.

The number was unexpected because all sides agree that fewer illegal immigrants are crossing the border because of the poor economy in the United States.

“All the reports have shown that crossings have dramatically decreased, yet the deaths go against that,” Garcia said. “This tells you we were right all along. An increase of military and police-natured responses lead to more deaths. Even though less people are crossing, more people are dying.”

The Border Patrol, however, says they are increasingly patrolling more remote parts of the desert and therefore are discovering bones that may have been there for years. A body is included in the count the year it is discovered.

Garcia expects to see the number go up.

“Economically, we’ve not seen the worst of it yet,” she said. “The impact of NAFTA trade policies on agriculture in Mexico will propel more people to try to come up.”

BORDER DEATHS, by fiscal year:

2009: 208

2008: 171

2007: 202


2005: 216

Friday, December 18, 2009

Feds Trying to Take More Land Along Border Wall

KRGV Channel 5
December 17, 2009

CAMERON COUNTY - Dr. Eloisa Tamez says the federal government is trying once again to take her land. Earlier this month, she received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security asking for permission to access her property to do "site surveys." Tamez owns land along the border wall just west of the Brownsville city limits.

The letter asks her to grant permission for "entry" during the next year. The land in question is south of the actual border wall and south of the levy. "They took my land. They built the wall. Now, they want more land. I need an explanation. What do they need that land for," she asked.

Tamez says she will not sign the letter.

Tamez has been a vocal opponent of the wall. She's already involved in federal lawsuit over the border wall. She wants a jury to decide how much she should be compensated for the initial land that was taken. Tamez says that case is expected to go trial next spring.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

La Posada at border fence

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 14, 2009
by J Harry Jones

IMPERIAL BEACH — Faith groups from the United States and Mexico gathered yesterday afternoon at Border Field State Park in what was both a religious celebration and a political statement.

The 16th annual La Posada Sin Fronteras was a re-enactment of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph, who were forced to seek shelter after the birth of Christ and were eventually welcomed into a stranger’s home. Participants from both countries compared the biblical tale to the struggle migrants face trying to enter the United States.

One of the messages of the story, the idea of welcoming strangers — and immigrants — is under attack in our times, making the binational celebration even more significant, organizers said. Today, families on both sides of the border are separated by immigration policy and can no longer meet, even at the border fence, organizers said.

This was the first time the celebration was held since a second border fence was constructed earlier this year. The participants were not allowed to touch or exchange gifts with those who had gathered in Mexico for the celebration.

About 150 people, including many members of the media, gathered on the Mexico side of the fence, while on the U.S. side about half that number were present.

U.S. Border Patrol agents allowed 25 people at a time to go through the first fence to the Friendship Monument, which is situated to the north of the Tijuana bullfighting ring and a lighthouse. The remainder were forced to stay back behind the second fence, roughly 100 feet away.

“I want to remind you that while there are few people here, there are many watching and praying,” said Tijuana’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz, speaking from Mexico. “Many are praying for friendship and solidarity between our two countries.”

Veterans of earlier celebrations remembered how people would share tacos, hold hands and exchange trinkets through the fence.

“This is a sad occasion on this beautiful winter day,” said Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee from the U.S. side. “We friends are not allowed to touch each other or exchange food and candy as in the past. This is ridiculous. This is the promise of change we heard a year ago?”

Along the outer fence, dozens of luminarias were set up and lighted at dusk. Each bag, containing a lighted candle, represented a migrant killed while trying to cross the border. Many of the dead were young, and most were identified only as “unknown male.”

One of the organizers of the first Posada Without Borders in 1993 was Roberto Martinez, the migrant activist who died earlier this year. Ramirez said Martinez is “greatly missed” and was undoubtedly looking down on all yesterday afternoon.

Those on the U.S. side had to hike through mud and then on the beach for about two miles because the main road to the friendship monument was flooded. Few seemed to mind the inconvenience.

During the gathering, Christmas carols were sung in both English and Spanish. Although Americans were not allowed to give anything to the Mexicans, at one point bundles of candy came flying over the fence from the Mexico side.

Panel to create eco-monitoring plan for border

Arizona Daily Star
December 10, 2009
by Brady McCombs

A team of scientists brought together by the Department of the Interior is in Southern Arizona this week to develop a plan assessing the effects of the government's buildup of border security.

The 16 scientists are scheduled to take a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border and meet with residents, environmentalists and public land managers before they begin work on a document they expect to be ready by April 2010.

The $40,000 project will culminate in a draft environmental monitoring strategy that will provide the Department of Homeland Security a road map to evaluate the impact of border security on wildlife and the environment.

After the document is ready, it will be up to the Department of Homeland Security to implement recommendations, said Charles van Riper III, a supervisory research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. The goal is to first conduct a pilot project to assess the effects on Department of Interior land along Arizona's stretch of U.S.-Mexico border. It will likely cost upwards of $40 million, officials say.

Environmentalists say it's an important first step by the government.

"There is actually now a plan that is developing with the real players sitting down to develop it," said Matt Clark, southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife. "It can never be soon enough, but the ball is rolling."

Despite a $2.4 billion investment to build 264 miles of fencing and 226 miles of vehicle barriers along the Southwest border in the last five years, the impact of these barriers on border security is unknown, according to a September 2009 Government Accountability Office report.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who hosted a video conference on Monday with interested parties said there has been a shift from the previous presidential administration in regard to border security.

Under the Bush administration, the Department of Homeland Security invoked a waiver on several occasions to expedite the construction of border fences and vehicle barriers.

Use of those waivers eroded public trust in Homeland Security, said Clark and Dan Millis, borderlands campaign organizer with the Sierra Club.

"We are trying to heal a lot of the wounds from the way things have been done in the past," Millis said. "The fact that we have a dialogue is encouraging. This is a good first step."

The team of scientists includes 13 men and women from Arizona, including three from the University of Arizona.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gringo Pass to Brownsville: Good Neighbor Board urges Obama to take new tack on Border Wall

San Antonio Current
December 2009
by Greg Harman

For a while it looked like the Border Wall was going to be a boon for Martha Gay and her Gringo Pass gas station in Lukeville, Arizona. Homeland Security’s subcontractor Kiewit was paying out $100,000 per month for Gringo Pass land to host a cement batching plant and store equipment. A water deal at 50-cents a gallon had the company owing Gay another $2 million in short order.

Then the flood came.

In the desert, water rushes fast over the hard earth like a sheet, seeking out low spots, arroyos, canyons, sinkholes. What the rainfall found was the border wall. Gay’s attorneys allege that after that water hit the wall it channeled directly into her convenience store, doing an estimated $6 million in damages. All of a sudden the wall wasn’t such a hot item at Gay’s Gringo Pass.

It may have been a freak flood in Presidio, Texas, that forced Homeland Security to finally reject miles of proposed wall construction there, but folks are still feeling jitters regarding the miles of wall constructed in the Valley across private property and through federally protected wilderness.

Nancy Brown, spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife at the South Texas Refuge Complex said wall construction has finished through the federally protected lands, but how it will affect rainfall and flooding is unknown. “From the beginning we have asked ‘What about hydrology studies?’ and to my knowledge that has never been addressed,” Brown said.

Eloisa Tamez brought a class-action lawsuit against Homeland Security through which she hopes to force the government to pay a fair price for her property. But if she harbored any illusions that a change of administration in Washington would help resolve the issue, nearly a year of non-action on immigration and border justice by Obama has disabused her for such notions.

“Obama and [Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano have done nothing but take the place of the previous administration. It’s just a new name with the same policies. We have been totally abandoned,” she said.

Now the Good Neighbor Environmental Board has come up with some ideas for Obama.

In a December 2 letter, the advisory board dedicated to matters pertaining to U.S.-Mexico borderlands environmental justice wrote that while the wall was “mandated” by Congress and had “some positive outcomes” that “the construction has caused negative impacts on natural and cultural resources. For instance, the wall has been blamed for flooding on the Mexican side of the river in cities such as Nogales, Sonoyta, and Palomas. Construction also unearthed Native American burial sites of both the Tohono O’odham and the Kymeyaay, and failed to allow room for migration wildlife.

In a series of recommendations to the President, the group urged that those elements of the REAL ID Act that had allowed former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff to waive dozens of other federal laws to build the wall be repealed and that future “border security infrastructure” conform to federal environmental laws under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Border Wall activist Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition said repealing the REAL ID Act section is critical.

“Much of the environmental damage that the Environmental Board wants to address would never have occurred if DHS was required to obey all of nation's laws. It is because DHS failed to act responsibly from the beginning that there is now a need for monitoring and mitigation of the severe damage that they have inflicted upon border communities and refuges,” Nichol wrote in an email to the Current. “Border walls in Texas are in clear violation of the endangered species act, and DHS never released any studies proving that the walls stuffed into the Rio Grande's flood control levees do not put communities at risk. Hopefully President Obama will reverse the Bush-era policies, and implement the Board's recommendations."

Will actually grasping the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday convert Obama into a border-loving justice hound? We can only hope.

Tijuana River Valley Residents Say Border Fence Contributing to Flooding

KPBS San Diego
December 7, 2009
by Amy Isackson

Tijuana River Valley residents say the new border fence is blocking drainage channels. They say rain is washing dirt from the new fence project into flood channels.

The Bush Administration waived all environmental laws to build the fence. Government officials promised to mitigate erosion. However, they didn't water the seeds they planted on the berm in Smuggler's Gulch until late this fall.

Dick Tynan, a rancher in the Tijuana River Valley, spoke with us while peering out his barn door towards the new border fence in Smuggler's Gulch.

Tynan said the bare dirt is creating a major problem.

"The government just dropped the ball on that," Tanyan said. "The water just takes the shortest path and its going to take out more silt as it goes. They've got a backhoe up there now working on it."

Tynan said the drainage channel that City of San Diego emergency crews have been digging is already half full.

He also said roads in the river valley have flooded. He's moved some of his horses to higher ground and is ready to move the rest.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Feds: Plants There, Just Look Harder

Voice of San Diego
December 3, 2009
by Rob Davis

The barren, vegetation-free hillsides in Border Field State Park created by a new 3.5-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence are neither barren nor vegetation-free, the federal government claims.

In a recent letter to U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's chief says the denuded hills near the Tijuana Estuary have plants growing on them.

You just can't see them, he wrote.

Because the plants being grown on the new hillsides are native species, wrote Jayson Ahern, the agency's acting chief, "the existing re-vegetated areas are currently dormant and brown ... and, thus, difficult to see from afar."

That does not accurately reflect what I've seen in the park. When I visited in mid-October, I saw a few plants growing on a single hill. Other new hills were barren, save for rows of straw bales.

It was easy to see from afar that no plants were growing. It was even easier to see up close. I stood on the hills. Plants were not growing. Federal contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had sprayed a wet, pulpy seed mix -- called "hydroseed" -- on the ground, but never irrigated.

I called Clay Phillips, superintendent of Border Field State Park, to check whether plants had suddenly grown in the last month.

"Nothing magical has happened," he said. "There is a native plant seed mix (on the ground), but we've never seen any growth there."

Ahern, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, wrote in his letter that "moderate revegetation has actually occurred and is progressing well." He said the federal government purposely didn't water the seeds it spread on the hills so it could mimic normal climatic conditions -- dry summers, wet winters.

I asked Bruce Hanson, a restoration ecologist for Edaw, a local consulting firm, whether that was a good idea. He said it is. Unless a full-fledged irrigation system was installed, Hanson said it's better to wait for natural rainfall, which helps seeds germinate better. The salt content is lower in rain than in water sprayed from trucks, which the government is now using.

But using seeds alone is "window-dressing," Hanson said. The best way to restore degraded habitat is to use a mix of seeds and transplant already-established plants and cactus, he said.

"A lot of species" -- such as the Baja birdbush, a plant whose northern range extends only to the border -- "never come up from seed," he said. Instead, generic shrubs grow, such as purple needlegrass, which is found throughout the state.

"You end up with a different plant community than what should be there," Hanson said. "Hydroseed is not going to be representative of what was out there."

Friday, December 4, 2009

No Border Wall group backs GNEB's letter to Obama

Rio Grande Guardian
December 4, 2009

WESLACO, Dec. 4 - The No Border Wall coalition has backed recommendations about the border fence issue that were sent to President Obama by the Good Neighbor Environmental Board.

The GNEB advises the President on environmental issues that impact the border. In a letter sent to Obama on Dec. 2, the group offered 12 recommendations, including the repeal of the Real ID Act's waiver provision, compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, a review by the International Boundary Water Commission, and environmental monitoring and mitigation.

“No Border Wall agrees fully with all of these recommendations, and views their implementation as a good start towards rectifying some of the damage that border walls have done,” No Border Wall coalition spokesman Scott Nicol told the Guardian.

Here are the 12 recommendations contained in the letter:

1) Require that all border security infrastructure projects fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as all other laws including environmental, historic, and archeological preservation laws.

2) Work with Congress to amend the REAL ID Act of 2005 to remove the provisions allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive legal requirements.

3) Fully incorporate adequate environmental review, public participation, and scientific analysis into the design and implementation of all border security infrastructure projects.

4) Facilitate review by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) of projects that may cause deflection or obstruction of the normal flow of rivers or their flood flows, ensuring continued compliance with the 1970 Boundary Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico and other international agreements.

5) Systematically monitor the entire fence and supporting infrastructure for effects resulting from its construction and develop actions to modify, redesign, or mitigate the negative outcomes realized or anticipated by the existing construction.

6) Provide sufficient annual funding via the DHS budget for monitoring, research, and mitigation of the environmental impacts of the border fence.

7) Obtain adequate local stakeholder input for all fence construction, mitigation, and maintenance as well as for associated infrastructure projects, including access roads.

8) In sensitive rural areas that are important wildlife corridors, use barriers and technology that prevent vehicular traffic, control pedestrian incursion, and allow wildlife movement.

9) Aggressively explore the use of information and remote sensing technologies that will enhance border security while reducing the physical footprint of interdiction activities along the border.

10) Ensure adequate funding to DHS/Customs and Border Protection for ongoing training for border security personnel about the local natural environment and significant natural and cultural resources.

11) Identify and implement best management practices to prevent and mitigate the erosion resulting from fence construction and associated infrastructure.

12) Charge the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on the binational environmental effects of the border fence and associated infrastructure.

The letter is available here:

Federal border panel makes recommendations

San diego Union Tribune
December 4, 2009
by Sandra Dibble

San Diego — An independent federal advisory committee is urging the Obama administration to monitor the environmental impact of U.S. border fence and take steps to restore damaged areas.

In a letter sent yesterday, the Good Neighbor Environmental Board made 12 recommendations aimed at protecting the environment along the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border as the fence is extended in several areas.

“We feel that the Obama administration is very open to hearing about environmental concerns of the border region,” said board Chairman Paul Ganster, who is also director of the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias at San Diego State University. “We’re taking this opportunity to convey our advice on what we feel is a critical environmental issue.”

Created by federal legislation in 1992, the board is made up of 24 appointed members who serve on a voluntary basis and come from government, the private sector, nonprofit groups and academia. The board examines environmental and infrastructure issues along the border, and forwards findings to Congress and the president.

To read the letter, go to

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words...and 650 Miles Make the Rounds in AZ

Public News Service
December 3, 2009
by Doug Ramsey

PHOENIX - The border wall being built in an attempt to reduce illegal immigration is doing major ecological damage by blocking critical southern Arizona wildlife corridors, according to conservation groups. A photo exhibit demonstrating that damage is on display through Friday at Arizona State University Memorial Union, Tempe.

Krista Schlyer, a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, made many of the photographs during a border expedition earlier this year.

"Some of the photos are of wildlife species that will be impacted by the wall, that live along the border. There will also be photos of people and the communities of people we met while we were out on this expedition."

Schlyer was surprised to see how much harm vehicle barriers do to jumping species like deer, especially in places where a previously-built barbed wire fence has been left in place.

Researcher Matt Clark with Defenders of Wildlife says the exhibit shows the effect of the border wall on species such as desert bighorn sheep, which need to migrate among mountain ranges to reproduce and maintain genetic diversity.

"Desert bighorn sheep are a species of conservation concern and have declined dramatically over the past century. We need to sustain not only populations, but the connections between populations, if they are to maintain an ability to survive in a very harsh environment."

The photo exhibit helps overcome the misconception that the Arizona-Mexico border region is a deserted wasteland, Schlyer says, when it's really an area of incredible beauty.

"I think that particular misconception has caused much of the problem in terms of the border wall, because without knowing the biological diversity and the cultural diversity of the borderlands, it's easy to not consider the impact of what we're doing down there."

The photo exhibit travels to Tucson and Bisbee later this month.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Border tunnel, with elevator, discovered

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 2, 2009
by Sandra Dibble

A cross-border tunnel equipped with an elevator and lighting and electrical systems was discovered Wednesday just west of the Otay Mesa Point of Entry, federal authorities said.

Acting on a tip received by U.S. officials, Mexican authorities found the tunnel and arrested at least 12 people inside, authorities said.

The tunnel, which did not yet have an opening on the U.S. side, was about 1,000 feet long, 860 feet of which were in the United States. It was about 90 to 100 feet deep in some areas.

No arrests have been made in the United States. Officials estimate the tunnel may have been under construction for about two years.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mexican soldiers could be seen guarding a warehouse in an industrial area located about one kilometer west of the Otay Mesa border crossing. The building, made out of blocks and painted beige, abuts the border fence.

On the U.S. side, tractor trailers can be seen driving next to the fence. The nearest building is several hundred feet away.

About 120 cross-border tunnels have been discovered and dismantled along the Southwest border. Smugglers have been digging under the border for decades to avoid detection. Officials said they have seen a spike since 9/11 when heightened enforcement along the border forced smugglers to come up with alternative ways to move contraband.

The tunnels have also become increasingly sophisticated, with elevators to lower large amounts of contraband and ventilation systems so workers can spend hours underground.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An openness to border fence: Divider boundless as visual forum for political expression

San Diego Union-Tribune
November 30, 2009
by Leslie Berestein

In Cold War-era Berlin, artists and others who decried the wall dividing the city into east and west used its concrete expanse as a broad canvas for political and personal expression, over the years turning its gray surface into multihued graffiti art.

And in Tijuana today, those who protest U.S. immigration policies have the border fence.

In the nearly two decades since fencing began to appear on the U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana, the fence has become its own political canvas of sorts, with stretches of it serving as a backdrop for installations that have included thousands of wooden crosses, painted coffins, paintings of skulls and of doors that go nowhere, save for the desert.

The paintings and installations, the most recent a collection of 5,100 wooden crosses hung from the fence at Playas de Tijuana last month, are memorials to those who have died in attempts to traverse the border illegally, most of them through rough terrain to the east.

The fence also has acted as a billboard for political candidates, as a structure on which to affix screened images for a city art exhibit a few years ago, as a place for taggers’ graffiti and for the quieter musings of would-be migrants who have scratched their names and where they came from onto the rusty metal.

Unlike on the Berlin Wall, where much of the art was spontaneous and anonymous, most of the protest art on the border fence has been planned and orchestrated by border activists and local artists. To the east in Nogales, Ariz., an artists’ collective has been responsible for many of the pieces there, including metal sculptures and murals affixed to the fence. Still, those who have studied the phenomenon of political boundaries and art say there are universal similarities in what prompts the expression.

“Borders tend not to be joyous places,” said Justinian Jampol, a historian and museum director in Los Angeles who has studied the Berlin Wall and the art it inspired. “Borders tend to be where people are separated. They tend to be points of contention. Artists are naturally drawn to spaces that have an aura around them, a tension, that is already endowed with meaning.”

For an event this month celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jampol’s Wende Museum, which is dedicated to Cold War history and culture, set up an 80-foot “wall” across a major Los Angeles boulevard and invited artists and taggers to paint it. He said he was struck by how often the U.S.-Mexico border came up as a theme.

Other border barriers have prompted similar expression, said Guillermo Alonso Meneses, a cultural anthropologist with the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Baja California. This includes the new West Bank barrier in Israel, which has been marked in protest. Even the fences separating the Spanish outposts of Melilla and Ceuta from the rest of Morocco have been used by African migrants as a place to leave messages, Meneses said.

With access restricted to much of the north side, the art on the border fence between Tijuana and San Diego is unique to the south side. Many of the installations along the aging metal barrier that abuts Tijuana — referred to by U.S. authorities as the primary fence — have been temporary, and some of the displays that remain are weathered. Driving west along the fence from the border crossing at Otay Mesa past the city’s airport, one sees what appears to be an interminable stretch of white crosses with the names of the dead written in black. On occasion, a cross will have dried flowers tucked around it.

The crosses were attached to the fence in the late 1990s, said Claudia Smith of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, a longtime migrant-rights activist who began collaborating with local artists to protest Operation Gatekeeper, a mid-1990s federal initiative to beef up border security.

At the time, additional fencing and other measures pushed human smuggling traffic toward East County mountains and the Imperial Valley desert, and border-crossing fatalities rose. The idea, Smith said, was to draw attention to the deaths.

“At the beginning, we were issuing news releases, but we realized there was no other way of conveying the magnitude of this tragedy,” said Smith, who continues to be involved in planning the installations with artists. “By doing something visual, and also something that was very prominently displayed, people would have to go by them as they went about their daily lives.”

Installations have included roughly 1,000 pairs of shoes with toe tags attached hung from the fence and a series of painted coffins, the latter the work of Tijuana artist Alberto Caro that has since been removed. A series of paintings by San Diego artist Michael Schnorr and members of the Border Art Workshop depicted a large fleshy wound with the words “La frontera es Una llaga abierta” — Spanish for the “the border is an open wound.” Some of the paintings still survive across from the airport.

Artist Susan Yamagata painted a skull motif on giant papier mâche boots and shoes that were displayed along the airport stretch, one shoe emblazoned with the words “¿Cuantos mas?” — Spanish for “How many more?”

“I wanted to be able to do something,” said Yamagata, who has worked on fence art projects with Smith. “I am not a wealthy person, but I can give time and labor. I felt it was a worthy cause.”

Just west of the airport, before the main road turns south and the pavement along the fence ends, a red obelisk with crosses stands in a small traffic circle, the city-sanctioned work of Tijuana artist Roberto Rosique. A closer look at the fence reveals words scratched in the metal, including a man’s name next to the word “Morelos,” a state in central-southern Mexico.

Along the fence, a close observer will find musings that Alonso said range from insults against U.S. border authorities to “quasi-poetic, saying, ‘I dream of the United States,’ or ‘My love awaits me in Los Angeles.’ You have to go walking the fence to find them.”

By the time the main road rejoins the fence toward Playas de Tijuana, the work of taggers can be seen on the fence. The protest art becomes visible again in Playas, where the fence extends into the ocean.

Over the years, there have been a series of installations on the south side of the fence, including a large painting of a skeleton drinking the last drop of water from a water jug and a traditional Mexican altar for the dead. Three paintings of “doors” — the only open one leading into a depiction of the desert — from a few years ago are still in place, the work of Yamagata and San Diego artist Todd Stands.

Most prominent is another cross-themed work, this one a massive cluster. Yamagata and Schnorr collaborated on it with Smith and with the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante, a Tijuana-based migrant aid organization. Hung from the fence near the beach are 5,100 white crosses, symbolizing the estimated number of border-crossing deaths in the past 15 years, strung together and draped from the top.

The display took six months to put together, said Esmeralda Siu, director of the migrant coalition. Volunteers, including the residents of a Tijuana migrant shelter, did much of the work of constructing and stringing the crosses together. They were installed Oct. 30, in time for Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead holiday Nov. 2.

Swaying gently in the breeze, the crosses had a powerful effect on Silvia Urieta, 41, in Tijuana visiting relatives for the week.

“Imagine, how many people,” said Urieta, who lives in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, on the coast of Guerrero state. “I took photos so that my paisanos could see it.”

The installation was a sobering sight for the family as they posed for photos, otherwise merrily, by the 1851 marble monument marking the border.

“Those who come from the south, they get the wrong idea,” said Urieta’s brother-in-law Adrian Pineda, 35, a native of Tijuana. “They think it’s easy. But here is how easy it is. For many, the dream they have ends in a cross.”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Border store sues fence builder, US over flood damage

Arizona Daily Star
November 28, 2009
by Brady McCombs

The U.S. government and the company with which it contracted to build a border fence in Lukeville are facing a suit from the owners of a border town convenience store for damages from a July 2008 flash flood.

The Gringo Pass Inc. lawsuit also accuses Kiewit Construction Co. of owing $2.7 million in unpaid rent and water bills. Gringo Pass owns property and a private water well next to the border in Lukeville, in southeastern Arizona south of Ajo.

In a motion to dismiss the case, Kiewit says it never had a written contract with Gringo Pass for rent or water, calling the grievance an "after-the-fact demand for an exorbitant property lease — matters that fail as a matter of law."

Attorneys for Kiewit — which was given a $21.3 million contract in 2007 to build 5.2 miles of steel mesh fence flanking Lukeville — also say the grievance is really against the federal government's mandate to construct the border fence.

No trial date has been set for the case, filed in U.S. District Court in May, but attorneys are scheduled to meet in court on Jan. 12.

Debris piled up

The Gringo Pass contention that the newly constructed, 15-foot-high wire mesh border fence caused flooding during a July 12, 2008, rainstorm has backing from a report issued that year by Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument officials.

According to the report, the fence acted as a dam during a storm that dumped 1 to 2 inches of rain in 90 minutes around the border towns of Lukeville, Ariz., and Sonoyta, Sonora.

The report said debris piled up against the fence, including in drainage gates designed to prevent flooding, and that the 6-foot-deep fence foundation stopped subsurface water flow. As a result, water pooled 2 to 7 feet deep, depending on the area, causing water that usually flows north to south across the border in natural drainage washes to flow laterally.

That water flowed toward Lukeville, causing flood damage to private property, government offices and businesses in Luke-ville and Sonoyta, the report said.

The fence did not live up to promises made by officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Kiewit that it would "permit water and debris to flow freely and not allow ponding of water on either side of the border" the report said.

The water pooled up in the Gringo Pass convenience store, damaging merchandise and forcing the store's closure for cleanup, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says the flooding diminished property value by $6 million.

Unpaid bills

The lawsuit says Gringo Pass entered into an agreement with Kiewit Construction in 2007 to rent property and provide water.

Gringo Pass says Kiewit agreed to pay 50 cents per gallon for water and that Kiewit still owes it $2 million for using 4 million gallons of water.

Kiewit says it never agreed to that rate and called it exorbitant. The city of Tucson charges customers less than one-fourth of a cent per gallon for water.

The lawsuit also says Gringo Pass rented Kiewit two parts of its property for $50,000 a month each for Kiewit to store equipment and materials. It alleges that Kiewit owes $700,000 in rent.

Kiewit said it has paid Gringo Pass for the use of the property and disputes the allegation that it agreed to additional fees for property or water.

It says they never had a written agreement and says Gringo Pass is not a utility, and thus can't charge for water.

After fence fight, border leaders get proactive with feds

San Antonio Express-News
November 27, 2009
by Gary Martin

WASHINGTON — After several years of fighting the U.S.-Mexico border fence, a coalition of Texas elected officials is working with the Obama administration on ways to improve border ports and facilitate trade while fighting drug smuggling.

The Texas Border Coalition's involvement with policymaking comes after a bitter tangle with the federal government over construction of the fence that Congress and the White House approved, but border business leaders and human rights groups opposed.

“We've got to work together,” said Chad Foster, Eagle Pass mayor and the coalition's chairman. “But that is where the wheels came off the cart — when there was legislation passed without any consultation.”

Coalition members are working with J.D. Salinas, the regional administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration and former Hidalgo County judge, on improvements to land ports of entry to enhance trade and bolster security.

It's not a new direction for the coalition, whose members first found strength in numbers more than a decade ago when they bonded to beat back legislative mandates from Austin and Washington.

The Texas Border Coalition was formed in 1998, with representatives from 10 border counties and 19 cities along the Rio Grande from Brownsville to El Paso, to lobby the state and federal governments for infrastructure improvements.

But that goal was derailed when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted Congress and the Bush administration to seek ways to shore up security along the Mexican border.

The coalition fought the resulting fence, but couldn't prevent its construction. Foster called it “false security for mid-America” that hindered legitimate trade and cultural ties between the two countries.

The coalition was also outspoken against a plan by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to put Texas Rangers along the border this year to protect property owners from Mexican smugglers and drug cartel violence.

The “Ranger Recon” plan, as it was dubbed, coincided with the challenge to Perry by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The coalition dismissed Perry's plan as electioneering, and told him so in a letter.

“While each of our communities has their own unique issues,” Foster wrote, “being overwhelmed by criminal elements from Mexico is not one of them.”

But the organization's biggest battle was the border fence.

The Secure Border Initiative was passed by Congress with overwhelming support. Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted for the bill, as well as Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Now, 670 miles of fence is under contract to be built, with 110 miles of it in Texas. Some portions in Texas still face legal challenges.

“We were against the fence act, but where some of the fence was built makes sense,” said Jose “Pepe” Aranda, Maverick County judge.

But this month, the coalition backed Democrats in Washington who rejected an appropriations amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that would have provided funds for more pedestrian fencing.

Aranda said the real challenge on the border now is safety. He said working with federal and state leaders is the first step.

U.S. Customs officials and the Border Patrol are working with local elected leaders on the challenge of stopping drug trafficking.

Aranda said Operation Streamline, launched by the Bush administration to find and deport unauthorized immigrants with criminal backgrounds, is a successful federal program.

“We need to be realists and understand what we are up against on the border,” Aranda said. “Sending the Texas Rangers down to the border? That's not going to do anything.”

As the Texas Border Coalition looks toward goals for next year, efforts should be concentrated on Austin, he added.

“Bringing attention to the border at the federal level has been successful,” Aranda said. “Coming onto next year, we need a stronger focus on the state Legislature.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

El Paso ranked 2nd Safest City by CQ Press

November 23, 2009
News Release from The City of El Paso--Texas
By Javier Zambrano

EL PASO, TEXAS – Today CQ Press, who is now the publisher of the City Crime Rankings Safest Cities/Most Dangerous Cities has released their latest rankings. El Paso has been ranked the 2nd Safest City in America of cities with a population of more than 500,000. El Paso was ranked as 3rd Safest in last year’s ranking. This years ranking are based on the 2008 U.C.R. crime statistics as well as other considerations. For more information on these rankings and the considerations used by CQ Press, please visit there website at CQ Press is now the publisher for Morgan Quitno’s study on city rankings.


Lowest Crime Rate Ranking Highest Crime Rate Ranking

1. Honolulu, HI 1. Detroit, MI
2. El Paso, TX 2. Memphis, TN
3. New York, NY 3. Baltimore, MD
4. San Jose, CA 4. Washington, DC
5. Austin, TX 5. Atlanta, GA
6. San Diego, CA 6. Philadelphia, PA
7. Seattle, WA 7. Indianapolis, IN
8. Portland, OR 8. Columbus, OH
9. Denver, CO 9. Milwaukee, WI
10. Los Angeles, CA 10. Dallas, TX

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thousands Allegedly Smuggled Through Border Fence Holes

November 19, 2009
by Amy Isakson

U.S. federal officials say they've broken up a ring that allegedly smuggled thousands of people across the U.S.-Mexico border to San Diego County during the last few years. The group allegedly cut holes in the border fence.

The two alleged leaders of the smuggling ring, brothers Maurilio and Erik Mosley, were arraigned in federal court in San Diego.

They ran what U.S. federal officials say was one of the largest and most persistent smuggling rings that's been uncovered recently.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack says the brothers trained guides to walk people across the border.

"One method they used was saws, and trained the foot guides that they hired to cut holes in the fence, so they could pass the people they were smuggling through those holes to get them into the United States," says Mack.

The U.S. federal government recently spent billions of dollars to build more border fencing in San Diego.

One alleged member of the ring remains at large.

U.S. cracks down on border meeting spot for Mexicans

November 19, 2009
by Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - The United States has severely restricted access to a spot on the Mexican border where families and lovers divided by illegal immigration could unite briefly to hold hands or kiss through a fence.

In a move to stop undocumented migrants and the passing of narcotics through gaps in the U.S.-Mexico border fence between San Diego and Tijuana, the United States has fortified the area with a second fence to tighten security.

The Friendship Park on the Pacific Ocean became a place for cross-border weddings, church services, Christmas parties and even yoga classes when opened in 1971 by then U.S. first lady Pat Nixon.

Planned as a U.S. park with access for people on both sides of the frontier, picnic tables and swings were put out of Mexicans' reach in 1994 when the United States raised a mesh fence to stop drug traffickers and illegal immigrants.

But families could sit on either side of the fence to kiss through it, talk and touch one another even as U.S. border agents nearby patrolled to keep out job-hungry illegal immigrants, terrorists and smugglers.

The fence became a popular spot for separated lovers who would pass notes on Valentine's Day.

But the U.S. government's second, larger barrier has sensors, lighting, radars and cameras on the edge of the park. Officials built a patrol road through it and fenced off access to the old mesh fence that abutted onto Mexico.

Work finished on the park fencing earlier this month, sealing off access for Mexicans on the U.S. side unless they take part in highly regulated visits.

"It was an act of cruelty," said Katy Parkinson, a U.S. resident in Tijuana who runs a charity for immigrants. "Here, grandmothers met their grandchildren for the first time, they took photos, people could find each other again."

The Border Patrol says those on the U.S. side can access the old Mexican fence for four hours on Saturdays and Sundays once vetted by agents in groups of up to 25 people.

"People can still meet at designated times," said San Diego-based Border Patrol Agent Jose Morales.

"The second fence was needed because the first one was ... breached by smugglers and people passed drugs and fake IDs through it," he added.


Nixon opened the park in Imperial Beach, California, in August 1971 as part of her efforts to promote U.S.-Mexican relations and, as she shook hands with Mexicans that day, was reported as saying "I hate to see a fence anywhere."

The fence is part of the 661-mile double-layered wall along part of the United States' 2,000-mile border with Mexico, built by the U.S. government.

"We will find a way to see each other," said shop assistant Carmen, 29, whose husband lives illegally in Los Angeles and who used to meet regularly at the old park fence. "I can't cross into the United States, I've been deported three times."

Almost 12 million illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic, live and work in the United States, including millions of Mexicans.

Since the Sept 11 attacks in the United States, political pressure for tighter border controls has grown sharply. Supporters of the border fence say Mexico's violent drug war that has killed more than 15,000 people since late 2006 makes it all the more necessary to keep criminals out.

But some border experts say the fence does not stop those trying to get into the United States and only makes it more dangerous. Some 5,600 people have died trying to cross into the United States from Mexico since the U.S. government increased border security in 1994, human rights groups say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reflecting on the Wall: Barriers threaten environmental protection in the Southwest

Harvard Crimson
November 12, 2009
by Patrick Behrer

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As we recognize the historic occasion of East Germany’s opening, America quietly completes construction of its own wall. The southern border barrier between the United States and Mexico covers 670 miles of southwestern desert between Mexico and the four states it borders. Like the Berlin Wall, the border wall is emblematic of much more than just a boundary between countries. Cutting indiscriminately across ecologically-priceless land, it has become a symbol of governmental disregard for environmental protection.

The Bush Administration began the project in 2006 as the most recent attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration, and it now nears completion; at 630 of 670 miles completed, Obama shows no signs that he intends to halt construction of the final portions. Humanitarians and budget hawks have blasted the wall as ineffective and enormously costly. With a final price tag of more than $4 billion and $6.5 billion in estimated maintenance expenses over the next 20 years, the direct, measured costs alone are immense. However, to discuss the project’s environmental impact, one must recognize the systematic neglect of environmental laws that occurred during its construction.

The Real ID Act of 2005 allowed the Department of Homeland Security to construct infrastructure along our nation’s borders with immunity from all government laws and regulations. Using the power granted under this act, the Secretary waived the impact assessment requirements of both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Protection Act. Thus, the border wall’s construction—which took place on some of the most ecologically valuable land in the country—went ahead without any consideration of its impact on the native species that call this area home.

Not surprisingly, this wall has wreaked havoc on the ecosystems of the area. It cuts off migration routes for species such as the Sonoma Pronghorn, already endangered, whose population has crashed to as few as 31 individuals. If congress had not exempted the border patrol from the ESA, this damage would have been sufficient to stop or dramatically alter the construction plans. Instead, building the wall has categorically ignored environmental damage and, as a result, threatened the survival of the only known pair of breeding jaguars in the United States.

Are environmental concerns sufficient reasons to stop this construction? Perhaps not. There are severe economic and social costs to unchecked illegal immigration. However, the wall should not have received blanket exemption from environmental regulation. The Obama administration claims it will step up to the plate to combat global climate change, yet their silent acquiescence to the destruction of the southwestern desert throws this commitment into question.

These may seem unrelated and, thus, some might understand how the Administration can separate climate change policy from broader environmental concerns. Their logic: Climate change is a global threat while the wall only damages a small section of desert. However, this view ignores the reality that the southwestern desert is a globally unique and important biosphere recognized by both The Nature Conservancy and the United Nations. Indeed, the wall threatens the San Pedro River, one of TNC’s eight “Last Great Places” in the world. Climate change is an issue so large that addressing it will entail broad behavioral changes—this, in turn, requires a new environmental consciousness. We cannot flip a switch and fix climate change, as it remains too pervasive for easy solutions. Only by considering the environmental impacts associated with all of our actions can we to truly address this global crisis.

Endeavors like the border wall demonstrate very clearly that this new consciousness does not yet exist. Unfortunately, this project has not occurred in isolation. The U.S. Navy conducts sonar testing that has little practical benefit but inflicts proven, lethal affects on marine mammals. Until the government shows a willingness to seriously consider environmental costs in all its decisions, the commitment to fight climate change is little more than empty words.
The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago signaled a sea change in international policy and kick started a period of unprecedented global openness. While the border wall does not have this same public resonance, stopping its construction would be a first step toward creating a new environmental consciousness within the U.S. government. This sea change would prove no less significant than that which occurred after the fall in Germany. The last 20 years have seen international barriers shrink on an unprecedented scale; the next 20 must see environmental consciousness of the same scale.

Texas group warns of weaknesses at land ports

Associated Press
November 12, 2009
by Christopher Sherman

McALLEN, Texas — The country's understaffed land ports of entry need massive investments in infrastructure, technology and personnel to avoid becoming the path of choice for human and drug smugglers, according to a report released Wednesday by a border advocacy group.

The Texas Border Coalition, a group representing border city mayors, county judges and economic development commissions, called for $6 billion to improve land ports of entry and 5,000 new customs officers during the next four years. The group said the money is needed to correct the imbalance between the security at ports of entry and the security covering the points between.

"We definitely have to redirect the way we've been thinking," said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chairwoman of the coalition's Border Security and Immigration Committee. In addition to shoring up security at the ports of entry, the additional funding and staffing would also help with facilitating legitimate trade and travel, said Weisberg-Stewart, a McAllen business owner.

From 1993 to a projected 2010, the Border Patrol budget has grown from $400 million to an expected $3.5 billion while funding for customs inspectors increased from $1.6 billion to an anticipated $2.7 billion during the same period, according to the report.

Comparisons between the security situation in the two areas are difficult. The only hard numbers available are for apprehensions of illegal immigrants, leaving how much gets by beyond that to guessing. But the coalition argues that the funding discrepancy is making ports of entry more attractive targets for smuggling.

"In the present environment, the (drug) cartels are choosing to conduct their trade across the bridges and highways, through the ports of entry and are rejecting the risk of crossing the Rio Grande and open spaces between the ports of entry," the report said.

It echoed one of the recommendations from the Southwest Border Task Force, created by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, which advised in September that the ports of entry were in serious need of improvement.

And last month, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents customs officers, testified before Congress that the federal Customs and Border Protection agency needed several thousand additional customs officers and agriculture inspectors.

A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office noted that the agency's managers at land ports said understaffing contributed to "morale problems, fatigue, lack of backup support and safety issues when officers inspect travelers — increasing the potential that terrorists, inadmissible travelers and illicit goods could enter the country."

Representatives of Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration, which controls the majority of the land port facilities, were not immediately able to offer comment. Government offices were closed Wednesday for Veterans Day.

There are 42 land ports of entry on the southern and northern borders.

The Texas Border Coalition, which opposed the border fence built along 670 miles of the southern border, plans to formally present its report at a conference Friday in Laredo.

DHS moves forward with border fence through orchard and man's heart

Brownsville Herald
November 11, 2009
by Ildefonso Ortiz

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s removal of more than 70 grapefruit trees from land that was once part of an orchard was the latest blow to Leonard Loop’s heart.

On Wednesday morning, members of the Loop family watched helplessly as a government contractor’s large yellow Caterpillar excavator began the process of removing the trees. The trees were removed to make way for the border wall, which is being built by the Kiewit Corporation for the DHS.

Some the grapefruit trees were more than 20 years old, said a visually saddened Loop.
"I’m pretty worn out by all of this," he said.

The removal of the trees is the latest installment in a nightmare that began more than 18 months ago when the 72-year-old Loop, who was born on his family’s property, received the federal government’s first notice of condemnation.

The notice informed him that his land would be cut almost in half with a large portion of his property sandwiched between the structure and the Rio Grande.

"My father and my grandfather farmed along the river," Loop said. "This fence will make that very difficult."

Since the wall will eventually divide his property, one of the main issues Loop had with the government was the location of access points to their land south of the wall and the rules applying to those gates.

"They (government officials) have said something and then changed their minds," he said. "At one point they said they would close the gates after 6 p.m.; then they said they wouldn’t. Its almost 2010 and I still don’t know what kind of gate they are going to put there."

According to the farmer, in order to access his property, he would have to cut through one or the other of his neighbors’ properties.

The difficult access to the property worries Loop’s wife, Deborah, because not only will her family and workers farm land to the south side of the wall, but some of her family members live there, too.

"I’m worried about the safety of my son, (Frank). His house is on the south side of the fence (which is near completion)," said Deborah Loop. "What happens if we need emergency assistance? How long will it take for help to get there and what happens if they can’t get through the gate? Now I don’t feel so free in my own country."

To make matters worse for the Loops, the government has now set their eyes on the river levee and is in the process of exercising eminent domain.

"We are not allowed to drive along the fence road or to drive onto the levee," Loop said. "We are not going to hurt anybody. We just want to be able to keep an eye on our land."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Conservationists Argue Border Wall Blocking Migration

November 11, 2009
NBC Affiliate Washington, D.C.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Leaders blame lost business deals on border fence

November 2, 2009
KGBT Channel 4 news
by Rafael Carranza

BROWNSVILLE -- The controversy over the erection of a border fence continues with business groups saying it has a negative impact, while Border Patrol insists it is vital for security.

Border Patrol said the fence is near completion in the Rio Grande Valley. So far, 45 miles out of the planned 52.12 miles have been completed.

However, city and economic development groups said the wall is breaking some business deals for the area.

"This wall killed a multi million dollar development, residential development and commercial development because the land is now inside the wall which makes it worthless," said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada.

He added that the fence goes “against the principles established by NAFTA.”

One Brownsville resident with the Brownsville Economic Development Council is also blaming the face for the loss of another multi-million dollar project.

"It was a project in the retail sector, they were planning to build some stores along the river levee, incorporate the river with that one project," Salinas said.

The Brownsville business expert said the retail project would have been substantial for the city.

He was unable to provide numbers, but he said it was comparable to a mall.

"It could be several million dollars in sales tax revenue that the City of Brownsville will not be getting, pretty much because of the border wall," he said.

But the Border Patrol said the fence is extremely important for the region's safety.

Regional Border Patrol Spokesman Juan Lopez said the fence is already bringing benefits.

He said Border Patrol agents are already seeing a 21 percent decrease in apprehensions so far, compared to this same time last year.

Meanwhile, Salinas said the business in the region will adapt to the fence.

"We're just going to have to learn to live with this wall that we have here on the border," he said.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

5,100 crosses at Mexico border mark migrant deaths

Associated Press
October 30, 2009

TIJUANA, Mexico -- Rights activists in the norhtern Mexican border city of Tijuana have hung 5,100 small white crosses on the fence straddling the U.S, frontier to commemorate migrants who have died trying to cross.

The protest coincides with preparations for Mexico's Nov. 1 Day of the Dead holiday. The crosses represent the number of migrants estimated to have died in the 15 years since the nited States toughened border security.

The Coalition for the Defense of Migrants also erected a traditional floral offering for the dead.

The Mexican government estimates about 350,000 of its citizens migrate to the U.S. annually.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Border fence construction continues, takes out citrus trees

Brownsville Herald
October 23, 2009
by Laura B. Martinez

In a few days, retired farmer and citrus grower Leonard Loop will say goodbye to about 75 of his citrus trees.

In the coming days, contractors hired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will bulldoze the trees in the orchard and clear the area to continue construction of the border fence along South Oklahoma Road.

The government condemned about 1.73 acres of the land paying Loop more than $24,000 for it, Loop said on Friday, as he looked over a small map counting the number of trees that he will lose. The condemnation gives the government access to the land to continue construction on the fence — work which began earlier this year on the outskirts of Brownsville.

Kimberli Deagen Loessin, Loop’s attorney, confirmed in an e-mail that U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen granted the federal government possession of the land for the fence’s construction.

While 75 trees are what Loop will lose right now, he’s more concerned about additional acreage of land that will be located behind the fence once its construction is completed.

Although the land could be considered useless because it would be in an area known as "no man’s land," the government doesn’t believe so, Loop said.

"Just because they are giving me right (of access) to it they think everything is hunky- dory," Loop said.

Loop is among several private landowners who sued the federal government over the fence’s construction. The lawsuits remain unresolved. Loop’s lawsuit is set for a jury trial in May 2010. It’s a court battle that has been ongoing for 18 months.

Hanen in May suspended some of the border fence’s construction in Cameron County after learning that the landowners were concerned that access to their lands could be cut off and their concerns about the types of gates to be used.

Also in question is what land the government would pay for, including land in front and in back of the fence that some landowners believe could become worthless and hard to sell.
Much of the land is farmland.

In July, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to amend its land condemnation motions against several private property owners — to address questions posed by them.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed to make clear what property the government plans to take and where access to the land will be located.

The fence’s construction is part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which is part of the government’s comprehensive immigration reform to help secure the nation’s border. The Department of Homeland Security is overseeing the fence’s construction.

Earlier this week, officials announced that the Sabal Palms Audubon Center will be closed for the rest of the year, partly due to the fence’s construction.

The 557-acre sanctuary is located behind the fence and officials are still trying to determine how this would affect visitor access to the center.

In Cameron County, 34.8 miles of fencing is planned. As of June 5, 11.7 miles of fencing had been completed, said Claude R. Knighten, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. Roughly 9.3 miles of fence are slated to be built along South Oklahoma and Southmost roads, with 3.4 miles to be constructed on South Oklahoma and 5.9 miles on Southmost.

Current completion figures were not immediately available.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Budget, border fence keep S. Texas preserve closed

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
October 23, 2009

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A south Texas nature preserve won't reopen as scheduled this fall after it was left in limbo for more than a year by plans to build a border fence.

The Sabal Palm Audubon Center has been a popular destination with bird watchers and home to a rare native stand of Sabal palms along the Rio Grande. The Brownsville Herald reports Friday that the center will remain closed at least through the end of the year.

The border fence, which isolates the preserve between the river and the fence, continues to create uncertainty. However, Audubon Texas Executive Director Bob Benson says the more immediate problem is a lack of funding.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Barren Promise at the Border

Voice of San Diego
October 21, 2009
by Rob Davis

Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 Had anyone else built this hillside near the U.S.-Mexico border, it would look nothing like it does. The barren hill would be alive with native plants, the earth would be solidly rooted and not a threat to tumble down into the Tijuana Estuary, a lush, 2,500-acre salt marsh that starts 600 feet away.

But along the newly constructed border fence near the Pacific Ocean in Border Field State Park, inch-thick tan clumps of seeds and mulch still blanket the ground. They haven't been watered, so no plants have grown.

Were it anyone else's project, state regulators would've required irrigation to ensure that plants grew. But the federal government is responsible for the $59 million effort to complete and reinforce 3.5 miles of border fence separating San Diego and Tijuana. The Department of Homeland Security exempted itself from eight federal laws and any related state laws that would have regulated the project's environmental impacts.

Because the project is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act, state water regulators have no jurisdiction.Homeland Security officials sought the waiver power in 2005 to accelerate fence construction in San Diego and across the Southwest, saying that national security needs trumped environmental concerns. That power has accelerated construction from San Diego to Brownsville, as the agency has waived laws across 550 miles of the border. To date, 633 miles of fence have been built at a cost of $2.4 billion.

The department made the same promise each time it waived laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act: Though we're now exempt from federal and state environmental regulation, we're still committed to the environment.

But as construction continues across the Southwest, the project's impacts in Border Field State Park and in another federal reserve further east raise questions about the sincerity of the government's commitment.Clay Phillips, the California State Parks superintendent who oversees Border Field and the estuary, said that promise hasn't been fulfilled there. Mitigation of the fence's environmental impacts has "failed miserably," Phillips said.

Phillips worries that winter rains will wash soil off the hills into the nearby estuary he oversees, which is home to several sensitive species and already filling with sediment swept in from Tijuana. Sediment raises the level of the ground, stopping the twice-daily tidal flushing that keeps the wetlands wet.

Army Corps of Engineers contractors completed the fence separating San Diego and Tijuana in July.

They filled in the notorious cross-border canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch, added a second layer of steel fencing and built a road for Border Patrol vehicles running parallel to the fence. The gulch, once a deep canyon, is now filled with an earthen berm more than 100 feet tall.

Though native plant seeds were sprayed across the berm and other newly created hillsides in Border Field State Park, Phillips said the federal government never irrigated them. Only a handful of plants grew. Other hills have none.

"They sprayed it (with seed) and hoped for the best," Phillips said. "It was a waste. A token gesture."

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman, Jenny Burke, said the project was built to Caltrans' erosion standards. The agency will "monitor the situation and is considering other actions as required."

John Robertus, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the local water pollution police, said the project doesn't have all the safeguards his agency would've required. He said if the board had jurisdiction, it would've required temporary irrigation to ensure plants grew. Robertus said he, too, is concerned about the project's potential impacts on the estuary.

Fence construction has left a mark on other areas in San Diego County greater than what would've been allowed without the waiver. Further east in the federally protected Otay Mountain Wilderness, a road built along a new four-mile section of fence also left barren hills, said Joyce Schlachter, a wildlife biologist with the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the area.

"When we get any rain, it's going to be an erosion nightmare," Schlachter said. Seeds have been sprayed there, too, but not watered, she said. No plants have grown.

The impacts on Otay Mountain stretch beyond possible erosion. Phalanxes of dump trucks going to work on the fence have rumbled up and down a dirt road, spreading clouds of dust as far as 30 feet away, blanketing Tecate cypress, a rare tree found only on three peaks in San Diego County. (Its range extends into Mexico.) The tree, a bushy evergreen, provides food for the Thorne's hairstreak butterfly, a rare thumbnail-sized insect that feeds only on the cypress and that has been suffering from too-frequent fires on the mountain.

Construction crews cut down more than 100 cypress that survived a massive 2003 wildfire to widen an existing road for construction vehicles, Schlachter said.If laws hadn't been waived, the Bureau would have required construction crews to minimize their impact on the trees, she said.

Homeland Security officials consulted with the Bureau, Schlachter said, then didn't follow all of its advice."When it came right down to it, they did what they wanted to do," Schlachter said. "And they knew they couldn't be stopped. We did not have control over it."

Kathy Williams, a San Diego State biology professor studying the butterfly, said the dust poses "potentially a really serious problem" for the Thorne's hairstreak and the cypress.Williams has reared a small number of Thorne's caterpillars on both dusty and clean leaves in her laboratory.

Results from the on-going experiment so far indicate that more caterpillars survived on clean leaves, she said.Before construction began last year, Williams said the roadside habitat looked much healthier. She saw more butterflies last year than she did this year, though she noted that population sizes vary annually.

"Now it's obviously degraded habitat," she said, noting that rainfall may help clean the leaves. "The appearance of the quality of the site is strikingly different."

Burke, the Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman, said the agency consulted with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials about the Otay project and routinely wets the road to keep dust down. She said Customs and Border Protection will monitor the dust and maintain the roads "to their construction standard," and could periodically apply "dust-control agents," which include sap.

Those efforts haven't always worked well. Sap was sprayed on trees beyond the road's edge, Schlachter said. Dust stuck on top of the sap, she said, making the trees' survival questionable. "They're creating more risk to the plants," she said. "That's an issue."

On at least one occasion, crews didn't water the road -- even though they had the necessary equipment on hand. One morning in June, a water truck escorted dump trucks to the work site but didn't spray any water. As the trucks wound through the wilderness past Tecate cypress, choking clouds of dust followed.

U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, whose district includes Border Field State Park, said in a statement that she wants more done immediately to address the fence's environmental impacts."Many people, including myself, expressed strong concerns about the border fence and the implications of exempting the construction of the fence from environmental laws," Davis said.

"Unfortunately, those concerns are becoming a reality. I hope the Department of Homeland Security will continue to work with Congress and local officials in finding an immediate solution and work toward a permanent one."

A representative of an environmental group that opposed the fence because of concerns about erosion said its construction reinforced the reasons for his opposition. Jim Peugh, conservation chairman of the San Diego Audubon Society, said he hopes the fence serves as an example of why environmental laws should never be waived.

"The idea of building something without seeing how you're going to maintain it -- it's just going to fail," Peugh said. "That's an insane thing to do. And this project proves that beyond a doubt."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Not-So-Secure Border Initiative

Defense News
October 12, 2009
by William Matthews

The idea was to build a "virtual fence" of cameras and radars that would keep watch over America's southern and northern borders.

Eventually other sensors, perhaps UAVs, and even satellites would augment the army of unblinking electronic eyes focused on the borders. They would automatically alert human agents when terrorists, smugglers and illegal immigrants tried to sneak into the United States.
Reality is a bit different.

The $3.7 billion spent so far has bought a patchwork of sub-par technology that often can't tell a terrorist from a tumbleweed.

Cameras and radars mounted on tall poles can be so shaken by the wind and blinded by the rain that they don't see clearly. The radars report intruders where there are none. The cameras have trouble seeing and then transmitting images back to human monitors.

When it was begun in 2006, the Secure Border Initiative - called SBInet - was supposed to be completed early this year. But by the time that due date rolled around, the estimated date of completion had slid out to 2016.

SBInet has bedeviled the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees it; embarrassed Boeing, which is trying to build it; and exasperated Congress, which is asked annually to fund it.

"It's hard for me to believe that the Department of Homeland Security would award a contract of $1.1 billion over three years, and continue to award task orders without viable results," Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., told DHS and Boeing officials during a recent hearing.

Sanchez heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border, maritime and global counterterrorism.

"It is hard to be optimistic," said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. "We sit here today and have partial technology deployed along just 23 miles of the southwest border." Despite billions of dollars spent, "it seems that very little progress has been made. It's been very slow."

And it hasn't just been a technology problem.

Along with the electronic virtual fence, there are about 630 miles of actual, physical fence, which have proven also to be problematic.

For one thing, costs are climbing. "What used to cost us $3.5 million a mile is now at $6.5 million a mile," Sanchez said.

That's fencing designed to keep people out. The cost for barriers designed to stop vehicles "has gone from $1 million to $1.8 million per mile," Sanchez reported.

"And that's sort of unbelievable considering that construction costs - because, you know, we haven't been building - construction has been in the dumps," she said.

The physical fences don't work much better than their electronic counterparts.

"There have been about 3,300 breaches in the fence, and it costs us about $1,300 every time that we have to repair them," Sanchez said. "And that being said, we have yet to see whether or not this fencing has increased border security and has justified its costs."

Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has a simple answer to that.

"No," Stana said when asked by Rep. Christopher Carney, D-Pa., "Have the American taxpayers so far gotten what they paid for?"

In a September report on SBInet, Stana described construction delays, rising costs and equipment that doesn't meet performance standards.

"I just don't understand, just from a technical standpoint, why it's so difficult," said Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Ala. "I mean, they're basically cameras on a pole, and we've got folks monitoring multiple cameras."

SBInet "was supposed to be a relatively easy project," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. "We were told that Boeing would be integrating existing off-the-shelf technology to create a virtual fence."

Boeing has tried, said Timothy Peters, a Boeing vice president in charge of SBInet.

"During this development, we have encountered technological challenges common to the integration of commercial off-the-shelf components," he said.

But problems are being corrected, and "I believe we have a system that is robust and soon will be ready for widespread deployment," Peters told lawmakers.

SBInet was designed to use radar to detect possible intruders, then use video cameras to make a positive identification - distinguishing people and vehicles from animals or other nonthreats.
But the GAO has repeatedly reported troubles.

For example, on windy days, radars have reported too many false detections, Stana said. Some of the system's newest cameras were less capable than older prototype models. And SBInet has been unable to provide reliable signals for its wireless network and remote-controlled cameras.
Standards have been lowered so that the next portion of SBInet, called Block 1, can be declared acceptable by DHS, Stana said.

"The spec for acceptance of Block 1 is now a 70 percent identification rate," he said. "So that means when you are talking about drug runners or bad criminals, it [Block 1] can be accepted if they can find seven out of 10 of them."

That means that "three out of 10 are going to get by and you can still accept the program," he said.

That's not reassuring to lawmakers like Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who worries about the drug war raging just across the border in Mexico.

On a visit to the border, McCaul said, he was shown "the physical fence" that separates El Paso, Texas, from Juarez, Mexico, which McCaul identified as "probably the most violent city in the American continent."

"That is the threat," he said. "That is why getting operational control of the border is so important."

But a virtual fence for El Paso has been delayed until 2014 at the earliest.

"Why in the world does this take so long to do?" McCaul asked.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bare Dirt Along New Border Fence A Flood Worry

KPBS San Diego
October 13, 2009
by Amy Isackson

State parks officials are worried the federal government's failure to grow plants on slopes where it built new sections of the border fence could mean floods on both sides of the US Mexico border this rainy season. Smuggler's Gulch is a major area of concern.

About four years ago, the US federal government waived all environmental laws along the US Mexico border in order to build the border fence. The head of the Department of Homeland Security promised, even so, the government would control erosion to protect the Tijuana River Valley and estuary.

Clay Phillips is with the California Parks Department and manages the estuary reserve. He says the bare slopes that run the length of the new fence construction are a stark contrast to the promise.

"You wouldn't find a Jack In the Box where they're adding a parking lot that would be left in this condition."

The federal government has tried to grow plants on the slopes to control erosion without success. Phillips says moderate rain will erode the bare dirt. That could clog the Tijuana Estuary and cause floods in Tijuana and San Diego.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Border fence divides more than nations, landowner says

Corpus Christi Caller-Times
October 10, 2009
by David Sikes

BROWNSVILLE — Ray Loop and his family have a rural Brownsville address. But the family also lives on the Mexico side of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Tactical Infrastructure project.

Translation: They live south of the infamous Border Fence. The Loop homestead is among hundreds of properties suffering the misfortune of being between a massive 18-foot steel wall and the Rio Grande.

More than 400 Texans have had land condemned by the Feds for the wall’s right of way. The U.S. government has erected about 70 miles of fence in the Rio Grande Valley alone. But that’s not half the problem, Loop said.

In some areas this wall is a mile or two from the river, effectively enclosing large tracts of land and greatly reducing their values. Why not build it closer to the river? An international treaty prohibits a wall of this magnitude from following the exact path of the Rio Grande because the barrier might push floodwaters into Mexico. Along certain stretches of the border, though, there is no fence for miles. These gaps are difficult to explain, but speculation is that influential landowners along the border got special exemptions and no fence.

Homeland Security also has enjoyed special legal exemptions and regulatory waivers from such high federal authorities as the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

Loop said real estate inside the wall is now difficult to insure because of uncertainty, and that many financial institutions refuse to accept these properties as collateral for loans.
For the past 17 months the Loop family, who has farmed this land for three generations, has been fighting a legal battle to address a variety of concerns.

Essentially they’re fighting to include favorable fine print written into a pending agreement with Homeland Security. Details such as access to their land sit high on the Loops’ list of fine-print items.

The fence, which actually is a wall of hollow steel pipes concreted six feet into the ground and then filled with additional concrete, will be fitted with gates. Right now, the location of these gates are represented as gaps in the wall.

And nobody in government can tell the Loops whether their gate will be electronic or padlocked. If the gate is not electronic, then Loop’s little girl won’t be able to open it when she walks to the school bus stop. It’d be too heavy.

If the gate is operated by an electronic keypad, then should Loop tell his daughter the code? Loop wonders how valuable these gate codes will be to drug smugglers and what these ruthless criminals might do to gain the number sequences.

Loop can’t even get the government to tell him whether he’ll have 24-hour access to his home and crop fields. Or whether a U.S. Border Patrol agent must be present when the gates are opened. He wants such details written into the agreement.

Loop farms about 2,000 acres of some high-tech and diverse produce that sometimes must be harvested at night. It’s all behind the gate.

What about his workers? Will they have unlimited access to the farm? Or must everyone undergo extensive background checks? Will the Feds limit the number of folks with access privileges?

The government also hasn’t told Loop whether his dove hunting operation will be allowed to continue or what security level might trigger the prohibition of guns behind the wall.

Other concerns include fire safety. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has concerns about wildfires and the safety of firefighters and wildlife caught behind the fence. But on a personal level, Loop wonders whether local firefighters and other emergency crews will get through the gate in time to save his burning home or tend to his family’s health.

And not every landowner within the wall has an access gate. In some cases, adjacent property owners will be forced to borrow a neighbor’s gate to access their own land.

What a mess.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gov't dismisses call for more Texas border fencing

Associated Press
October 9, 2009
by Christopher Sherman

McALLEN, Texas — Members of Congress have stripped a provision requiring 300 more miles of tall fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border from a Department of Homeland Security appropriation bill, saying the funds needed to build the barrier would be better spent on alternative security measures.

If the amendment by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint had remained in the bill, tall fencing to stop illegal immigrants and smugglers on foot would have been installed along 700 miles of border — a plan that many officials and residents along the Southwest border have opposed.

DeMint's provision, which was dropped this week, said 300 miles of low-rise vehicle barriers and virtual fencing planned for the area could not count toward the 700 miles of barrier the U.S. government had promised to build. Virtual fencing includes technologies such as cameras and sensors.

"The DeMint amendment represented an unproductive and inefficient border security strategy," U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said in a prepared statement Thursday. "We need to invest and secure our border and our land ports without being tied down to an amendment that is out of touch with border needs."

Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, said DeMint's proposal would have cost $6.5 billion, money Cuellar said was better spent on other border security measures.

At the end of June approximately 633 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers had been completed along the 2,100-mile border. Many of the gaps in the fencing are in Texas where landowners continue to fight the government.

A federal judge was scheduled Friday to hear updates on several cases that are expected to go to trial next year to determine how much compensation the government would have to pay landowners for using their property.

The provision by DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, was not included in the House version of the $42.8 billion spending bill and was expected to be stripped during conference when the two bills were melded.

Seven border state congressmen asked the House leadership in July to strip the amendment from the final bill.

The General Accounting Office reported last month that maintaining the border fence would cost $6.5 billion during the next 20 years. That would be on top of the $2.4 billion spent to build it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Border fence scuttles multimillion-dollar Brownsville development

Brownsville Herald
October 8, 2009
by Emma Perez-Trevino

BROWNSVILLE — An extensive multimillion-dollar residential and commercial development along the Rio Grande in the Amigoland area could be suspended and might never come to fruition.

The fence between the U.S.-Mexico border is to blame.

Developers and city staff present the City Commission with separate resolutions Tuesday calling for it to suspend the activities of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 2 as they relate to the 421-acre University Park project. The parties did not entirely agree on the language of the resolutions and plan to resolve the differences in the coming days.

The TIRZ is a financing mechanism that allows investors to improve areas and be reimbursed with tax revenue. The investors in University Park include Rollins M. Koppel, of Harlingen, Abraham Galonsky, of Brownsville, Alter Holand, of McAllen, and Jenard Gross, of Houston.
The master development agreement between investors and the municipality calls for the city’s purchase of nearly 80 acres of land from the developers for the construction of a park.

The border security fence, however, prevents the use of the land that the city planned to purchase for the park.

Furthermore, the Brownsville Public Utilities Board rescinded its agreement with the developers to fund utility costs, which were proposed for construction on the property, and to take over the maintenance and operations of the utilities, the commission further learned Tuesday.

The developers’ resolution presented to the commission notes that the developers determined that the construction of the fence greatly increased the economic risks of any successful development on the property — to the extent that the development that was planned is no longer economically feasible.

Planning on the project began at least five years ago.