Thursday, February 12, 2009

City sits on border fence

February 12, 2009
Brownsville Herald
Emma Perez-Trevino

The City Commission tabled action Thursday on an agreement regarding the construction of a border fence with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, announcing that the proposal would be re-evaluated by the federal government.

Just minutes before the start of the scheduled public hearing, Commissioner Anthony Troiani said that new DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's staff indicated that the proposal would be re-evaluated.

"We are in a position to re-evaluate the situation," Troiani said at the onset of the session that drew a standing room only crowd in commission chambers at City Hall.

Troiani said that Napolitano's staff had not been aware that the federal negotiating team had given the city an ultimatum or a deadline for approval of the agreement and had not known of Thursday's meeting in Brownsville.

Commissioner Ricardo Longoria said that city officials hope to meet with Napolitano later this month or in mid-March.

Troiani pointed to the efforts of commissioners, city staff and U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, while Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. said, "This didn't just happen." Instead, the mayor pointed to the efforts of the Texas Border Coalition and No Border Wall groups.

Discussions between the mayor and commissioners were contentious as usual, with commissioners noting that they are not the ones who are divided.

Ahumada, on the other hand, felt that Commissioner Charlie Atkinson should not have taken part in the deliberations due to a potential conflict of interest because Atkinson is a federal officer.

Some commissioners also told Ahumada that they fear going to Mexico because he has said in Mexico that commissioners are in favor of the border wall.

Residents urged the mayor and commissioners to put differences aside, encouraging communication and unity.

"We need you all to unite," Erasmo Castro said. "We need something that is substantial, something that is clear, that is transparent. We need to be informed. That is all we ask," Castro added.

Jay Johnson-Castro, who has protested the wall for years throughout the border and has walked more than 700 miles in protest, urged the commission to put their political differences aside.

"Join with ‘We the people' and say no to this," Johnson-Castro emphasized. "Don't be divided on this. Stand with us. This is ground zero in Texas," he said, telling commissioners and the mayor to be statesmen and not politicians.

Judy Vera with Valley Interfaith also pointed out to The Brownsville Herald that the organization obtained many signatures opposing the border wall, which have been presented to the commission. "We really touched a lot of people," Vera said.

Dennis Sanchez, who represents two landowners near the city's property between the Gateway International Bridge and the B&M International Bridge, told the commission that neither the federal government nor the city consulted with his clients.

"Now is the opportunity," Sanchez said, noting that it is great news that the city will actually have the opportunity to meet with federal officials in Washington, D.C. He also told the commission that it needs to be united.

Sanchez said: "Look at this as a business deal and try to make the best deal you can."

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