Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Brownsville-DHS contract no different than the last one, border wall critics claim

February 10, 2009
Rio Grande Guardian
by Steve Taylor and Joey Gomez

AUSTIN, February 10 - The No Border Wall coalition has obtained a copy of the contract that Brownsville City Commission will consider entering into with the Department of Homeland Security to develop a border fence.

City commissioners will consider signing the contract at a meeting at city hall on Thursday evening.

“It is almost word for word identical to the one that was tabled last July in response to a very vocal outcry from Brownsville residents. It even contains the clause allowing DHS to condemn Brownsville's land, and forcing Brownsville to cooperate with the condemnation,” said No Border Wall spokesman Scott Nicol.

The only difference, Nicol said, is that the value of the land has changed, rising from $93,500 to $95,800.

“Of course, the city will not receive a penny for that land. Instead, they will get to remove the ‘floating fence’ if they first build a levee-border wall ‘at no cost to the United States of America, Department of Homeland Security or its successor agency’.”

Nicol pointed out that the levee-border wall in Hidalgo County cost $10 million to $12 million per mile.

“It seems unlikely that Brownsville will find the funds any time soon, so the wall will in fact be as permanent as that built anywhere else along the border,” Nicol said.

The No Border Wall coalition and the church-based Coalition of Amigos in Solidarity and Action (CASA) are leading the opposition to the contract being signed.

Elizabeth Garcia, founder of CASA, Garcia pointed out that Brownsville residents have forced the City to stop negotiations with DHS in the past.

“Last summer, the Brownsville City Commission considered a contract, drafted by the Army Corps of Engineers that would have turned over $93,500 worth of municipal property to build the wall,” Garcia said.

“One clause of the contract would have allowed the federal government to condemn the city’s property, and force the City to assist the government in the condemnation rather than fight to keep their property. When word of the contract was leaked, outraged Brownsville residents packed the city commission meeting, forcing them to table the deal.”

Garcia said the citizenry of Brownsville can have the same success they had last July.

“These are our elected officials, and they should be representing the concerns of their constituents,” Garcia said. “This community is still overwhelmingly opposed to the border wall, and our city government should support that sentiment.”

Garcia said that if the City wants to “compromise” with DHS, it should do so in federal court, just like the University of Texas at Brownsville and dozens of landowners have done.

“We hope that, just as UTB did, our commissioners will fight before they compromise. It will be wrong for them to reach a deal behind closed doors, without informing the public and without giving the community at large the opportunity for some input,” Garcia said.

Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada is opposed to the deal with DHS but it appears a majority of the commission now backs it.

“Basically, they (DHS) laid it on the line. Either we put up a permanent fence or you come up with another option,” Brownsville Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Atkinson told the Guardian last week.
Atkinson said he and other city commissioners had no alternative but to come up with another option.

“We are trying to build our East Loop that goes from Veterans Bridge to the Port of Brownsville to get the trucks out of the inner city. They (DHS) have conceded to us that we can have a temporary fence. They (DHS) said once you have built the East Loop you can take it (the border fence) out. They will put that in writing to us.”

The alternative, Atkinson said, was stark. “DHS builds a permanent fence and they take the land. Those are the only two options we have.”

Atkinson said he “appreciates” the concerns of Brownsville residents opposed to the border fence.

“Nobody wants a fence in Brownsville. Nobody does. But when the federal government has you the way they have you, you have got to work with what you have. That’s what we are trying to do,” Atkinson said.


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