Sunday, February 15, 2009

UTB discusses the ‘campus fence'

February 13, 2009
Brownsville Herald
By Kevin Sieff

After a drawn out legal battle and months of negotiations behind closed doors, UTB-TSC President Juliet V. Garcia spoke openly on Friday about the border fence that once threatened to divide the university's campus.

For nearly a year, the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College was embroiled in a lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At the end of July, the university reached a compromise with the federal government, agreeing to enhance an existing fence instead of erecting a new one through campus.

Garcia addressed students and faculty members at the Science, Engineering and Technology Building Lecture Hall, explaining that her decision to oppose the government's entry onto university property was motivated by a commitment to civic responsibility, as well as the school's practical concerns.

"It was an issue not only for us, but for people around the world," Garcia said, alluding to the international attention the university's case received.

In addition to speaking about the barrier - "a huge mistake on the part of the United States" - Garcia rehashed the specifics of the university's negotiations with DHS. She made it clear that there was never any certainty that UTB-TSC would receive a favorable deal from the government.

"The Friday before we went to federal court," she said, "I thought we were going to lose."

Even the process of establishing the university's opposition to the fence plan was complex, requiring the approval of the TSC Board of Trustees and the University of Texas Board of Regents.

Throughout the whole process, Garcia said, she worked hard to plead the university's case. But she wasn't alone. When Garcia entered the federal courthouse for the first of the lawsuit's hearings, she was flanked by some of Brownsville's most well regarded attorneys.

"It's never just one person who gets something like this done," she said.

Saturday at 9 a.m., Garcia, university faculty members and students will plant seeds at the foot of the university's "campus fence"- the product of the DHS compromise.

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