Friday, March 6, 2009

Ahumada: Meeting with DHS officials was 'positive and constructive'

March 6, 2009
Rio Grande Guardian
by Steve Taylor and Joey Gomez

BROWNSVILLE, March 6 - Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada says a meeting he and other city leaders had with Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Randy Beers in Washington, D.C., on Thursday was productive.

The Brownsville leaders wanted to see if DHS officials are more accomodating and open to ideas under new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano than under the department's previous chief, Michael Chertoff. Ahumada said the answer is, yes.

“The meeting was positive and constructive but no decisions were taken on the issue of the border wall,” Ahumada told the Guardian. “I spoke in depth against the border wall and requested a moratorium on construction until an environmental and economic study is performed and a re-assessment of the effectiveness of a wall is completed.”

DPS would not comment on how the meeting went.

Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, set up the meeting. Others elected officials participating were City Commissioners Edward Camarillo, Leonel Garza and Anthony Troiani. Brownsville Historic Downtown District Manager Peter Goodman and California developer Sam Marasco, who are looking to develop a river walk in downtown Brownsville also attended.

The meeting was set up following a public outcry by Brownsville residents last month over plans by Brownsville City commissioners to sign a contact with DHS to have “temporary” sections of the border wall built. City commissioners said they were left with no option but to sign the contract. However, when Ortiz inquired if this was true the new leadership at DHS, led by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said they had not delivered an ultimatum to Brownsville.

Ortiz pointed out that DHS is planning construction of border fencing between the Gateway and B & M bridges in Brownsville, which lie directly in the path of anticipated downtown revitalization projects. He said the proposed construction will affect an anticipated East Loop project that would connect Port of Brownsville with Veterans Bridge.

Ortiz said Thursday’s meeting focused on alternatives to the current DHS plan, including designating Brownsville as a city for emerging border security technology.

“The current border wall plan would limit Brownsville’s ability to improve its local economy and infrastructure,” Ortiz said. “I am grateful that DHS has an open ear to working with our local community while finding effective ways to address our border security concerns.”

Ahumada said there was a difference in emphasis between his pitch to Beers and those of the city commissioners. “The commissioners’ agenda was primarily advocating solely for the developers, while mine was for landowners, environmentalists, river development, coalitions and citizens against the wall,” he said.

Ahumada said he also pitched the Brownsville/Matamoros Weir Project as an alternative to a border wall.

“The Weir project is a more effective way of securing the border and it will bring economic development and prosperity on both sides of the Rio Grande. It is needed to keep people from coming to the U.S.” Ahumada said. “The Weir project will create a river walk similar to that in San Antonio but it will be bi-national.”

Ahumada said he also stressed the need to protect the ecological, historical and agriculture corridor alongside the Rio Grande and requested that DHS start true and meaningful consultations with the Texas Border Coalition, a group representing cities and counties from El Paso to South Padre Island.

“DHS was non committal and mainly listened to us. As mayor, I thanked them and Congressman Ortiz for hosting the meeting,” Ahumada said.

Ahumada provided the Guardian with a list of 19 key points he presented to Beers. Here they are:

1) It is no secret that Secretary Napolitano is sensitive to border issues, particularly when it comes to immigration, drug trafficking, and all illegal activity that takes place along the Rio Grande River. We welcome and appreciate this fact.

2) As mayor I speak for all those who oppose the fence and firmly believe that any temporary fencing will most likely be permanent, unless DHS were to agree to build it, remove it and replace it at another location at their expense.

3) The Stimulus Bill does not provide funds for Levee / Border Wall construction. Funds appropriated to IBWC are solely for levee repairs and rehabilitation.

4) As mayor, I request that any lands taken from the city be assessed for their true value based on an economic loss and environmental impact study.

5) The October 2006 Secure Fence Act no longer requires that a Wall be built in Brownsville based on the Hutchinson Amendment to the 2008 appropriations bill amending the Act that allows Secretary Napolitano to decide if fencing is the best alternative and where the fencing should go.

6) As mayor, Brownsville has formed alliances thru TBC with those who oppose the Wall, which includes the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, along with state and federal legislators who oppose the Wall. The state is passing at TBC request has introduced a proposed Resolution opposing the border wall. We have also formed alliances with CASA, Valley Interfaith, land owners, and citizens from all over the Continental U.S.A. This alliance with TBC represents more than 4 million citizens along the southwest border region.

7) As mayor and on behalf of the citizens, I pointed out that the numbers supporting the Wall has dropped substantially after 9-11-2001. The knee jerk and extremist reaction for a border wall has diminished and will continue to do so, as people learn how ineffective and costly the proposed fence is going to cost taxpayers.

8) A Washington think tank headed by a former INS Commissioner has recommended border wall construction be halted pending a revaluation on border security.

9) TBC has filed suit to stop construction and is willing to work with DHS providing meaningful consultations with border governments, as required by law.

10) As mayor and TBC member, we believe DHS has not dealt in good faith. DHS approach is to reach an agreement with the City of Brownsville in order to divide and conquer land owners and anyone else who opposes the wall.

11) TBC has asked for a meeting with Secretary Napolitano, because meeting with staff is not the same, since staff is not able to discuss or respond to any dialogue by TBC. Meetings with staff are not enough at this point, because DHS staff can only hear us and is not able to respond to any of our questions or proposals to negotiate. Time is running out and a meaningful meeting with Secretary Napolitano would be beneficial before the wall is being built.

12) A Wall thru Brownsville will not provide the security DHS is seeking and it will be devastating to Brownsville in many different ways.

13) There are better more effective ways and less costly to secure the border. One of them being the Brownsville/Matamoros Weir Project, which causes the river to rise in dept from 12 to 26 feet, it will widen the river to 300 feet, and back up the high rise river to 42 miles, then will allow the river to be patrolled by high speed boats constantly and become a virtual fence with additional boots on the ground and sophisticated electronic equipment.

14) As mayor, I submitted Mexico’s State Department letter supporting the weir project as a virtual fence instead of the border wall being proposed to be built. This project will also help create a river walk and tourist corridor, along with securing water for Brownsville and Matamoros to 2050.

15) Building a Wall thru Brownsville will be devastating to our ecological corridor, which pumps approximately $150 million to our region’s economy. It will also adversely impact our historical and Agriculture corridor. A Wall will hurt our tourism industry.

16) As mayor, I believe this new administration has promised and given us hope for a meaningful dialogue and a different way of doing things with good will and transparency.

17) As mayor, I insist on the ecological and economical studies be performed before any more construction begins.

18) The citizens of Brownsville have expressed their frustration and lack of confidence in the Bush administration because it adopted secretive policies, demonstrated bad faith efforts, along with no good will behind the rush to build a Wall by relying on dictatorial methods.

19) The Obama Presidency gives us hope for a new beginning by granting a moratorium on fence construction until an economic and environmental study is performed.

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