Tuesday, March 24, 2009

House panel hears testimony against border wall

Rio Grande Guardian
March 23, 2009
by Julian Aguilar

AUSTIN, March 23 – Border lawmakers have again stated their opposition to the border fence in South Texas, this time in a proposed concurrent resolution urging the federal government to research alternatives to the barrier.

State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, on Monday laid out HCR 75 to the House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs. The resolution would ask Congress to consider how best to secure the border in ways that leave out what Lucio said was an “archaic, brick and mortar” solution.

“If there is anyone who has a significant interest in making sure that my community is safe it’s me. We definitely are pro-border security and making a safe community for us to grow up in,” Lucio said. “That being said we realize we must do so in a responsible, meaningful and effective way and the border construction that has taken place and continued to be composed along the border, I think, does none of that.”

Lucio pointed first to the fact that the price tag of the proposed fence has increased to $1.2 million per mile of construction.

“That’s federal money, taxpayer money that we are paying to construct a border fence,” he said. “Over its construction cycle - which is 25 years - that cost will increase to 16.4 million dollars per mile.”

Lucio said the issue was not about open borders or opinions for or against immigration, but instead about investigating real solutions to the controversy that has become border security.

“To me this is about responsibly investing and having a secure border. For the millions of dollars we are spending per mile, for a fraction of that cost we can invest in having Border Patrol officers on the ground,” he said. “A brick-and-mortar wall does not think, does not have the ability to adapt to situations. If it is 10 feet (tall), folks that want to come into our country illegally will build an 11-foot ladder.

“If we invest a fraction of a cost that will go into building a proposed border fence into restoring that body of water (the Rio Grande) to its original luster, you’ll have a wonderful barrier there.”

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, agreed with Lucio and said finding alternative methods to security should be explored.

“We can build a virtual fence, we can install more cameras (and) we can actually have more boots on the ground. We can hire more agents to assist,” she said. Gonzales also agreed that the issue was not about being for or against immigration and said, at least in her district, the issue was not even a partisan one.

“Living along the border, I want to thank you for bringing this resolution,” she told Lucio. “I have constituents where it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on, whether you’re Democrat or Republican. Some that are extremely conservative Republican who live in my district are very much against the wall.”

Lucio also cited his concerns about the access to the river for testing.

“Some of the issues that have been shared with our office is the concern over being able to maintain and test the water quality that is in the Rio Grande River, once these fences go up we cannot guarantee that TCEQ will have adequate access to the water to test,” he said.

Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, said he thought a combination of methods, including a fence in parts of Texas, are necessary to secure the border. Brownsville Mayor and Texas Border Coalition member Pat Ahumada agreed that in some parts of Texas the barrier would make sense, but local communities should be looked at individually.

“We are for smart and effective solutions, we are patriots just like everybody else and we feel that one size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “We are not against the fence where it is appropriate. The problem is you have somebody from East Texas or the interior of the U.S. trying to dictate something they have no clue about. Why? Because there has been no true consultation.”

Ahumada urged the committee to vote the issue out so it could to be debated in front of the Texas House as a whole.

“We all knew from day one it was going to create a lot of stir, but that’s good,” he said. “Debating the issue is healthy, that’s the way to arrive at a conclusion that hopefully is what’s best for everybody.”

Ahumada added that more studies needed to be done on the economic effects a border wall in the area would have on trade between the U.S. and Mexico. He added, like Lucio did, that historically walls have had no significant effect in deterring outsiders. Flynn told Lucio that the Berlin Wall did have its stated effect on the region, to which some in the room wondered aloud if it was the wall or the armed soldiers that patrolled on top of it.

Ahumada revisited Flynn’s comment during his remarks.

“Millions of dollars are being spent to invest in another wall that is not going to work,” he said. “No wall has ever worked and yes, you want to put machine guns on there and go Communist, maybe you can make it work. But, I don’t think that’s the American way.”

Adrienne Evans, a founder of the No Border Wall-Big Bend coalition and member of the Sierra Club, said that in her region of Terlingua,Texas near the city of Presidio, residents were “strong armed” into signing easements for the federal government.

“Every rancher and farmer was given five minutes to sign an agreement saying ‘Sign off on the easement for access to your water or we can’t guarantee you access to your water.’ These are seventh-generation farmers or ranchers,” she testified.

Like Ahumada, she said locals are usually left with little or no guidance about the issue.

“The City of Presidio and the County of Presidio voted to join the Texas Border Coalition in June to join their lawsuit because they are not quite sure what to do to have a voice in this, they were not consulted,” she said.

Evans said that according to a recent study by the Army Corps of Engineers that focused on the “lost” part of the Rio Grande, from El Paso to Presidio where there is little or no water flow, reinvesting in the river could be looked at as an option to help Border Patrol.

“If the river would restore, the Border Patrol could do their job, it creates a line of sight,” she said.

Evans added that on a recent protest walk over the 57-mile route of planned fencing in Sunland Park, a small community in West El Paso County, she saw firsthand what would likely still happen should a border wall be constructed. After a prayer vigil, attended by Mexican and U.S. citizens, people on the U.S. side wanted to give their leftover supplies to the Mexicans.

“There was no opening in the wall so they had to stand on the cars and hand it up over the wall,” she said. “The people who received the food were under the age of ten and it took them ten seconds to stand on each other’s shoulder and scale the wall.”


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