Monday, April 27, 2009

Congressman: Bill protects border tribes' lands

Yuma Sun
April 25, 2009
By Darin Fenger

Tribes living along the U.S.-Mexican border deserve a greater role in deciding how federal agencies protect and conserve their land, says Yuma's congressman.

Rep. Raul Grijalva recently introduced the Border Security and Responsibility Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The act would require the Department of Homeland Security to consult with tribal governments - plus other border communities and state land managers - in creating a plan that would secure the border, plus honor local rights and participation.

"We have heard from tribes and local border communities that are being left out of the process," said Natalie Luna, press secretary for Grijalva. "(They hear) 'We are going to build a fence and there is nothing you can do about it.'"

Grijalva stressed in a press statement that the government's "one fence fits all" approach focuses too much on experts making the decisions while ignoring the people who are directly affected by border security policies.

He was not available for comment Friday, when the act was announced to the media.

Grijalva said in his press statement that protection and conservation of federal and public lands are more crucial now than ever due to illegal border activity.

"Many of these lands have suffered extensive environmental degradation as a result of unauthorized activity and border security efforts. This bill is the first step in preserving our unique natural heritage while we protect our borders.

"The Border Security and Responsibility Act will strengthen border security, protect the environment and uphold the health of the border community by allowing all agencies to work together cooperatively."

The act would appear to affect the Cocopah Indian Tribe, whose spokeswoman Liz Pratt declined to comment on Grijalva's bill. Pratt said the tribe would want to study the proposal before making public comment.

Luna said she wasn't aware of how federal agencies serving along the border are reacting to the the congressman's bill, a version of which he introduced in 2007.

"I think there was some concern in the past that this bill would impede the mission of the agencies," Luna said. "I'm not sure if they have actually seen the new version of the bill."

The spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol Yuma Sector, Ben Vik, also declined to comment on the bill. Vik did stress, however, that concerned citizens can also write their congressional representatives or share their thoughts and concerns directly with the Border Patrol by calling 341-6520 or 1-800-BE-ALERT.

US-Mexico Border Wall Slicing through Fragile Ecosystems

Democracy Now!
April 27, 2009

We take a look at the environmental impact of the 600 miles of barricades along the US-Mexico border. The wall slices across fragile ecosystems in public lands, parks and refuges, threatening rare species and disrupting wildlife migration. We speak with the chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team in Arizona.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you to stay with us, Isabel Garcia, as we turn now to another guest, who is looking at the environmental impact of the 600 miles of barricades along the US-Mexico border. The wall slices across fragile ecosystems in public lands and parks and refuges, threatening rare species and disrupting wildlife migration. The wall went up and continues to be built in violation of thirty-six environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act.

It’s because of Section 102 of the REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005 that gives unprecedented power to the Homeland Security secretary to waive all local, state and federal laws in order to build walls and roads along all US borders. These are the allegations of the Sierra Club.

We’re joined now in Washington, DC, by Sean Sullivan. He’s chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team in Arizona, in Washington to lobby against the wall and in favor of legislation introduced by Arizona Democratic Congress member Raul Grijalva, that would repeal Section 102 of the REAL ID Act and better protect the desert environment.

Sean, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain exactly what you see happening to the environment here.

SEAN SULLIVAN: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Going back to 1995, when—where we can point to bad border policy, walls began to be erected in urban areas such as San Diego and El Paso, and it was these areas where a majority of the migrant traffic would cross through. Now, Border Patrol erected walls to purposefully push migrants into these fragile areas, which resulted in environmental damage and, of course, also the loss of life to many migrants. And this was done on purpose by Border Patrol to better apprehend migrants, so they say.

So, we saw a shift in migration to areas that normally didn’t see the numbers. And then, as numbers in migrants shifted into these areas, we saw the construction of border walls. And these border walls were constructed along wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and in areas that are very unique and very diverse to North America and contain a number of endangered species. One of the main problems that we see with the construction of border walls is the blockage of bi-national corridors. There are a number of wildlife species who rely on habitat on both sides of the borders. Wildlife do not recognize political boundaries.

One instance of that is 200 miles south of the Arizona border in Mexico, there’s a breeding population of jaguars. And recently these jaguars have dispersed back into Arizona and New Mexico, back to their historic habitat, which in the past, before they were hunted in the United States, ranged all the way north to the Grand Canyon. So, that is—we’re seeing across the entire border in many areas in all four border states. And what’s—

AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of reception are you getting right now, Sean, in Washington, as you’re there lobbying? And who are you meeting with?

SEAN SULLIVAN: We are initially meeting with representatives in the House that have been supportive of a similar bill that was introduced last session, like you said, which will repeal this power granted in Section 102 of the REAL ID Act. It will enable mitigation monies to be distributed to borderlands for restoration projects. And it will ensure that DHS communicates with people on the ground, with land managers, with local communities, with tribal nations, so the people who live on the border have the chance to have meaningful dialog when decisions are made about border security.

We hope to have a companion bill in the Senate shortly, and we have a real hope of getting the process fixed this session. It’s going to take an act of Congress to fix this. This is not something that’s going to be—come down from the administration or fixed by the judicial branch. We need Congress to take back the power, to restore law along the border, to restore the checks and balances of border policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Garcia, last ten seconds, your comment here?

ISABEL GARCIA: It’s really interesting that we passed the REAL ID Act, the 102 Section, basically allowing the wholesale violation of thirty-six laws. Yet, immigrants are being prosecuted at a huge cost to the US taxpayer for their alleged crime of illegal entry. I think our nation must hear the truth. Unfortunately, not much of the truth is being told to the Congress, to this administration. And we are in a critical situation, in particular in Arizona, with the devastating impact of all of the so-called border security measures on all aspects of our community.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, thank you so much for being with us from Tucson.


AMY GOODMAN: And thank you so much to Sean Sullivan, chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team, and Dan Millis of No More Deaths.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The border fence doesn't stop drug smugglers; four arrested tossing over marijuana

Brownsville Herald / The Monitor
April 24, 2009
by Jared Janes

The border wall was no barrier to 10 or so people who climbed it one night late last month carrying several bundles of marijuana.

U.S. Border Patrol agents driving along the wall that night saw the men as they scaled the top. A chase resulted in the arrest of four of the men and the recovery of several hundred pounds of pot.

The scaling of the wall provided more fodder for border wall detractors, who have long argued that no fence could ever be too tall, too deep or too long for anyone who really wanted to get past it.

But Border Patrol officials who see the wall as a crucial tool in their security efforts insist it's functioning perfectly in line with its intended purpose.

Apprehensions of illegal immigrants are down in Hidalgo County since the wall neared completion, an indicator that fewer people are trying to cross, said Dan Doty, a local Border Patrol spokesman.

The decline is in line with a national decrease in apprehensions since federal officials started constructing 670 miles of border fence two years ago.

While Washington officials acknowledge the decline may be due in part to factors such as the economy, Doty said the numbers don't present the whole picture of how the wall is working in the Rio Grande Valley.

The barrier directs illegal entry away from populated areas into rural areas, making it easier to apprehend drug smugglers and illegal immigrants and reducing dangers posed to the city residents, Doty said. And in those instances when illegal crossers have sought to circumvent the wall, the barrier has worked as intended.

"It slowed them," Doty said of the late March smuggling attempt. "They got over it but we caught them. It served its purpose and did exactly what we planned it to do."


Going over it is only one option.

Since Congress authorized nearly $3 billion for 670 miles of fencing from Brownsville to San Diego, authorities have encountered a variety of ways smugglers and illegal immigrants continue to thwart the fence, said Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Washington.

In Nogales, Ariz., repeated tunneling by drug smugglers has been deterred by a 12-foot underground concrete barrier that a private contractor built last month. In New Mexico, illegal immigrants who attack the wall with torches and hacksaws force agents to make daily fixes.

And in San Diego, which has had double and triple fencing near Tijuana since the 1990s, the border fence leads some to take chances with the waves, hoping the tide carries their small boats around the barrier to a favorable spot.

Easterling said breaches aren't necessarily failures.

"It stands to reason that it's a success if they're trying so hard to defeat that fence," he said. "We all realize ... it's not going to stop people - it is meant to give us time."

With improved technology, more manpower, extra lighting, new surveillance equipment and the border fence, the number of apprehensions of illegal immigrants - the most reliable measure of those trying to slip into the United States from Mexico - was down nearly 50 percent last year from the Border Patrol's peak of about 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000, Easterling said.

The national numbers are poised to fall again this year as Border Patrol reported a 24 percent decrease in apprehensions for the most recent six-month period compared to the same time frame one year earlier.

In the Yuma, Ariz., region, the single-busiest Border Patrol sector, apprehensions dropped from a high of 138,000 in 2005 to 8,363 in 2008, the first year the sector had the fence.

A weaker U.S. economy is also impacting the number of illegal entries by reducing economic incentives for crossing, Easterling said. But tough enforcement measures - from the fence to adding more Border Patrol agents to prosecuting more people - are deterring some would-be crossers.

Easterling likens the fence to one leg in a three-legged stool that also includes new technology such as motion sensors and cameras and additional manpower in the form of 6,000 new agents.

"You really do need all of those things," he said. "If you only have two legs, the stool collapses."


The best way to see how the wall is helping the Border Patrol stop illegal entries is to look at the ground, Doty said. Near Granjeno, a well-worn path once led illegal immigrants away from Mexico toward the center of the city.

But as crews started construction on the barrier outside the city, he said, the path moved away from the city, toward an area where the wall was not being built.

Unlike sections of the wall in New Mexico and Arizona where the intent is to deny access, the easiest way for people to thwart the levee-barrier is to go around it, Doty said. The result is that they are directed away from the urban areas into places where they are easier to apprehend, which reduces the danger to residents.

But in Granjeno, where "No Border Wall" signs still line chain-link fences despite the barrier looming in view from people's backyards, lifelong resident Gerardo Mata Jr. worries the fence might increase the danger.

A staunch opponent of the wall, the 32-year-old said the barrier could lead desperate drug runners to try more violent ways to smuggle their product into the country.

The barrier has reduced the number of people he sees coming through his backyard, which abuts the wall, but he estimates three out of five still find a way around.

"It was always the wrong approach," he said. "They still get around it. It's not keeping away everybody."

That view was once shared by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as Arizona governor remarked that a 12-foot fence would be conquered with a 13-foot ladder.

However, Napolitano has since reversed that stance, saying the fence can be an effective border security tool if used wisely. She also has said she may consider more fencing in some areas as crews finish the last 50 miles of border barrier being built under the current mandate.

Doty acknowledged some will find a way around the Hidalgo County levee-wall, which is now effectively complete. But regardless of how they try to do that, he said, the fence gives Border Patrol agents a better chance of stopping them.

"If we see someone with a 20-foot ladder running toward the fence, we're going to catch them," Doty said in jest. "There's going to be ways around (the fence), but it wasn't meant to be the only solution."

IMMIGRATION: Rep. Hunter introduces border bill

North Country Times
April 23, 2009
by Edward Sifuentes

A group of Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress on Thursday they say would strengthen border security and increase penalties for gun smuggling.

The group, led by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-El Cajon, and including Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, would mandate that 350 miles of fence be built along the border with Mexico, require employers to verify a worker's legal status and deny federal funds to local governments that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

"We need to get serious about securing our borders once and for all," Hunter said. "This cannot be accomplished with infrastructure, technology or manpower alone. It will require a combination of these resources, as well as better coordination between our federal agencies and stronger enforcement of existing immigration laws."

Immigration has long been a hot-button issue in the region. Hunter's district stretches just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in East County and Bilbray, a former mayor of the border city of Imperial Beach, has made immigration enforcement a hallmark of his election campaigns.

Under the Bush administration, Congress approved building 700 miles of fence, but only half was completed. Hunter's bill would require that the other 350 miles be completed within one year.

In San Diego, the Department of Homeland Security is nearing completion on a double-layered border fence between the Otay Mesa Port of Entry and the ocean, including the controversial sections at Smuggler's Gulch and Friendship Park.

The legislation has little chance of moving forward, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a group that favors comprehensive immigration reform, including legalizing some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country.

"I think what Congressman Hunter is offering is his perspective and it is part of a diminishing minority perspective," Noorani said.

Having captured the White House and enlarged their majority in both houses of Congress, Democrats control the debate on immigration reform. The party's leaders, including President Barack Obama, say they favor a comprehensive approach that includes national security and legalizing illegal immigrants.

In December, before he took office, Obama said he wanted to evaluate border security operations before he considers whether to finish building the fence under his administration.

Hunter said he proposed the bill because he feels it is what is needed, not because it is popular.

"I don't know what the (bill's) chances are," he said. "What we are trying to do is what is right."

Bilbray said he also favors dealing with border security and internal controls on illegal immigration, such as employee verification.

"In order to help families and individuals become legal U.S. citizens, we have to address the problems created by our currently inadequate immigration system," Bilbray said. "We need to step up internal enforcement on employers by using the E-Verify program, while at the same time address our border security."

To increase security, the bill would break down barriers between federal agencies and increase penalties for certain crimes, such as weapons smuggling, Hunter said.

For example, only a limited number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are allowed by the Drug Enforcement Agency to investigate criminal drug cases, Hunter said. The bill would give the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, the authority to investigate drug cases at the border.

Other provisions of the bill include:

-- Increasing the minimum mandatory sentence for weapons smuggling to 15 years.

-- Requiring state and local law enforcement to notify immigration authorities when illegal immigrants are arrested.

-- Denying reimbursement of State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funds if local governments prohibit their law enforcement agencies from collecting information about people's immigration status.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program helps reimburse local governments for the costs of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants. California gets about $150 million from the $400 million a year program.

Opponents of the bill say linking local law enforcement and immigration enforcement is not a good idea for public safety. They say illegal immigrants would be deterred from reporting crimes if they believed police would ask them their legal status.

"If police agencies are tasked with the responsibility of enforcing immigration, the trust will be eroded and the community will be afraid, because they will be asked their immigration status," Sylvia Aguilar said in a phone interview. She is a deputy with the El Paso Sheriff's Department and a member of the pro-immigrant Border and Immigration Task Force.

The bill will first go to the House Homeland Security and Judiciary committees.

Judge's Order: hole in wall

Brownsville Herald
April 24, 2009
by Kevin Sieff

The border fence on Eloisa Tamez's property may be complete, but the case is not yet closed, according to state District Judge Andrew Hanen.

On Friday morning, Hanen held a hearing to discuss Tamez's request for a temporary restraining order - a request filed Thursday just as the government was beginning construction behind her El Calaboz home.

Construction on the fence was completed the same day that the TRO request was made and before Hanen could take any action on it.

Tamez claimed in the request that federal officials shirked a previous Hanen order to consult with her before beginning construction.

The restraining order request is moot now that the barrier is up, Hanen said Friday, but he suggested that the government should accommodate Tamez's concerns about access to her property - half of which is south of the fence. The government's current plan is to provide several gates for landowners. But the closest one to Tamez's home is a mile away, making her property effectively inaccessible, her attorney, Peter Schey, argued.

Hanen was receptive to Tamez's concerns - and her desire for access - citing her property's cultural and historical significance. "We're not going to put in a turnstile so that illegal immigrants have access," Hanen assured two federal attorneys.

But the attorneys were steadfast in their opposition to a gate on Tamez's land.

"With all due respect, I don't think that's going to happen," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Aiman. "A gate at that particular location does not meet the operational concerns of (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)."

Unsatisfied with that conclusion, Hanen asked the two parties to negotiate privately. When their meeting proved ineffective, the judge decided to visit Tamez's property himself on Friday afternoon. Hanen walked with attorneys and border patrol agents from Tamez's land to the nearest access point and then along the levee to the southern half of her tract. It was about a 45-minute jaunt, according to one of Tamez's attorneys, Corinna Spencer-Scheurich.

"It was a big gesture on his (Hanen's) part," Spencer-Scheurich said. "I hope he sees that the government needs to be penalized in some way for failing to consult with Dr. Tamez."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Border fence fight persists: Landowner: Government violated court order by building wall

Brownsville Herald
April 23, 2009
by Kevin Seiff

Less than one week after a federal judge cleared the way for construction of the border fence on Eloisa Tamez's property, the barrier has been completed on her swath of land in El Calaboz.

But Tamez and her attorneys say the government ignored U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's court order by hastily building the fence. On April 16, Hanen mandated federal officials to "consult with the landowners of the property in question prior to exercising the rights given in this order."

But according to Tamez, no such consultation ever took place. After she noticed construction materials on her property, her attorney, Peter Schey, filed for a temporary restraining order on Thursday, claiming that the court's stipulation had been ignored. "We would like to begin an immediate discussion regarding the defendant's concerns," Schey wrote.

But by 3 p.m. Thursday, the fence had already been built on Tamez's three-acre property, before a hearing on the restraining order could take place. Construction was completed in less than 24 hours.

"It's an outrage," Tamez said. " The government is acting without regard for the judge's decision."

The court-ordered consultation was meant to inform Tamez when and how her property would be transferred to the government and how the barrier's environmental impact would be minimized.

A hearing meant to address Tamez's request for a restraining order is scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Hanen's court, but with construction now complete it's unclear what purpose it will serve.

Tamez has her own suggestions.

"They're going to have to tear it down," she said. "They can't get away with this."

Throughout the 18-month-long case, the federal government has declined requests for comment due to pending litigation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Border fence biologists file wages lawsuit

KGBT Channel 4
April 22, 2009

group of biologists contracted to perform environmental studies for the border fence has filed a lawsuit against their employer.

Martin Wise and a group of other biologists filed a fair labor lawsuit at the federal courthouse in Brownsville this week.

The group claims that the Colorado-based company Engineering-Environmental Management never paid them for the overtime they worked in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties.

Attorneys for Wise and the others said their clients worked performing environmental assessments for the border fence.

Officials from the Engineering-Environmental Management could not immediately be reached for comment.

Napolitano commits to finishing wall - and doesn't rule out more

The Monitor
April 21, 2009
by Jared Janes

WASHINGTON — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano committed Tuesday to completing the final unbuilt miles of border fence, most of which is in the Rio Grande Valley.

Napolitano, once a vocal critic of the fence when she was governor of Arizona, said she intends to complete the original 670 miles Congress mandated in 2006. But she also didn't rule out building more fencing in combination with technology and manpower as a way to secure the border.

The homeland security secretary's comments came in response to a question McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez posed on the effectiveness of the fence during an international conference sponsored by the Border Trade Alliance, an organization that advocates policies to improve border affairs and trade relations.

About 620 miles of the 670 miles of planned fence are complete, and work is in progress on the remaining sections. Napolitano said she hadn't made a decision yet on whether more fencing would be needed.

Most of the work left do under the current mandate is in Cameron County, where crews have already started construction despite protests from some officials hoping to stall the work.

The combined levee-wall barrier in Hidalgo County is effectively complete.

Napolitano, who quipped as Arizona governor that a 12-foot fence would be conquered with a 13-foot ladder, now says the fence is effective "if it's done right as part of a system."

In some areas, such as the San Diego-Tijuana crossing, the fence makes sense, she said, but only as part of a comprehensive solution.

"You cannot build a fence from Brownsville to San Diego and call that an anti-immigration, anti-illegal-drug strategy," the secretary said.

Her challenge, she said, is identifying the right procedure for security along both the southern and northern borders of the United States.

Mayor Cortez attended the conference in Washington, D.C., with other officials from Hidalgo County and said he found Napolitano's statements refreshing. She understands the border region, he said, noting she made frequent comments to the effect that security would not be pursued at the expense of business.

"She said we're going to secure our borders and work in a way that doesn't impede legitimate trade," Cortez said. "She's going to be someone good to work with."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Path of the border wall cuts off land grant heir’s property

New Mexico Independent
April 17, 2009
by Marjorie Childress

ALBUQUERQUE — Even though Dr. Eloisa Tamez calls Texas home, she was in New Mexico Thursday afternoon when she got some unwanted news.

In the name of border security, the federal government served her condemnation papers on part of the border-land that’s been in her family for generations.Tamez, who was in town for an academic conference, told NMI that her attorneys emailed her about the condemnation order earlier in the day.

As President Obama traveled to Mexico this week, many folks were focusing on hotly debated security threats coming from Mexico. But the Tamez case illustrated to others why New Mexicans ought to be paying as close attention to what’s happening just across the border in Texas by the U.S. government itself.

Tamez, a University of Texas at Brownsville professor of nursing, owns three acres of land in El Calaboz, Texas, “just up the river” from Brownsville. The property is a remnant of what her family once owned — but one that has a lot of meaning for her.

What many may not realize is that in Texas the federal government is using eminent domain powers to take private property of U.S. citizens north of the border in order to build the so-called border wall, often effectively cutting property owners off from their land south of the newly constructed wall.

The massive wall being constructed along the U.S./Mexico border does not sit on the actual border, which in Texas is the Rio Grande.

Tamez’s land was once part of the San Pedro de Carricitos Land Grant, created by the King of Spain in 1767. While it was handed down to Tamez through many generations, her heritage on the land actually predates even the land grant, she explained. Tamez’s ancestors include tribal members of the indigenous Lipan Apache.

And now, the federal government wants to cut her off from most of her land.

That’s because her property sits square in the path of the authorized border wall. Tamez has been fighting the efforts of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to condemn and bisect her land with the wall since 2007 — one of the last hold-outs in her community.

She’s tried to meet the government half way, she said, offering to replace a barbed wire fence on her property with a 10-foot wall. And she’s asked for an opening in the wall that would allow her to access what would be over half of her land south of the wall. She said she hasn’t received a response from the government.

While government officials have told Tamez that the wall will only take a quarter of an acre of her land, she said, Tamez totals the loss much higher — more than half of the land will be gone because there will be no access to it. Nor will it be worth much on the market if she’s forced to sell, she added.

And, as she learned yesterday, time is running out. She was in Albuquerque to give a presentation on the very topic Thursday at the Western Social Sciences Association Conference at the University of New Mexico. That is when she learned she had been served with the condemnation notice by the feds.

When it comes to the land condemnations in Texas, maps of the location of the new walls show them running through many lower-income, Mexican American communities, Tamez said.

This is easily seen on the ground as well, she said, with the wall stopping at wealthy resorts with golf courses.

“They choose our communities because immigrants blend in,” she said. “But that’s stereotyping and discriminatory. Not to mention, un-American.”

Tamez said she had hoped things would be different with President Obama, but that’s not been the case so far.

“They talk about cultural sensitivity, but have ignored us and continued to move forward with the contracts to build the wall,” she elaborated.

“I’m appalled that the president right away said this country would stop the torture and close Guantanamo. But what does he call what’s happening to us? Do we not count?”

Other participants at the WSSA Conference, when hearing about the condemnation notice delivered to Tamez, said New Mexicans should sit up and take notice.

Cynthia Bejaranos, a professor of criminal justice at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, said the land condemnations in Texas are a trend in the “de-constitutionalization” of border communities.

“I’m a fourth generation U.S. citizen who grew up in Anthony, and have been a resident of the border region my entire life,” she told NMI. “The institutional law enforcement presence with associated police tactics and surveillance has grown massively, with serious implications for the human rights of our Mexican-American communities.”

“I have to go through a checkpoint every time I leave Las Cruces, in any direction,” she continued. “These measures are in the name of border security, but over the past 20 years I’ve seen little to warrant it. And this condemnation of private land in other parts of the southwest are part of the trend — many of us wonder if it’s the next thing we’ll have to deal with.”

Obama, guns, and Eloisa Tamez

San Antonio Current
April 17, 2009
by Greg Harman

Eloisa Tamez, who you may remember from the Current’s border series, is headed back to South Texas today.

She had been presenting at a conference in Albuquerque about the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border when she got word that back at home a federal judge had ruled that U.S. Homeland Security has the right to take a quarter-acre of her South Texas border land. This is land in her family inhabited before Spanish colonization, she has argued, and was deeded to her relatives through a Spanish Land Grant.

It’s been a year since Tamaz walked with me atop the earthen levy on the back side of her property. For the university professor, it’s been a year of going in and out of court fighting Homeland Security.

While I couldn’t reach Eloisa this morning, her daughter Margo returned by call, sharing how distraught she and her mother were on hearing the news yesterday.

Margo said compounding the shock was the fact that her mother had approached no fewer than six different appraisal companies trying to get a good appraisal on her land with no luck.

One finally agreed, Margo Tamez said, but then “fell off the face of the earth.”

The ramifications of the ruling for more than a dozen other landowners that had joined her mother’s lawsuit is unclear, she added.

Prominent and sustained violence in several Northern Mexico border towns appears to have provided the government justification to continue forward with nearly 700 miles of border wall construction ordered by Congress, in spite of the hope many had held out that Obama’s new administration could force a policy reversal.

However, when President Obama met with fellow Harvard alum President Felipe Calderon yesterday in Mexico City, individual liberty and indigenous land rights weren’t on the agenda.

Crime was.

From CNN, we read:

"At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders," Obama said alongside Calderon in a ceremony in Mexico, "it is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like the Merida Initiative, but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south."

Individual liberty and indigenous land rights have received little mention in the court of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen. (For more on human rights and the Wall, check out the analysis of this University of Texas-based group.)

To visit, it seems bizarre to think seizing property in out-of-the-way El Calaboz could have any impact on guns heading south or drugs coming north. If that’s the point.

The New Mexico Independent caught up with Tamez, adding to the discussion:

What many may not realize is that in Texas the federal government is using eminent domain powers to take private property of U.S. citizens north of the border in order to build the so-called border wall, often effectively cutting property owners off from their land south of the newly constructed wall.

The massive wall being constructed along the U.S./Mexico border does not sit on the actual border, which in Texas is the Rio Grande.

Tamez’s land was once part of the San Pedro de Carricitos Land Grant, created by the King of Spain in 1767. While it was handed down to Tamez through many generations, her heritage on the land actually predates even the land grant, she explained. Tamez’s ancestors include tribal members of the indigenous Lipan Apache.

In recent months, El Calaboz, a small community outside Brownsville, has been overrun by Homeland contractors in burst of a sort of “mili-tourism,” Margo Tamez told me.

Nebraska plates are in abundance, thanks to Halliburton subsidiary Kiewit, she said. “They’ve just been overrun by Nebraska license plates."

U.S.-Mexico fence building continues despite Obama's promise to review effects

New York Times
April 16, 2009
by April Reese

“On the day of its first foreign policy discussions with Mexico, the Obama administration remains mum on whether it will honor a campaign promise to alter a Bush administration policy establishing a massive fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including in federally protected areas.”

So far, the Department of Homeland Security has erected about 613 miles of new pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers to thwart illegal border crossers and drug smugglers trying to enter the United States.

While President Obama voted for the 2005 Secure Fence Act as an Illinois senator, he pledged on the campaign trail last year to review the Bush administration's fortification efforts, in part due to concerns about environmental impacts.

"I think that the key is to consult with local communities, whether it's on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier," Obama said last year at a debate in Austin, Texas.

While acknowledging that some areas may need fencing, Obama said deploying new surveillance technology and stepping up patrols would "be the better approach."

Yet almost three months into the new administration, neither Obama nor Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are addressing the issue. Meanwhile, construction is beginning on two new sections of the fence, one through the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville, Texas, and another in the Otay Mountain Wilderness in California's San Diego County.

Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said Napolitano decided to allow border fence projects already contracted under the Bush administration to go forward. But she is reviewing the fence policy as part of a comprehensive examination of all immigration and border security programs. "She will discuss her review of immigration and border security policies once it is completed," he said.

Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a DHS subagency, said, "As it stands right now, we're committed to completing the project at hand."

Proponents of the the border fence say the project is an effective deterrent to would-be illegal border crossers, and they cite government data showing precipitous drops in illegal border crossings at places like Yuma, Ariz., once a hot spot for illegal immigrants driving into the United States.

But critics point to a 2008 Congressional Research Service report that found the new fencing simply shifts illegal crossings to other, more remote locations.

Perhaps more important, any attempt by the administration to scale back the border fence is likely to attract intense public scrutiny at a time when Mexican drug cartel violence has flared up along the border, fueled in large part by guns smuggled from the United States. Obama is making his first visit to Mexico today, where among other things he will discuss the intensifying drug war, which killed 6,300 people last year.

Needs are critical

Even so, critics say they are dismayed by the Obama administration's slow progress in addressing the fence's environmental impacts.

"The need to address all the negative impacts that have already occurred is critical," said Michael Degnan, lands representative for the Sierra Club.

Matt Clark, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said his group was "hopeful that the administration would quickly change course, and even reverse the Bush-era wall-building approach to border issues."

Defenders of Wildlife has joined a coalition of other environmental groups -- as well as faith-based organizations, immigration groups and border community organizations -- backing a bill to be introduced later this month by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) calling for mitigation of the environmental damage caused by the fence.

While the language of the Grijalva bill is still being hammered out, proponents say it will probably seek to reverse a 2005 provision allowing the Homeland Security secretary to waive any federal or state law deemed to interfere with fence construction, including the nation's core environmental laws. Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff invoked the waiver authority four times during his tenure.

In February, Grijalva and seven other members of Congress -- five from Texas and two from California -- sent a letter to the Obama administration asking for a suspension of fence construction. "Though there are places where a fence is the most feasible option, we strongly believe the Bush Administration's approach of constructing a fence along much of the Southwest border was ill-conceived as it was void of any meaningful input from the local communities or the Border Patrol Sector Chiefs who are most familiar with the challenges of securing our border," the letter read.

Jose Borjon, a spokesman for Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D), who represents the southeastern tip of Texas, said the congressman met with DHS officials two weeks ago and urged them to find an alternative to the border fence. "But that has not happened," he said. "Construction in Brownsville has begun."

Mitigation efforts

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are concerned about fence sections in Texas, Arizona and California that have been built across wildlife refuges, national monuments, national conservation areas and other federal lands (Land Letter, Jan. 15).

In Arizona's San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, for instance, a pedestrian fence now stretches to the river's edge, where it is met by a river-crossing vehicle barrier and a new section of pedestrian fence on the other side. Clark of the Defenders of Wildlife said the area has been significantly degraded by the fence and construction of a temporary road down a steep embankment. "It's not a pretty sight," he said. "And even though they've got a couple of things to try to prevent erosion into the river, the damage has been done, and we are seeing increased erosion."

Newly erected sections of fence in Texas and Arizona bisect protected habitat for the federally endangered jaguar and ocelot, the Sierra Club's Degnan added. "We've seen lands that Congress protected in perpetuity scarred by roads and other damage," he said.

The Interior Department has tried to offset some of the effects under a January agreement with DHS establishing a $50 million mitigation fund (Land Letter, Jan. 26). Officials expect to release a list of mitigation projects this summer, but environmentalists say the funding will fall short of what is needed to fully mitigate the damage.

Judge clears way for border fence on Eloisa Tamez's land

Associated Press / Brownsville Herald
April 16, 2009
by Christopher Sherman

McALLEN - A federal judge rejected the last of the objections from one of the border fence's fiercest opponents Thursday, giving the government immediate possession of her land and clearing the way for construction to begin.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued his order in Brownsville, denying the arguments from Eloisa Tamez that the government failed to provide enough information about the fence it will build, the access that will be available from her land in El Calaboz and its offer of compensation.

Tamez's persistent legal fight against the border fence delayed for more than a year the government's efforts to take possession of a quarter acre of land she said was part of a Spanish land grant to her family.

Neither Tamez nor her attorney Peter Schey immediately returned calls seeking comment.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has nearly completed the 670 miles of fencing mandated by Congress along the U.S.-Mexico border. South Texas landowners have proved to be some of its staunchest opponents.

Construction of the border fence in the rural El Calaboz community was already proceeding around Tamez's property.

Tamez and others had hoped the new administration of President Barack Obama might halt the fence, but the Department of Homeland Security has allowed the portions where contracts to build the fence were already awarded to proceed.

Tamez and other South Texas landowners won a battle in December when Hanen rejected government requests that a land commission be established to determine how much the government paid property owners for their land. Instead, Tamez and others will be able to argue their cases before juries later this year.

The government has offered $13,500 for Tamez's .26 acres.

In Hanen's order Thursday, he ruled that the government had explained sufficiently the type of gates that would be installed within a half-mile of Tamez's property, the form of the 15 to 18 foot fence and how it arrived at the $13,500 compensation figure.

The order noted that $8,500 was for the slice of land and $5,000 was for the negative impact on the remaining three-acre property.

Tamez loses legal battle to stop DHS building border fence

Rio Grande Guardian
April 17, 2009

McALLEN, April 16 - U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville on Thursday issued an order granting the federal government's request to condemn the ancestral land of the Tamez family.

University of Texas at Brownsville Professor Eloisa Tamez has gained international acclaim for her efforts to stop a border wall being built on her 0.26 acres of land in rural El Calaboz, Cameron County.

Tamez is Lipan Apache. Her land has been in the family since before Spanish colonization. It was designated to them through Spanish Crown law. Now, her supporters say, it is in the possession of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Tamez could not be reached for comment at press time. However, she did predict the government would eventually take her land in an interview with the Guardian in January, 2008.

“I just believe that eventually I will probably lose the land, not that I will quit fighting,” Tamez said.

Click here to watch Tamez video.

Tamez has fought the border wall plan in federal court for over a year, arguing that the government failed to communicate its plans.

Attorney Abner Burnett, of the Texas Civil Rights Project in San Juan, represented Tamez.

“DHS is acting like bullies,” Burnett told the Guardian, when the lawsuit was filed. “They had the opportunity to come and talk to these people and say here’s what we would like to do. They could have met in a coffee shop. They did not do that. They said, we are coming on your land and if you don’t sign a waiver we’re going to sue you.”

Tamez won a partial battle last year when Hanen ordered the Department of Homeland Security to enter into meaningful negotiates with her. In his ruling, Thursday, Hanen said he was satisfied the government had negotiated in good faith.

Under the ruling, the government must pay Tamez $13,500 before the 15 to 18 feet high fence can be erected. The ruling said seizure of the land is worth $8,500 and the distress caused to the family is worth $5,000.

Ironically, Tamez, heard about Hanen’s order while participating in the Western Social Sciences Association (WSSA) Conference in Albuquerque, where she was participating in a Three part panel: “Indigenous People's and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Militarization, Resistance, and Rights.”

She is with a group of colleagues from several bi-national indigenous border communities and experts on militarization and the impact of the border wall. “I am captive in my own land,” Tamez told the conference.

“The Tamez family reports that this is an urgent situation which needs international attention and wide press coverage,” said Wendy Kenin, a friend of the Tamez family.

Kenin said Eloisa Tamez will be available for interview between panel discussions on militarization of the border and resistance on the border at the WSSA conference on Friday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bersin to focus on violence in 2nd tour as border czar

San Diego Union Tribune
April 16, 2009
by Sandra Dibble

When Alan Bersin first served as border czar, illegal immigration was the focus. Now, as he steps into a position similar to the one he held in the mid-1990s, Mexican drug cartel violence has taken center stage.

“It's a shifting set of priorities,” Bersin said in a telephone interview yesterday from El Paso, Texas, after he was named assistant homeland security secretary for international affairs. “The job of coordination is very much the same, but the circumstances are completely different.”

Bersin, a former U.S. attorney and San Diego schools superintendent, will serve under Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as the department's special representative for border affairs, a job he said will involve “being her eyes and ears” and ensuring coordination among U.S. law enforcement agencies on the border.

Based in Washington, D.C., Bersin, 62, will be involved in the full range of border enforcement issues, from the northbound flow of drugs and illegal immigrants from Mexico, to the southbound flow of guns and cash from the United States.

He takes the position following a rise in drug-related violence in Mexico, the result of President Felipe Calderón's massive push against drug cartels. “Because of the violence in Mexico, there has been a focus on assuring security and avoiding spillover from that violence,” Bersin said.

The border has been transformed in other ways, Bersin said, “in terms of the resources and the sophistication of infrastructure that exists. . . . There are challenges to be sure, but they are challenges of a very different cast than was the case in the 1990s.”

Speaking on the eve of President Barack Obama's first official visit to Mexico, Bersin said part of his job will be improving relations at a “historic moment in the bilateral relationship,” with “the chance of leaping ahead in a very important way, in a very respectful way, and a mutually supportive way.”

A Brooklyn, N.Y.-native who has lived in California for 19 years, Bersin said he is fond of riding his horse in the Tijuana River Valley, close to the border fence. The border, he said, is “the place where a third country exists, and that's the one that Secretary Napolitano is interested in developing, those interests that are mutual to Mexico and the United States.”

While serving as U.S. attorney in San Diego, Bersin also was the Department of Justice's special representative for the southwest border from 1995 to 1998 during the Clinton administration.

In that position, known as border czar, Bersin was a key player in the U.S. government crackdown on illegal immigration in the San Diego area called Operation Gatekeeper. The initiative pushed illegal immigrants into unpopulated areas where thousands have died of thirst and exposure.

“Operation Gatekeeper was the beginning of an effort to restore the rule of law to the border and introduce some coherence to the border,” Bersin said. It was instituted, he said, “in a completely different context than the one that faces DHS today.”

The deaths “were largely a function of the migrants being taken there by smugglers,” Bersin said.

Extension of the U.S. border fence, long a sensitive topic in bilateral relations, “is no longer the central debate because most of it is built,” Bersin said, adding that the federal government has completed 618 of the 667 miles of fence it set out to build. “The notion of building 2,000 miles of fence I don't think is on the table. . . . We wouldn't put a whole lot more fence across the border because there are better ways to control it.”

Bersin, whose wife, Lisa Foster, is a San Diego Superior Court judge, left border issues behind from 1998 to 2005 when he was superintendent of San Diego public schools. He then served as California's secretary of education under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Most recently he was chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, a job that paid $172,000 until 2007, when the state eliminated the salary and replaced it with a small monthly stipend. The San Diego mayor fills the position through appointment.

In recent months, Bersin had been the U.S. co-chairman of a binational task force examining critical border issues. Andrés Rozental, a former deputy foreign minister of Mexico and the group's Mexican co-chairman, applauded Bersin's nomination, saying “he brings a genuine concern and experience on the border.”

“I hope that the Mexican government will seize the opportunity to do something similar” and appoint a counterpart to Bersin, Rozental said.

Mexico has no border czar in place. Ernesto Ruffo Appel, a former Baja California governor, was appointed by former President Vicente Fox to such a position in 2001 but resigned two years later because he found little support in Mexico City.

Bersin's success in the job will largely depend on the authority he is given. Ruffo urged Bersin to work closely with border governors “because they are the ones who best understand the reality. The fundamental vision must come from the region.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Border fence contractor faces $8.7M lawsuit

The Zonie Report
April 11, 2009
by Adam Klawonn

NEAR LUKEVILLE — A local convenience store owner is suing the company hired by the U.S. government to build Arizona’s portion of the border fence, claiming it owes the store money for overdue storage and water use fees in connection with the project.

The lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court comes from Gringo Pass Inc., whose convenience store is the last stop before crossing from Arizona into Mexico at the Lukeville port-of-entry.

According to the complaint, a lawyer for Gringo Pass claims the company entered into a verbal agreement with Kiewit Southwest Co. that would allow the company to park its vehicles and equipment

on the convenience store’s property during the construction project. That project called for building a 5.2-mile fence through the region for $21.3 million, according to press reports.

In July 2008, the fence swamped the border and local businesses. Officials for Organ Pipe National Monument released a 17-page report that claimed the fence had design flaws that turned it into a man-made dam while monsoon storms swept through, according to a report in the Arizona Daily Star.

In its complaint, Gringo Pass blames the project for causing $6 million in damages to its property. As a result, the company is asking Pima County Superior Court Judge John Davis for a $6 million award.

It also claims Kiewit did not pay about four months worth of rent for space and more than 4 million gallons of water. The company is asking the judge to award it more than $2.7 million in connection with those fees, plus 10 percent interest per year.

Tucson lawyers Joel L. Herz and Russell B. Stowers are representing Gringo Pass. To download a copy of the complaint, click here.

TBC: Border wall and the Obama promise

Rio Grande Guardian
April 11, 2009

McALLEN, April 11 - In a 3,000-plus word memorandum sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the Texas Border Coalition discusses in-depth the border wall issue.

The memo was written for TBC by its immigration committee Chair Monica Weisberg Stewart. She delivered the memo to Napolitano in Laredo on April 3.

Here is the section of the memo dealing with the border wall:

“During President Obama’s campaign, he stated that he would "reverse that policy" of building a wall, “that the key is to consult with local communities,” adding that the Bush Administration did not do such a good job of consulting. He said, “Having the border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach.” In Berlin, he noted, "The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."

“We are therefore surprised that the Obama Administration has proceeded with new construction of fencing in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties without consulting with local communities and that the person responsible for consultation in the Bush Administration (who didn’t do such a good job, according to President Obama) is still in charge in the Obama Administration.

“Like President Obama, the Texas Border Coalition supports smart and effective measures that will achieve true border security. We have suggested fencing alternatives in Texas, such as the Vega Project in Laredo, the Eagle Pass Park project, the Brownsville Weir and Reservoir project, and the clearing of the banks of the Rio Grande – north and south – of vegetation such as Carrizo cane and salt cedar that provide hiding places for illegal border-crossers and put our Border Patrol agents at risk.

“We support physical barriers in areas where they make sense and are agreed to by elected county and municipal officials, such as in Del Rio and Hidalgo County. We support smarter, more effective solutions where fences won’t work including radar, cameras, sensors and more effective deployment of Border Patrol agents.

“In most places, the border fence won’t work, a fact that former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff admits to, acknowledging that illegal crossers will go around, over, through and under it. Border Patrol officials liken it more to a “speed bump” since it is only intended to slow down the immigrants by three to four minutes. The fence is more gap than barrier: the fence covers less than 370 of the 1,969 miles of U.S.-Mexican border, less than 1 mile in 5.

“Arizona landowner Bill Odle has begun collecting ladders used by crossers near his home. His neighbor Glenn Spencer says people on the Mexican side can get on the roof of a pickup truck, climb a few feet over the fence, drop down onto the posts on the U.S. side and then jump down to the ground. Border crossers in New Mexico abandon plasma torches after they cut through the fence. Border Patrol has discovered more than 30 tunnels under the fence. Around, over, through and under: it won’t work.

“We have doubts about the Border Patrol’s claim that the fence is the only way to achieve persistent impedance. When any alternative form of impedance was proposed to the CBP or Corps of Engineers during the now moot environmental assessment period, officials made clear theirs was the only alternative that was going to be considered. This is despite greater consistent impedance provided by alternatives such as the Brownsville Weir.

“At a time when our national government is projected to spend nearly $2 trillion more than it has in revenue in the current fiscal year, there is no possible excuse for wasting $50 billion on a program that we know -- and even its strongest advocates admit -- will fail to accomplish its mission and that there are more effective, less costly alternatives that the prior Administration refused to even consider.

“In Texas, the fence is being built more than a mile from the border, trapping people – workers, families, farmers, ranchers, retirees – and wildlife in a “dead zone” that is north of the Rio Grande, but south of the fence. That means that when fires, floods, medical crises or crime require evacuation, emergency or law enforcement, emergency personnel won’t be able to rescue people or property. It also means that when drug cartels decide it is in their interest to occupy dead zone property, local law enforcement will be prevented from defending their territory.

“Wildlife won’t be able to access the life-giving resources of the Rio Grande. People and wildlife – in many cases, endangered species – will die. Additionally, wildlife sanctuaries that have been a popular attraction for local schools will no longer be a safe place to visit, as school districts are refusing to travel south of the fence for liability purposes. Being the only southern border state that is separated from Mexico by a river, the Texas border requires a unique solution because one-size-does-not-fit-all.

“It is an ineffective solution that isolates only one part of the problem and that will likely make the other parts of the security whole – such as the lack of resources to make security through Ports of Entry appropriately effective – worse.

“This project will endanger public safety, reduce income and economic activity, destroy cultural and community resources, erode water resources, endanger wildlife and lead to additional negative consequences that we are not yet able to forecast.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Construction begins on first standard segment of fence within city limits

Brownsville Herald
April 9, 2009
Kevin Seiff

When Brownsville residents and politicians started protesting the border fence two years ago, it was no more than a red line drawn on a federal government map.

This week, those plans became very real, as construction began on the first standard segment of fencing within city limits.

Twenty-foot steel beams are up now at the end of Palm Boulevard, just a half mile from downtown Brownsville. Weston Solutions of Houston is building the segment and two others in the area - a total of 8.2 miles of fencing - for $28.5 million.

About 50 men continued work on the project Wednesday morning. Some came from as far as Del Rio, where they were recruited by a subcontractor.

"It's a job," said one worker, who wouldn't give his name. "Right now work isn't that easy to find. That's why we're here."

The segment currently under construction is one of the few stretches of fencing south of the International Boundary and Water Commission's (IBWC) levee. A 1970 binational treaty prohibits any construction along the levees that would obstruct the flow of the Rio Grande.

But IBWC spokeswoman Sally Spener said the barrier "won't create any additional obstruction or deflection because the (Amigoland levee) is already there."

As a result, Spener said, the IBWC agreed to permit construction south of the levee.

The construction on the barrier has accelerated in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in the last few months. Some segments of fencing are nearly complete in the El Calaboz-Ranchito area, just west of Brownsville.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Border deaths up despite apparent dip in crossings

Associated Press
April 8, 2009

TUCSON - Illegal immigrant deaths are continuing to rise along the U.S.-Mexico border despite a nearly 25 percent drop in Border Patrol arrests in the past six months that suggests far fewer people are entering the country unlawfully.

The number of migrant deaths along the roughly 2,000-mile border increased by nearly 7 percent between Oct. 1 and March 31, the first six months of the 2009 federal fiscal year. The biggest increase occurred in the patrol's Tucson sector, the nation's busiest corridor for illegal immigrants coming through Mexico.

In all, the remains of 128 people were found, compared to 120 in the same six-month period the year before, according to just-released Border Patrol statistics.

Yet apprehensions of people crossing illegally from Mexico into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California dropped to less than 265,000 - a decrease of more than 24 percent from the comparable period a year ago and 37 percent from the first six months of the federal fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2006. The number of arrests is generally considered an indication of how many people are illegally crossing the border into the U.S. The more apprehensions, the more people are thought to be coming.

Migrants rights groups say there's a direct correlation between the number of deaths and increased enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"What we've seen is that the death rate has gone up even though the number of people crossing has gone down, the direct result of more agents, more fencing and more equipment," said the Rev. Robin Hoover, founder of the Tucson-based group Humane Borders, which provides water stations for migrants crossing the southern Arizona desert. "The migrants are walking in more treacherous terrain for longer periods of time, and you should expect more deaths."

Nearly half the dead were found in the Border Patrol's rugged Tucson sector, which saw a 30 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. Deaths also rose in the Laredo and Del Rio sectors in Texas, and in the El Centro sector of southwestern California.

No sector approached Tucson's sheer numbers, where the remains of 60 people were found during the first half of the 2009 fiscal year.

Tucson sector Border Patrol spokesman Omar Candelaria said it was hard to say why deaths increased in his area, especially because they're not being found in summer, when most deaths occur.

He also said it is difficult to determine how long many of the bodies may have been there because many were skeletal remains.

Dr. Bruce Parks, the medical examiner in southern Arizona's Pima County, said more than half the bodies his office examined were skeletal remains, meaning they had not died recently. But that is down from first half of fiscal 2008, when 75 percent of the cases involved skeletal remains.

"Many of them are people that died sometime earlier, and it could be more than a year or two in some cases," Parks said. "It would make sense that you would expect the more apprehensions there are reflects a greater number of people crossing, and the more crossings the greater the number of deaths that should follow."

Parks' office also conducts autopsies for several other Arizona counties including Santa Cruz, Pinal and occasionally Yuma - all of which have regularly seen illegal immigrant deaths.

Weather, predominantly in the form of unrelenting late-spring and summer triple-digit heat, is often the key factor in illegal immigrant deaths in Arizona.

Hypothermia from frigid wintry conditions in the desert also occasionally can be fatal for unprepared desert crossers, Parks said.

Hoover said he's measured where the bodies are being found, and the average death locations are farther and farther away from roads than in previous years.

"So they're going around the fences, the technology and where the agents are," he said. "And the farther you walk from a safe place, the more likely a broken ankle becomes a death sentence."

Obama continues Bush’s border fence policies

New Mexico Independent
April 6, 2009
by Mike Lillis

WASHINGTON — Last July, presidential candidate Barack Obama took a stage in Berlin and told the adoring crowd that a wall erected between people — like that which divided the German capital for decades — would best be knocked down.

“The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand,” Obama saidto roaring applause. “The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

Eight months later, hundreds of miles of border fence dividing the United States and Mexico are going up as planned. Despite pleas from some Democrats, environmentalists and local communities to halt construction until the wall’s impacts can be better examined, the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama has so far maintained the same border fence policies as the DHS under President Bush — a position reminiscent of the Obama’s continued support of certain controversial Bush terrorism policies.

The status quo approach comes as something of a surprise. Although, as a senator, Obama voted in 2006 to approve the fence strategy, he said on the campaign trail last year that he would “reverse” Bush-era fence policies in favor of a “better approach,” like deploying more border guards and installing better surveillance technologies.

More recently, his appointment of a vocal fence critic, former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, to head the DHS signaled to many observers that fence policy would be soon to change. (Napolitano once mocked the border fence concept as futile, saying that “if you build a 50-foot-high wall, somebody will find a 51-foot ladder.”) At the very least, fence critics hoped that the Obama White House would reinstate dozens of environmental, public health and cultural heritage laws that the Bush administration waived to expedite fence construction, including statutes designed to protect endangered species, drinking water and Native American graves.

Yet more than two months after both Obama and Napolitano were sworn in, those waivers remain in place. And they’ll stay there, officials say, at least until the 670-mile-long first phase of fence construction is complete.

“We’ve committed to 670 miles,” said Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the DHS. “We’re going to go ahead and meet those goals.”

Easterling said “there was some question about stopping construction” when the new administration arrived, but the idea never materialized.

For environmentalists and congressional Democrats worried about the wall’s effects on local communities and ecosystems, the episode presents a dilemma. On one hand, these Obama supporters are optimistic that the young administration will eventually make good on its vows to break away from Bush’s border policies. On the other, they’re wary that the changes aren’t yet installed, allowing fence construction to continue through some of the most sensitive wilderness lands in the country. And of course, once a section goes up, it won’t be easy to get down.

For the administration, the fence is a political landmine that touches on a host of issues no less volatile than immigration, national security, landowner rights, the war on drugs and the environment. Complicating the debate, border violence has crescendoed in the last year, putting pressure on policymakers at all levels of government to prevent that crime from spilling further into the United States than it’s already come.

Still, some fence critics are beginning to challenge the White House to follow through on its pledges to examine fence policy more closely. In February, a group of eight border-state Democrats called on Obama to suspend fence construction until its impacts — cultural, political and environmental — could be scrutinized. The fence was “ill conceived” and “void of any meaningful input from the local communities,” the lawmakers wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to the president. “In an era of advanced technologies, the border fence is an antiquated structure that has torn our communities apart and damaged our cross border relationships.”

One signatory was Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D), who represents the Southeastern tip of Texas. In a telephone interview last week, Ortiz said that members of his office have met with Napolitano’s staff, adding that the new administration has been much more receptive than the last to lawmakers’ concerns about the fence. But Ortiz was also quick to reiterate his opposition to the waivers — and to the continued construction of the fence itself.

“It doesn’t sit well with the people in my district,” he said. “They don’t like it, [and] I don’t like it.”

Aaron Hunter, spokesman for Rep. Susan Davis, a Southern California Democrat who also signed the letter, said last week that the White House has not responded to the lawmakers’ concerns.

Easterling, the CBP spokesman, said the agency doesn’t have far to go to complete the first phase of construction. As of last week, he said, 613 of the 670 miles were up, and the remaining sections — most of which reside in California and Texas — should be finished by year’s end. Afterwards, he added, the administration will pause for a broader review before continuing to the next phase.

That there are fewer than 60 miles remaining in the first phase of construction has done little to stop fence opponents from pushing to have it stopped. Michael Degnan, Sierra Club lands representative, said that some of the unbuilt sections — including stretches in California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area and the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas — are also the most isolated, and therefore the most worthy of protecting from development. The wall, environmentalists say, cuts straight through the heart of breeding corridors used by such threatened species as the jaguar, ocelot and low-flying cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

“Some of the last places are also the most ecologically rich,” Degnan said.

Last week the Sierra Club, which endorsed Obama the candidate, urged Obama the president to halt all current and future fence construction “to review the full impacts and effectiveness” of the imposing barrier.

There are other concerns associated with the border wall. In August, flooding attributed to the fence damaged Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and another flood a month earlier caused millions of dollars of property damage on both sides of the border near Nogales, Ariz.

In 2007, 69 graves of the Tohono O’odham tribe were destroyed by fence construction south of Tuscon, with fragments of human bone discovered in the bulldozer tracks, the tribe’s chairman testified before a congressional panel last year.

Fence critics contend that the waived laws — which include the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act — could have prevented such crises.

“If they’d followed the procedure and done the proper impact studies,” Matt Clark, of Defenders of Wildlife, said of the flooding, “they might have avoided a disastrous situation.”

Easterling said the CBP has “been very cognizant” of the wall’s effects, maintaining that the agency has conducted all the appropriate impact reviews. The waivers, he added, were necessary only to prevent lawsuits from hindering the process — a claim strongly disputed by environmentalists.

“There was really no reason for them to waive those laws unless they had reason to think they couldn’t comply with them,” Clark said.

Still, border fence critics have been much easier on the Obama administration than they were on President Bush. When the Bush administration announced a year ago that it was waiving roughly three dozen environmental laws, a number of powerful Democrats signed their support to a Defenders of Wildlife lawsuit contending that the waivers were unconstitutional — an effort spearheaded by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). Requests for comment from nearly all the supporters of that push — including Thompson, who was traveling on the border with Napolitano — went unanswered last week.

In another effort to protect the border environment, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who signed the Feb. 10 letter to Obama, introduced legislation in the last Congress to revoke the waivers — a bill has yet to resurface this year. Calls and emails to Grijalva’s office also went unanswered.

Politically speaking, the silence is understandable. With the sharp increase in border drug violence making headlines nationwide, very few lawmakers appear willing to criticize the waivers or the fence for fear of being attacked for protecting ocelots above Arizonans.

The Washington Times neatly summarized this disdain for waiver opponents in an April 1 editorial, entitled “All the Pretty Mule Deer.” The paper argued that the fence is a vital, if imperfect, law enforcement tool protecting the U.S. from a tsunami of criminality.

“When floodwaters are approaching, you begin filling sandbags to buttress the levee,” the Times wrote. “You do not go to court to debate what type of sand to use.”

Still, fence critics hope the Obama administration will step in sooner than later with a broad and revamped strategy for tackling the many thorny border issues — a strategy they hope will move away from the current reliance on an intrusive physical barrier dividing border communities and scarring delicate landscapes.

“Putting up a fence,” said Hunter, “is not a comprehensive immigration policy.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Habitat nixed

Laredo Morning Times
April 7, 2009
by Zach Lindsey

Laredo City Council closed the door Monday night to aerial spraying of carrizo with Habitat by U.S. Border Patrol, and went a step further, with a motion that forbids the herbicide's use all together in the 1.1-mile experimental area Border Patrol requested.

Regarding aerial spraying, the council approved an easement for Border Patrol to experiment with methods of carrizo eradication along the U.S. bank of the Rio Grande on March 16.

The motion sparked an outcry among a public that fears the herbicide Border Patrol intends to use, Habitat, could contaminate the river.One of the most vocal advocates against aerial spraying was the government of Nuevo Laredo.

"We're comfortable with (aerial spraying), but the Mexican government is not comfortable with it," said Councilman Hector "Tito" Garcia."I do not recommend that we go further with this until both governments come to an agreement with everything."

The key to the issue in the eyes of the council was the support of the Mexican side.Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza-Barrios attended the meeting, speaking in favor of mechanically removing the cane but asking for denial of aerial spraying.

Garza-Barrios reminded the council of who owns the river.

"It's not the property of North Americans," Garza-Barrios said.

"It's not the property of Mexicans."

The Mexican government's opinion on the safety of imazapyr differs from the American government's.Because of the proximity to Nuevo Laredo's water treatment plant, Garza-Barrios asked for an alternative that has no chance of putting people's health in danger.

"It is safe if it is used 100 percent in accordance with the instructions on the label," Landeck said."If you do not use it the way the label prescribes, it becomes dangerous."

Eric Webb, a scientist working with Border Patrol, compared the herbicide to a hammer.

Any tool misused can become dangerous.But the people who would apply it would be required to have a license.

Landeck brought up health concerns."The risks you're listing have to do with the chemical in its full concentration, not in its applied concentration," Webb responded.

Although imazapyr itself can cause health consequences, Habitat, the chemical compound Border Patrol wants to use, is not significantly dangerous, according to Webb."You can be 100 percent sure that it doesn't prove any health or human safety risk," Webb said."You can purchase these products in your big box store.Citizens use them regularly, and the Border Patrol intends to use the same products."

However, Border Patrol had already taken aerial spraying off the table.

Valdez noted this change of position, and asked why."The aerial spraying was removed because it was a way to move forward that everyone supported," said Border Patrol agent Rosendo Hinojosa.It was not because of any health hazards from aerial spraying, according to Hinojosa.

City Council asked Hinojosa if the project could go on without the use of Habitat."There is no project without the application of a chemical," Hinojosa said."It wouldn't be effective.It would be a waste of our tax dollars, from a federal government perspective, without the application of some chemical.

"Most of the U.S. citizens and organizations that have opposed aerial spraying do not oppose some form of responsible use of herbicide."

The Rio Grande International Study Center (is) not opposed to the application of herbicide, specifically the paint method," said RGISC Executive Director Jay Johnson-Castro."The mechanical method would cause tremendous erosion and the carrizo would come back.

"The easement is for a 1.1-mile stretch of the coast of the river.Border Patrol intends to use this area as an experimental zone.Whichever method proved most effective for removal might then be applied to a 16-mile stretch.

"The decision was made because of concerns in the local community, whether correct or incorrect, that's not the issue here," Valdez said."There were concerns, and the decision was made to remove that (aerial spraying) because that was the most contentious issue.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Shift to Make the Border Safe, From the Inside Out

New York Times
April 5, 2009
by Ginger Thompson

LAREDO, Tex. — The five burly, sweat-soaked customs agents were in unfamiliar territory.

They had come from frigid ports in Baltimore and Boston to work in the sweltering heat of the Southwestern border. But the biggest change was that they were looking at what was leaving the country, rather than what was coming in.

“You know, early this week I met with President Obama, and this morning I met with President Calderón of Mexico,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told them during a tour last week. “And you guys are at the cutting edge of something new we’re trying to do to make the border safer.”

Law enforcement officials have been cracking down on border crime for years. President Bill Clinton had Operation Gatekeeper. And President George W. Bush built a wall.

But Ms. Napolitano’s initiative to send an additional 360 agents to the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, announced two weeks ago, is intended not only to respond to growing concerns about national security, she said, but also to change the way Americans view the threat.

Agents are still assigned to stop drugs and illegal immigrants from entering the United States. But hundreds of additional agents are being redeployed to stop the weapons and cash that flow into Mexico.

“We understand that this port needs to move, that time is money, especially when it comes to trade,” said Ms. Napolitano, standing in the shadow of a line of tractor-trailers that extended as far as the eye could see. “But from now on, when trucks come into this port, they are going to see something they haven’t seen before, and that’s southbound inspections.”

The new border policy is one of many ways the hard-charging Ms. Napolitano has begun to refocus the objectives of her sprawling agency. Though the Homeland Security Department was established after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ms. Napolitano rarely uses the word terrorism, and she has said she does not intend to practice the “politics of fear.”

She has said her agency will devote as much attention to preparing for natural disasters as for “man-caused disasters,” her euphemistic term for terrorism. She made public her disapproval of an immigration raid of a mechanics shop in Washington State, freed the immigrants who had been detained, and gave them work permits. Her actions sent a signal that future enforcement would focus on employers who rely on illegal immigrants, rather than on the workers.

Here on the border, which has given rise to some of the country’s most contentious debates, Ms. Napolitano has essentially turned previous policies upside-down, warning Americans that what leaves the country is as much a risk to their security as what comes in.

Her trip last week to the border and to Mexico, to begin working out the details of the $400 million effort, was a mix of high diplomacy and the kind of stumping she once did as governor of Arizona. She shook hands with agents in the field, inspected the border from a Black Hawk helicopter, held meetings with small-town mayors and police chiefs, attended a news conference with her Mexican counterparts, and spent more than an hour with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico.

The trip offered a glimpse of the changes Ms. Napolitano has begun making at the Homeland Security Department and revealed how some of her own views have shifted since she took her new job. Ms. Napolitano was once a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s decision to build some 600 miles of fencing along the border. In an interview, she said she had come to see that the fence has “helped us get operational control of some areas.”

As governor, she was among the first to call for the deployment of the National Guard to help stop smuggling. Now, she said, “minds were open” to a request for troops from Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican. But she said she wanted Mr. Perry to explain how the troops would be used.

On the day after she landed in San Diego during her trip last week, a New Mexico newspaper questioned whether she had forgotten her roots.

“What is it about bureaucrats that makes them compulsive spenders?” wrote The Clovis News Journal, referring to Ms. Napolitano’s decision to complete the final 60 miles of fencing along the border, which has cost an estimated $4 million per mile. “As Arizona governor she famously made light of the project, saying, ‘You show me a 12-foot fence and I’ll show you a 13-foot ladder.’ ”

Asked about the editorial, Ms. Napolitano said there was little she could do to stop the fence’s construction because the project had been approved by Congress before she became homeland security secretary. Now that she is in charge, she said, the agency would invest in fences only as part of a comprehensive strategy that included technology and “boots on the ground.”

“What doesn’t make sense,” she said, “is some notion that if you build a fence along the border, you have a policy for immigration and border security.”

Some Washington lawmakers have also expressed concerns about Ms. Napolitano’s efforts. Conservatives complain that they are not aggressive enough to stop violence from spilling across the border, and immigrant advocates argue that they are the same strategies that have hardly made a dent in the drug trade but put hundreds of illegal immigrants at peril.

The views are familiar to Ms. Napolitano, who spent her time in Arizona fighting Washington gridlock and continues that approach with initiatives that for the most part do not require Congressional funding or approval.

Here in Laredo, Ms. Napolitano learned that the heightened border security might already be yielding results. A few hours before her arrival, the authorities conducting southbound inspections stopped an American couple and a 5-year-old child in a car carrying 10 grenades, nearly $122,000 in cash, a barrel for a sniper rifle and a cache of high-caliber ammunition, officials said.

The man told the authorities that he was a former Marine and that he had obtained the weapons from a military friend linked to drug smugglers in Michigan, officials said.

Climbing aboard her airplane to return to Washington, Ms. Napolitano boasted, “We said we were going to do this, and we’re doing it.”