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."