Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Border Violence Myth

The Nation
May 27, 2009
by Gabriel Arana

If media reports are to be believed, an Armageddon-like rash of drug-related violence--unlike any seen since "Miami Vice years of the 1980s"--has crossed from Mexico into the United States, "just as government officials had feared." Even if you've never used or sold drugs, you're not safe: kidnappers are breaking into the wrong houses and holding innocent civilians for ransom, putting guns in babies' mouths. Severed heads might end up being rolled into dance clubs, beheadings might end up on YouTube. Television segments narrated like war documentaries broadcast dramatic footage of Border Patrol Humvees kicking up dust in the Southwest, Minutemen with binoculars overlooking the border and piles of confiscated drugs. In the national media, it's become a foregone conclusion that Mexican drug violence has penetrated the United States.

But the numbers tell a different story. According to crime statistics for American cities along the US-Mexico border and major US metro areas along drug routes, violent crimes, including robberies, have either decreased in the first part of 2009 or remained relatively stable. This is not to say that the increased violence in Mexico has had no impact in the United States or that no violence in the United States can be traced to the conflict in Mexico. Rather the drive not to get "scooped" by competitors has led media outlets to conclude prematurely--based on hearsay and isolated incidents--that a wave of drug-related violence is upon us.

The increase in drug-related violence in Mexico over the past few years is well established, the result of a crackdown on drug cartels by President Felipe Calderón's administration. By most accounts it began in December 2006 when 6,500 federal troops and police were dispatched to the Mexican state of Michoacán. In a series of gradual steps, this war on drugs broadened: over the past two years, 45,000 troops and 20,000 federal police have been dispatched to different regions of the country, primarily in northern Mexican cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Almost 8,000 cartel-related deaths have been reported in Mexico, with a spike in the summer of 2008. The situation, however, had been viewed from a distance in the United States until the media began raising the nightmarish scenario of a spillover across the border.

In January 2009, outlets like the Associated Press, Fox News, the New York Times and MSNBC reported on contingency plans drafted by the Department of Homeland Security to address such a spillover, but the consensus seemed to be then that these measures were a precaution rather than a response to any real threat. A policy paper from the libertarian Cato Institute on the threat posed to the United States by Mexican drug cartels sounded a similar precautionary note.

The AP reported that El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles said that he didn't "anticipate the city or county being overwhelmed by border violence." North Carolina Representative David Price said, "It appears so far that such violence is not yet systematically 'spilling over' as some have alleged."

In February, however, something tipped, and the question mark in news headlines--"Border Violence Spilling into the US?"--disappeared. Among the earliest reports that potential violence had become actual violence was an AP story that credited unnamed "authorities" with the news. Tellingly, the story did not contain a single direct quote stating either that violence had increased or that it was linked to the drug trade. Rather, it juxtaposed its broad claims against gruesome descriptions of drug violence in Mexico or wildly speculative quotes about what could happen here.

One of its most fearmongering statements came from Rusty Payne, identified as a "Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in Washington," who said, "'When you are willing to chop heads off, put them in an ice chest and drop them off at a police precinct, or roll a head into a disco, put beheadings on YouTube as a warning,' very little is off limits."

The only relevant statistics included in the piece were the number of "home invasions" in Phoenix for each of the past two years--about 350, "the majority...committed at the behest of the Mexican drug gangs"--and the number of drug-related killings in Mexico over the past year, 5,000. Besides the fact that the steady number of home invasions in Phoenix over the past two years suggests that there had not been a recent increase in violence, the piece also readily concedes that in El Paso, Texas--across the border from Ciudad Juárez, dubbed the epicenter of Mexico's escalating drug war--has remained "one of America's safest cities."

Nevertheless, within weeks the New York Times jumped on the story: "Wave of Drug Violence Is Creeping Into Arizona From Mexico, Officials Say," the paper reported on February 23 in an article by Randal Archibold, concentrating on an increase in the number of residential robberies and kidnappings in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. This article and a mere handful of other reports shot through the media pipeline and were widely re-reported at places like CNN, Fox, USA Today and the Huffington Post, as well as in regional papers, a testament to the increasing paucity of firsthand news reporting.

The news reports on the increase in drug-related violence in the United States rely heavily on anecdotes, impressionistic quotes from police or politicians, and bare statistics presented without context. Most of the reporting examined violence in the border states of Arizona and Texas.

Tucson, Arizona, an hour's drive north of the international border, served as the centerpiece for another New York Times report on March 22 ("Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Spills Over, Alarming U.S.," also by Archibold). The story claimed that Tucson "is coping with a wave of drug crime the police suspect is tied to the bloody battles between Mexico's drug cartels and the efforts to stamp them out."

Public information officers who track crime statistics for the city say this is simply not true.

According to Chuck Rydzak, a public information officer with the Tucson Police Department, the number of violent crimes in the city from January to March of 2008--excluding robberies--was 651. For the same period this year, it's 632. The number of robberies is also down, from 333 to 307. The home invasions have also decreased: from thirty-four in the first four months of 2008 to thirty-three for the same period this year. It is also difficult to assert that this is a Mexican problem affecting the United States: only 10 percent of those involved in home invasions thus far this year have been undocumented immigrants. Kidnappings, too, are holding steady: there were twenty-seven in 2008 and seven so far this year.

"The statistics speak for themselves and they are not indicative of a spike in violent crime," said Sgt. Mark Robinson, another public information officer with the Tucson Police Department. "The violence is in Mexico."

Representatives of the police department say they have spent the past few months trying to correct misperceptions stemming from sensational media reports. "[The reports] just cost us a bunch of trouble because of a misinterpretation of what somebody said," Robinson added.

In theory, a precipitous drop in non-drug-related crime could mask an increase in drug-related crime, but officers at the Tucson Police Department and other municipalities say this is not the case. Even Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona and current secretary of homeland security, tried to allay public fear in February by saying that drug-related violence from Mexico had not spilled over to the United States.

An April 26 piece in the Arizona Daily Star also called reports of escalating violence in Tucson "more hype than reality." In it, Tucson Assistant Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, who was also quoted in the New York Times story, said "not one" of the arrests related to home invasions had involved "an active cartel member from Mexico."

The February 23 report from the New York Times on the drug-related violence in Phoenix was notably devoid of statistics. According to the police department, the number of violent crimes in the Phoenix area is also down: there were 11,194 violent crimes in 2006, 11,168 in 2007 and 10,466 in 2008. The number of robberies in 2006 was 4,363, spiked to 4,924 in 2007, then decreased again to 4,835 in 2008.

The Times story, however, focused primarily on the supposed increase in the number of kidnappings and home invasions. It cites the Maricopa County Attorney's Office as saying that "border-related kidnapping or hostage-taking in a home" increased from 48 in 2004 to 241 last year. Representatives for the County Attorney's office said the spike only represents incidents reported to the prosecutor's office--not the number reported to the police. Given the strong-arm anti-immigrant tactics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his political allies in the prosecutor's office, there is reason to question whether these numbers are indicative of a spike in crime or merely an increase in prosecution and enforcement, for which police departments across the state have received boosts in funding in the past few years. Both Tucson and Phoenix have set up special task forces to deal with home invasions in the last year or so.

None of the stories that report these statistics--and few do--bother to ask how much the statistical increase is due to improved reporting methods. Representatives from police departments across Arizona have lamented the difficulty of keeping accurate tabs on the number of kidnappings given that many go unreported.

Numbers for the Phoenix Police Department show that there has indeed been an increase in drug-related kidnappings, but it's not as dramatic as the numbers from the prosecutor's office might indicate. Since 2006, when the conflict in Mexico began to heat up, the number of drug-related kidnappings increased from 232 to 343 in 2007, to 359 in 2008. So far this year, there have been 140.

Even if it can be established that Phoenix is in the midst of a kidnapping crisis (and there are reasons to tread carefully here), linking this activity to drug cartels in Mexico is another matter. Sergeant Tommy Thompson, a public information officer with the Phoenix Police Department, told the student newspaper for Arizona State University that it has not been able to tie a single kidnapping to drug cartel activity in Mexico. Kidnappings and home invasions aside, crime in Phoenix has remained steady.

The violence isn't farther south, either. On the Arizona-Mexico border is my small hometown of Nogales, Arizona, which shares a name with its sister city across the border. Residents and police seemed mystified when asked about an uptick in border violence. While the drug-related crime wave is a well-known fact in Nogales, Sonora, the American side has not seen a single murder this year; there were also none last year. Recently, there have been several more armed robberies in the area than in the past (three in 2007, ten in 2008, eight so far this year), but these have occurred primarily outside of town, among illegal immigrants in the forests and canyons used to cross into the country.

Life there, by all accounts, is as placid as it ever was.

The logic underpinning the New York Times's and other reports shows the degree to which the media have strained to wrest a conclusion from data that do not support it. One statistic that is often thrown around involves the number of US cities where drug cartels "maintain drug distribution networks," which increased from 100 cities in 2006 to 230 by the end of 2008. However, the Justice Department says this increase is the product of better data-collection methods and the broadening of antidrug efforts and does not necessarily reflect an increase in violence in the United States.

What is especially striking is that the February and March stories in the Times concede that violent crime is down in Arizona, but conclude nonetheless--even in the same sentence--that the state is "bearing the brunt of smuggling-related violence":

Although overall violent crime has dropped in several cities on or near the border...Arizona appears to be bearing the brunt of smuggling-related violence. Some 60 percent of illicit drugs found in the United States--principally cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine--entered through the border in this state.

But the percentage of drugs that travel through Arizona has no bearing on whether the amount of drugs--or related violence--has increased.

Media reports on the supposed crime wave are riddled with these types of tenuous connections. They are held together with a string of conditional statements--"seems as though," "might indicate." Few contain police data, which is continuously available to those seeking public information. Barely any reports present the ample countervailing evidence that the United States has yet to be substantially affected by Mexican drug violence.

Arizona is not the only state where reporters have scraped for evidence of increased violence. In March, CNN host Anderson Cooper did a live broadcast from El Paso, Texas, dressed in military garb. El Paso Mayor John Cook, who spoke with several news organizations at the time, lamented the mischaracterization of crime in the city by the media.

"I'll speak with [news reporters] and tell them there hasn't been any spillover of violence into El Paso," Cook told the Texas Observer, "and then they will turn around and report that there is. Mostly I feel like I've wasted my time."

In one incident, Richard Cortez, the mayor of McAllen, Texas, told a CNN anchor that the violence had not spilled over to his city. Despite having elicited the information, the anchor, Don Lemon, refused to accept the response.

"Since you're the mayor of the city, you have to put the best foot forward," he said. "I know your city is affected, but you have to put a good face on it."

Area journalists, while stressing the potential danger posed by violence in Mexico, said cartel-related crimes in Texas's Rio Grande Valley have been isolated and that residents feel safe.

"As far as innocent people being pulled into it--not yet," said Marisa Treviño, a veteran journalist and founder of news and analysis blog Latina Lista. "It's a serious situation, but [these incidents] are isolated."

"People don't feel threatened at all," she said.

Amid the symphony of national news media proclaiming an outbreak of violence over the past few months is one report from NPR's Deborah Tedford that challenged what had become conventional wisdom. On May 15, she reported that the string of cities along the border between Texas and Mexico--El Paso, Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville--had seen no increase in drug-related crime. Brownsville Police Chief Carlos Garcia told Tedford that while some residents of the city worked for drug cartels, they conduct this business in Mexico, where "extensive networks...keep them safe if they are caught."

"There, they have money, safe houses; if a member is captured, he can escape or buy his way out," Garcia said.

The report, however, wasn't picked up and disseminated by other outlets as the New York Times and AP stories were.

Looking at crime statistics for San Diego, Atlanta and other major drug transit cities casts similar doubt on drug violence reports. In San Diego, across the border from Tijuana, the rate of violent crime per 1,000 people has decreased slightly over the past few years, from 4.87 in 2006 to 4.5 in 2008. For the first two months of this year, the rate continued its slide, to 3.85. The same is true of robberies, the rate of which fell from 1.5 in 2008 to 1.19 through February. In Atlanta, there was one more homicide in January compared to last year and the number of robberies decreased from 288 in 2008 to 266 in the first month of 2009.

The hype has been enabled by a news apparatus that feeds sensationalism. As Treviño said, "The media take one incident and they blow it up; it makes for good copy."

Melissa del Bosque, the journalist who originally reported on media misreprentation of US drug violence for the Texas Observer, attributed the appearance of sensationalistic stories to a number of factors, among them the agendas of what she has called "border-warrior politicians" who use neologisms like "narco-terrorism" in calling for the border to be militarized; the change in administrations; and budgeting concerns.

The formation of local, state and national budgets at the beginning of the year provides an opportunity for politicians to exaggerate the threat posed by Mexican drug cartels and thereby receive more funding for local police forces, del Bosque said. Indeed, Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw stressed that the spillover had already occurred in asking state lawmakers to approve a $135 million increase in funding requested by Texas Governor Rick Perry. In Arizona, police readily admitted to the Arizona Daily Star that they welcomed more money.

The motive for exaggerating the effect of drug-related violence is not just monetary, though. "There are a lot of conservative legislators who want to look tough on border security," del Bosque said.

Even a cursory online search bears out what del Bosque surmises: conservative commentators and politicians have used the news to call for tightened border security, in some cases even calling for the border to be "militarized." For example, Fox News' Sean Hannity recently warned that "the effect on our country may be just beginning" before telling viewers to shield their children's eyes from the Mexican drug-violence footage that followed. He was not alone--as he did in the segment--in conflating US and Mexican drug-related violence.

Del Bosque and other journalists who report on and live near the border criticized the simplistic characterization of life there by the national media, one informed by "Wild West" and drug-movie caricatures. "The national media doesn't really care about the border," del Bosque said. "They hit it like a piñata and take off."


KDBC Channel 4 News
May 28, 2009


Case may have implications for future construction of border wall

"This Brownsville case has enormous implications for all border wall construction. In America, property owners do have rights, even on the border."


AUSTIN - A federal judge has ordered the U.S. government to temporarily stop construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Brownsville, saying the government must clearly define to what degree property owners affected by the wall's construction will have access to their land and how they will be compensated for loss of use.

On Friday, May 22, 2009, Brownsville Federal District Judge Andrew Hanen temporarily stopped construction of the border wall separating Brownsville and Matamoros in response to landowners' motions which claimed the government did not really know what property rights it wanted to take from local property owners. Their suit alleges that the government had not decided how it wished to balance both its desire to protect national security and, at the same time, minimize the cost of the project.

Among the property rights at issue is whether the government will allow property owners vehicle and farm equipment access. If they are allowed access, the government would also need to agree to what degree those property owners have access to the thousands of acres that are caught between the Border Wall and the Rio Grande River.

The government argues that for national security reasons, it should be able to limit access through the wall and to retain maximum control and flexibility for the wall's design, operation, and to possible future additions to the wall.

Should the government further limit landowner access through the wall, however, landowners will be entitled to recover more compensation for the taking and damaging of their property. This problem has already led to a large disparity in what the government has offered landowners as compensation and what landowners claim is still owed to them for use of their land. The court has now ordered the government to clear up any ambiguities in its use of private land by listing the access it will and will not allow landowners.

In cases now pending before the court, the government is offering some landowners each compensation ranging from approximately $10,000 to $200,000. Those same landowners are each seeking compensation between $1.5 million and $4 million. The disparity is due, in part, to the different ways both parties describe the access rights being taken and reserved.

Justice Department attorneys argued the delay would cost taxpayers close to half a million dollars. Judge Hanen, however, ruled that forcing the government to focus now on what property rights it really wants and needs would save the government money in the long term.

This case could have profound implications for future construction of the border wall.

The Obama administration has publically discussed its decision not to pursue further expansion of the border wall beyond where it is currently planned. This case may give the administration reason to reconsider whether to build the border wall in those areas already planned where construction of the wall has yet to begin„Ÿ or if even current construction projects will be more costly to U.S. taxpayers than previously estimated.

"This Brownsville case has enormous implications for all border wall construction. In America, property owners do have rights, even on the border," Senator Shapleigh said.

City officials in Brownsville have also opposed construction of the wall, directing a resolution this month to local, state and federal agencies. In Washington, U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz also expressed his opposition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's plans to take possession of 15.919 acres of city property for the wall.

Click here to read a transcript of Judge Hanen's decision.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Arrests on Southern Border Drop

Washington Post
May 21, 2009
by Spencer Hsu

The number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped 27 percent this year, a decline that could put the figure at its lowest level since the early 1970s, federal officials said yesterday.

The decline accelerates a three-year-old trend that experts attribute to the economic downturn, with stronger U.S. immigration enforcement measures also playing a role.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar released the data to the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security, noting that the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled from 9,000 in 2001 to a projected 20,000 by September. The government also has completed 626 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers. It plans 661 miles of barriers on the 2,000-mile frontier.

"By several measures, the border is far more secure than it has ever been and, with our help, will soon be even more secure," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the panel, which held the first of four hearings scheduled to take place before the August recess. Aides said the hearings are meant to build a case for overhauling immigration laws.

President Obama has invited advocates to hammer out a legislative approach and has set a June 8 meeting at the White House for a small, bipartisan group of Senate and House leaders, a spokesman said yesterday, "with the hope of beginning the debate in earnest later this year."

The committee's senior Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), noted that the Border Patrol made 723,000 arrests last fiscal year.

That is "still a lot," he said. "That is not a lawful border. . . . We're not there yet."

Arrest figures only partially measure illegal immigration because authorities do not know how many immigrants evade capture and because one person can be arrested many times.

But the trend is corroborated by declining rates of remittances sent by immigrants to their native countries and by Mexican census data. More than 11 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, and experts do not see evidence that many are leaving.

The Border Patrol reported 354,959 arrests from October 2008 to May, down from 486,735 over that period a year ago. About 97 percent of the arrests were on the southern border.

The figure for fiscal 2008 is less than half the 1.7 million in 2000 -- the peak -- and is the lowest since 1976, the Department of Homeland Security said.

Spending on U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the patrol's parent agency, has climbed 82 percent since 2004, from about $6 billion to about $11 billion.

Douglas S. Massey, a professor at Princeton University, said the crackdown has increased the average cost of border crossings from $600 in the early 1990s to $2,200. But he noted that the cost of each arrest has also risen. The number of fatalities also has climbed as migrants seek more remote areas to avoid capture.

Residents seek Obama's intervention on border fence debate

Brownsville Herald
May 20, 2009
by Emma Perez-Trevino

"Dear Mr. President."

Thus begins a letter to President Barack Obama that residents in Brownsville and along the U.S.-Mexico border opposed to a border fence are signing. They are seeking his intervention, "having been rebuked by a range of officials in your Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security."

"We write you as our last hope," states the letter to Obama, which reminds him of unfulfilled promises of added manpower and technology as alternatives to a fence.

"Absent your intercession, a great, lasting and damaging injustice will be dealt to the people of the Texas-Mexico border," the letter, being e-mailed en masse throughout the border communities, states.

Circulation of the letter gained momentum following the City Commission's decision Tuesday not to pass a strongly worded resolution calling on DHS to stop "bullying" the community, to put an end to the proposed construction of the fence, and demanding that the federal agency negotiate in good faith with Brownsville.

The commission tabled action.

The agenda reflected that the resolution was placed on the agenda by Commissioner Edward C. Camarillo and Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr.

At the onset of the commission meeting Camarillo said that it is no mystery that everyone on the commission is against the fence. "The fact of the matter is that there is law and law supersedes everything else in this country," Camarillo said, but he also noted that "putting up a fence is not the sole solution."

Camarillo said that the commission should be "very careful" of actions that it takes while negotiations are still ongoing with DHS.

DHS moved last week in federal court to take possession of nearly 16 acres of city-owned land amid negotiations with the city.

And, although Commissioner Charlie Atkinson said last week that DHS' move to take possession amid talks with the city was in bad faith, he found that the proposed resolution tabled Tuesday was too "radical" and "crazy" and not written professionally. "It was like yelling on paper," Atkinson said.

Atkinson said that the mayor claimed not to know how that resolution ended up on the agenda and that the resolution would likely hurt the city rather than help it in the pending federal case.

The proposed resolution also noted that the federally mandated "one-size-fits-all" border fence is "irrational" and that technology and more manpower, as recommended by the U.S. Border Patrol sector chief, should be applied instead.

On the other hand, U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Ronald D. Vitiello said the enforcement model developed for Brownsville included infrastructure border fencing and patrol roads together with technology and more manpower.

"The ongoing consultations with the City of Brownsville have been focused on ensuring that the city could continue with its river walk project development as well as the East Loop project. This agreement would allow the government to revert the properties needed for these projects back to the City of Brownsville," Vitiello said in a statement dated Tuesday.

Vitiello said that since October, Border Patrol agents assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Sector have arrested 36,190 people attempting to enter the country illegally and have seized over 560,000 pounds of marijuana. "To put it into perspective, every single day, Rio Grande Valley Sector agents arrest 162 people and seize 2,500 pounds of drugs," Vitiello said.

"As we continue to complete border fence projects in the region, it will enhance national security and improve the quality of life for residents on both sides of the border. Tactical infrastructure on the border alone is not the sole solution but when combined with front-line Border Patrol agents and technology, it will provide us with a more secure border and a safe and effective enforcement zone for front-line Border Patrol agents," the sector chief added.

Sector spokesman John A. Lopez said that the sector covers nine stations along the Rio Grande from Rio Grande City to Brownsville and into Falfurrias, Kingsville and Corpus Christi.

Ahumada said Wednesday that initially, there had been two proposed resolutions that had been penned by volunteers opposed to the border fence. The resolution attached to Tuesday's agenda was stronger than the other, which called for opposing DHS' move to take possession of the city land.

"They (commissioners) blamed me. They said that I switched resolutions," Ahumada said Wednesday. The mayor also said that he didn't place the item on the agenda and that he had only volunteered to sponsor the resolution if no other commissioner did.

Ahumada said that commissioners could have modified the language of either resolution to better suit them.

"But they didn't and this shows that they are not committed to fighting the fence," the mayor said. "What are they going to do, pass a resolution after the fence is built?" Ahumada said.

Meanwhile, the letter that is planned to be forwarded to Obama this week states that "officials of your administration, in their zeal to satisfy the goals of the previous administration, are out of control. They (are) bullying local landowners and officials, violating the law and court orders as if they were former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff armed with legal supremacy to waive any law."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'Los Ebanos thanks you for the new rope,' Foster tells Senate panel

Rio Grande Guardian
May 20, 2009

McALLEN, May 20 - Speaking at a Senate hearing in Washington on Wednesday, Eagle Pass Mayor and Texas Border Coalition Chair Chad Foster decried the lack of federal infrastructure dollars for major inland ports in Texas.

Foster noted that the tiny hand-drawn ferry operation at Los Ebanos in western Hidalgo County got additional funding from the General Services Administration this year but bigger ports like Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso did not.

“Los Ebanos thanks you for the new rope, but we need another $700 million, this time in the right account please,” Foster said.

Foster was testifying before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. He again criticized the border wall plan.

“In their headlong rush to achieve an arbitrary deadline to erect an ineffective wall, the Bush Administration chose to abandon our nation’s laws and commit us to preserving our environment, our culture, our history and our religious liberties. We can’t afford to go down that path – a path that waives all laws – again,” Foster said.

Foster said the TBC supports repeal of unconstitutional waiver authority and the Secure Fence Act in favor of measures that will provide the border region with “real security.”

The title of the hearing was “Securing the borders and America's points of entry, what remains to be done?” The Guardian has posted Foster’s prepared remarks below.

Also testifying was Sam Vale, a founding member of the Border Trade Alliance (BTA), owner of Telemundo Channel 40 in the Rio Grande Valley and owner-operator of the Starr Camargo International Bridge.

“The movement of goods and people at our borders generates 2 billion dollars a day in economic activity,” the BTA said, in a statement issued ahead of the hearing. “In order to better ensure our economic and physical security, BTA will testify that the federal government must do more to address the decades old backlog in our immigration codes, while providing more adequate annual infrastructure and resource investments at U.S. land ports of entry.”

The BTA said that currently, a majority of U.S. land ports are “overburdened by the combination of vast federal security operations with massive increases in cross-border trade and travel volumes at U.S. border crossings.” The group said President Obama's plans to successfully achieve comprehensive immigration reform “hinge on the government's ability to improve the secure and efficient facilitation of legitimate trade and travel at our nation’s borders.”

Others slated to testify were John Torres, deputy assistant secretary for operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, David V. Aguilar, chief, Office of Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Thomas Winkowski, assistant commissioner, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, J.D. Hayworth, former United States Representative of Arizona, Richard Wiles, sheriff, El Paso County, Texas, and Dr. Douglas Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs, Princeton University.

Here are Foster’s prepared remarks:

“Chairman Schumer, Ranking Member Cornyn and subcommittee members, I am Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, and chairman of the Texas Border Coalition. I am speaking today on behalf of 2.1 million Americans in 17 border counties of the 1,250-mile Texas-Mexico border.

“Ours is a region of contrasts, exhibiting differences and similarities of language, culture, tradition, and economy. The multi-national, multi-cultural nature of our communities on both sides of the international boundary gives our region a distinct sense of place.

“Our blending of cultures is unique. The Texas-Mexico border played a central role in shaping the history of our continent. Two civil wars occurred simultaneously where we live, and created such cross-cultural alliances and enmities that we could spend days rediscovering them. You can breathe easy, Mr. Chairman, because I won’t go that far back in time.

“I only want to travel back two years to June 2007, when the Senate last debated immigration reform. I recall the opponents of the bill saying that the borders had to be secured before any visas could be reformed or any effort made to legalize the status of the undocumented among us or to institute a guest worker program. Those conditions included, now completed, just two years later:

• 20,000-person Border Patrol force;
• DoD and DHS coordination plans;
• 600-plus miles of border fence, roads and vehicle barriers to achieve operational control;
• deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and related surveillance technologies;
• cooperation among U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central American governments to improve security south of our border, specifically relating to gang and drug activity, and other law enforcement assistance;
• law enforcement relief for states and localities that provide border related assistance;
• more ICE agents and detention space;
• tightened voluntary departure requirements and expanded expedited removal procedures;
• improvements and additions to our ports of entry;

“In my opinion, land ports are now our nation’s weakest link. We need your help and we would appreciate it now.

“We are within sight of operational control of the border between the ports of entry, and that puts our ports under greater stress. According to the Government Accountability Office, we needed 4,000 new officers to secure the ports of entry before we placed the new emphasis on southbound checks to stop the trafficking of guns and cash. We needed $4 billion in infrastructure and technology – and I want to thank you for putting $700 million into the stimulus bill toward this goal – but you put most of the money in the wrong account. We need the money for CBP ports. We have three of those in Texas; two are on top of dams and one is a three-car hand ferry. Los Ebanos thanks you for the new rope, but we need another $700 million, this time in the right account please.

“Mr. Chairman, our shared goal is security, and we need your help to fund these priorities that are ignored by the president’s budget. We need 1,600 more CBP officers, along with 400 canine units. We need the southbound operation to be controlled by the CBP, which has training in dealing with the traveling public, and not the Border Patrol, whose training with travelers is more confrontational.

“We need $130 million for 350 new ICE investigators to work on firearm trafficking and money laundering investigations and $20 million for improved tactical field communications for CBP and ICE. We cannot afford to delay the $20 million CBP needs to modernize its database used to identify potential criminals at the ports of entry or the $50 million for Operation Stonegarden to reimburse state and local law enforcement for their participation in border actions.

“The 9-11 terrorists entered the United States through ports of entry. Most undocumented aliens enter the United States through ports of entry. Most of the illegal drugs entering the United States come through ports of entry. No border wall will solve those problems.

“Illegal border crossing arrests at the Texas-Mexico border have been falling for more than three years, without a wall, a great tribute to the deterrence of our Border Patrol and CBP officers. Arrests this year along the southern border are likely to be way below half the nearly 1.6 million during the peak of 2000.

“In their headlong rush to achieve an arbitrary deadline to erect an ineffective wall, the Bush Administration chose to abandon our nation’s laws and commit us to preserving our environment, our culture, our history and our religious liberties. We can’t afford to go down that path – a path that waives all laws – again.

“The Chertoff waivers will affect the natural movement of animal species, including the larger mammals that are on the threatened or endangered species lists, and cause irreparable harm to the unique eco- and bio-systems located along the Rio Grande River. They provided carte blanche for the destruction of cultural and religious artifacts that are irreplaceable to our heritage.

“The avoidance and mitigation of these damages is not an inconvenience to the government. They are essential elements of our national fabric, guaranteed to the people of the United States under Articles I and II of the Constitution. We demand that Congress require the enforcement of our commitment to being a nation of laws. We support repeal of the unconstitutional waiver authority and urge the repeal of the Secure Fence Act in favor of measures that will provide our region with real security.

“The Texas Border Coalition wants to finish the job of securing the border by enacting immigration reform. We support an earned legalization program for the undocumented people who are in the U.S. today. We need an effective guest worker program to prevent the immigration policy and political failures from repeating themselves in another general. We need more than a bill that balances the ideological and political continuums in Congress and the nation. We need policies that balance supply and demand, that provide circularity and stability in demographic and economic change for our hemisphere and that will guarantee our economic and national security for years to come.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brownsville City Commission to stand up to feds on border fence

Brownsville Herald
May 18, 2009
by Emme Perez Trevino

The City Commission today might issue a loud, strong message that, in Brownsville, there is "zero tolerance for bullying."

That statement, in the form of a resolution, would be directed to local, state and federal agencies and officials from President Barack Obama on down, in firm opposition to proposed construction of a fence between Brownsville and Matamoros.

The statement would come on the heels of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's move last week to take possession of 15.919 acres of city land amid negotiations with city officials.
"No more bullying! Time to leave the gross dysfunctionality behind! Your conduct has been and is unacceptable to us!" the proposed resolution states. It also is aimed at DHS, the federal agency charged with the border fence project, and calls for good-faith negotiations.

The City Commission is scheduled to consider the 10-page resolution at its regular meeting today, starting at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1001 E. Elizabeth St. The agenda reflects that Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. and Commissioner Edward C. Camarillo placed the proposed resolution on the agenda.

The resolution asks proposes halting o negotiations between the city and DHS regarding construction of temporary fences on the East Loop levee and between the Gateway International Bridge and the B&M International Bridge as an alternative to a permanent structure. The property would revert to the city when the city provides replacement barriers, including construction of a new levee. Under the negotiations, the temporary fence would be removed by DHS, if funding is available. Otherwise, it would be the city's responsibility and the city would bear the cost of the replacement barriers.

The resolution proposes that city officials rescind any prior negotiations or agreements with DHS, and "recognizes that the latest proposed agreement would be too costly for Brownsville taxpayers to absorb on a federal project that it (the city) should not be forced to accept or pay for."

The resolution points out that the federally mandated "one-size-fits-all" border fence is "irrational" and that technology and more manpower, as recommended by the U.S. Border Patrol sector chief, should be applied instead.

The resolution notes that, "we, in Brownsville, stand in unity, steadfastly, with unbowed heads, earnestly and vigorously seeking, in good faith, a just and peaceful outcome to the ongoing" border fence crisis.

The proposed resolution also notes that the city would hire an attorney to fight DHS in federal court, "in the event that the DHS does not recognize us as equals."

Federal judge dismisses US-Mexico border fence challenge

May 18, 2009
by Andrew Morgan

[JURIST] A federal judge on Friday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] that sought to block construction of a fence along the US-Mexico border. The Texas Border Coalition [advocacy website], a group of Texan officials and business owners, filed suit [JURIST report] last year challenging the condemnation of land for the construction of the fence and the compensation paid to landowners for access to conduct surveys under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 [text], the Administrative Procedure Act [text, PDF], and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment [text]. Judge Reggie Walton of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] found that the Coalition did not have standing to bring the suit because it was "unclear from the complaint whether any of the property owned by the plaintiff's members will actually be condemned," saying that:
It would make little procedural sense, and, indeed, thwart congressional will, to allow the plaintiff's members to preemptively challenge an anticipated condemnation when the Department's decision to pursue this course has not yet been rendered.
Walton also granted the government's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [text] because there was insufficient legal basis for the injunctive relief sought by the Coalition.

The 700-mile US-Mexico border fence [JURIST news archive] was authorized [JURIST report] in 2006 by President George W. Bush [official profile]. Former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff [official profile] used controversial legal waivers, authorized under Title I sec. 102 of the Real ID Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], to circumvent local and environmental laws which had slowed construction of the fence, including an October 2007 waiver overriding a federal district court ruling that halted construction [JURIST report] on environmental grounds. In September, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) [official website] officials told Congress [hearing materials] that legal challenges and technological problems led to cost increases and delays in fence construction.

Channel 3/AZ Family's Whitewash of Extremist Nativist Glenn Spencer

Phoenix New Times
May 18, 2009
by Stephen Lemons

I've been so busy chasing Sand Land neo-Nazis that I haven't had a chance to blog about this April 30 piece on the border fence by Channel 3 reporter Carey Pena. The segment would've been a rather pedestrian report on the 700 miles of border fencing being built because of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, had it not been for Channel 3 using Glenn Spencer of the American Border Patrol as the segment's main talking head.

See, Spencer is an extremist nativist, whose Sierra Vista-based ABP has been denounced as an anti-immigrant hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report. Similarly, ABP has been labeled a "virulently anti-Hispanic group" by the Anti-Defamation League in a 2003 analysis entitled, Border Disputes: Armed Vigilantes in Arizona.

SPLC's Intelligence Report notes that Spencer was "one of the first well-known anti-immigration activists to more or less openly court white supremacists and anti-Semites." Spencer's spoken before conferences of American Renaissance magazine, which promotes,"a clear conception of the United States as a nation ruled by and for whites," according to AR's editor Jared Taylor. Spencer also promoted a book on his site by Taylor called The Color of Crime, which posits the false theory that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to break the law.

The ADL's report on vigilantes is hardly more flattering when it comes to Spencer. It quotes a 1996 letter to the Los Angeles Times from Spencer that states, "the Mexican culture is based on deceit." ADL notes Spencer's fixation on the ludicrous reconquista conspiracy theory, which holds that the Mexican government is using illegal immigration to take over the American southwest. And ADL describes Spencer's alliance with controversial Cochise County rancher Roger Barnett.

Barnett is notorious in southern Arizona for detaining illegal immigrants at gunpoint. Earlier this year, he was found liable in by a federal civil jury for assault and emotional distress, and ordered to pay $77,804 in damages. This is on top of a nearly $100,000 award against Barnett from 2007 in another incident where members of a hunting party sued him for allegedly terrorizing them with an assault rifle.

Spencer's also had his run-ins with the law, as has been detailed at length by area daily The Sierra Vista Herald. The paper reports that in 2003 Spencer was arrested by the Cochise County Sheriff's Department after reports of gun shots coming from Spencer's property. One of Spencer's bullets passed through the walls of a neighbor's garage, damaging a baby crib kept there. Spencer ultimately pleaded guilty to endangerment. He received a year's probation and had to pay a $2,500 fine.

Stranger still, in 2008, Spencer's Cessna 206 was buzzed by two U.S. Air Force F-16s as he apparently crossed into Mexican airspace illegally, according to a Herald report. The incident is highly ironic given Spencer's views on illegal border crossers going in the opposite direction.

But none of these accounts of Spencer's dubious statements and activities were mentioned in Channel 3's report. Instead, Spencer was treated as an authority on the border fence, instead of the fringe nativist that he is.

"Spencer is the founder of the watchdog group American Border Patrol," said Carey Pena in the segment. "He lives near Sierra Vista and spends much of his time in the air flying the border to see how much of the fence is really being built."

Pena even gave Spencer a plug at the end of the report, telling viewers that "for more information on Glenn Spencer's group, you can go to our Web site, just click on the `3 on Your Side' link."

I called up Pena, and asked her about her use of Spencer in the segment. She admitted that she did not know the specifics of Spencer's criminal history, his anti-Mexican statements, or links to white supremacist groups. However, she defended the piece, pointing out that she's Hispanic, and that Channel 3 was committed to presenting different points of view. I encouraged her to contact the ADL and ask its people about Spencer's reputation.

There's nothing wrong with having Spencer be part of a piece on border issues, or allowing him to express his opinion even. But to present him as the member of a "watchdog group," while ignoring Spencer's past, his criminal history, his ties to white supremacists like Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, and Spencer's own bigoted statements and extremist rhetoric, is irresponsible.

Essentially, in this instance, Pena and Channel 3 whitewashed an extremist, and helped promote his cause.

After speaking with Pena, I called her back and left a message asking her to inform me if Channel 3 did any sort of follow-up discussing Spencer's past. I've yet to receive a return call, and I cannot find any evidence that Channel 3 has corrected itself on the Spencer matter.

Ortiz opposes seizing city land for border fence

Brownsville Herald
May 17, 2009
by Emma Perez-Trevino

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moved to take possession of city property for a border fence between Brownsville and Matamoros, U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz expressed his displeasure.

"I am not pleased," Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, said of DHS' move amid negotiations with the city on a proposed levee-temporary fence alternative. Ortiz's spokesman Jose Borjon said Friday that the congressman had asked DHS not to begin proceedings to take possession of city land.

The Brownsville Herald also learned that Ortiz is attempting to obtain funding for the levee-temporary fence alternative.

This comes on the heels of DHS' trip to the federal courthouse May 12 to file the motion to take possession of 15.919 acres of city land, although DHS officials say talks with city officials continue in an effort to reach an agreement on a temporary fence.

Under the proposed agreement, DHS would build temporary fences on the East Loop levee and between the Gateway International Bridge and the B&M Bridge. Control of the property would revert to the city when the city provides replacement barriers, including construction of a new levee.

The temporary fence would be removed by DHS if there is funding. If there were no federal funding, its removal would be the city's responsibility. The city also would bear the cost of the replacement barriers.

"But at what cost to the city?" Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr., who favors developing a dam as a natural barrier, said of the proposed agreement on the table.

The mayor said the cost to the city could be as much as $13 million and that the city does not have the money.

Ahumada said that instead of fighting among themselves, city officials should have been using the time to strategize in opposition to the border fence.

Ahumada also said that Ortiz had initially supported the weir project as a barrier and wondered why the congressman is now supporting a temporary fence. Borjon said that Ortiz continues to support the weir project, but not as an alternative to the fence.

Regarding the motion for possession that DHS filed, Ahumada said, "What do we do now? What I've said all along; we should be looking for a third party to mediate and that is U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen."

The federal case is before Hanen's court.

DHS' motion is slated to be on Hanen's court docket June 1.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Death count rises with border restrictions

Arizona Daily Star
May 17, 2009
by Brady McCombs

Illegal border crossers face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.

The risk of dying is 1.5 times higher today compared with five years ago and 17 times greater than in 1998, the Arizona Daily Star's border-death database shows.

That's a significant increase considering the initial spike of deaths in Arizona occurred in 2000-02.

Through the first seven months of fiscal year 2009, there were 60 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in the area covered in the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. That's up from 39 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in 2004.

The increased risk of death parallels the historic buildup of agents, fences, roads and technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling into question one of the Border Patrol's mantras that a "secure border is a safe border."

Even with 3,300 agents, 210 miles of fences and vehicle barriers, and 40 agents assigned to the agency's search, rescue and trauma team, Borstar, illegal immigrants are still dying while trying to cross the Border Patrol's 262-mile-long Tucson Sector.

Border county law enforcement, Mexican Consulate officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.

"We are pushing people into more deadly areas," said Kat Rodriguez, coordinating organizer for Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based group that tracks the deaths. "When enforcement goes up, death goes up. We've been saying that for years."

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada and Sgt. David Noland, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office search and rescue coordinator, say body recoveries in their counties show that people are trekking through increasingly remote areas.

The Border Patrol doesn't stop anyone from coming; it only shifts the locations where they cross, said Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Tucson-based Humane Borders. His group's maps show that bodies are being found farther away from principal roads and water sources each year.

"The presence of the Border Patrol makes the average migrant hungrier, thirstier, more tired and sicker," Hoover said.

Border Patrol officials point to their rescue efforts as evidence that their presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.

"Our presence is greater; we are getting to these people sooner," said Robert Boatright, deputy chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. The agency rescued 160 people through mid-May, compared with 151 at the same time last year.

He attributes the continued rise in deaths to better recovery methods and more thorough record-keeping.

"When somebody loses a loved one, a lot of times we're getting better information back and going back and finding those," Boatright said.

The agency concentrates its agents and rescue teams in the desert west of Sasabe, where most of the bodies are found, to move them out of the most dangerous areas, he said.

"I'm not driving them to a more hazardous location," he said. "I'm driving them toward Nogales."

Flawed statistics

Nobody knows exactly how many people try to cross the border illegally through Arizona.

There is no magic laser counter strung across the U.S.-Mexico border, and no agency estimates how many people get past the Border Patrol.

That leaves the Border Patrol's apprehensions as the best, albeit flawed, indicator of the flow of illegal immigrants.

It's flawed because apprehensions represent an event, not a person, and don't distinguish whether someone has been caught once or multiple times.

The apprehension figures show a clear downward trend in the Tucson Sector, the busiest on the Southwest Border, with the captures dropping 35 percent from 491,771 in 2004 to 317,696 in 2008. This year's numbers through April are down 31 percent from the same time in 2008.

The Border Patrol points to the gradual decrease as evidence that fewer are crossing. That theory is backed by several other indicators of a slowdown, including Mexican census data that show fewer people are leaving the country.

Yet the number of bodies found hasn't followed that downward slope.

The body count has remained in the same range between 2004 and 2009, yo-yoing between 180 and 230 per fiscal year, the Star border-death database shows.

The bodies of 86 illegal border crossers have been discovered from the beginning of fiscal year 2009 — Oct. 1 — through April, compared with 75 at the same time last year. The hottest and most deadly months for migrant deaths are still to come.

The Arizona Daily Star's border-death database only goes back to October 2004, but using the Border Patrol's death totals, which have long undercounted the number of deaths, the risk of dying has increased 17 times, from three per 100,000 apprehensions in 1998 to 51 per 100,000 apprehensions in 2009.

But Dr. Bruce Parks, chief medical examiner at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, cautions that the yearly counts may not accurately represent that year's total, because many in recent years have been skeletal remains that could be people who died in previous years.

Each year since 2004, the total number of bodies found in the form of skeletal remains has accounted for a larger percentage of the total, increasing to 25 percent in 2009 from 4 percent in 2004, the Arizona Daily Star database shows.

Even without the skeletal remains, though, the number of bodies found per 100,000 apprehensions has increased from 38 in 2004 to 50 in 2009.

And some of the people found as skeletal remains could have died months earlier within the same year, especially if death occurs in the summer, when heat speeds up decomposition, said Jerónimo Garcia, a representative of the Mexican Consulate in Tucson who handles the identification and coordination of the remains.

Skeleton found in August

One of the skeletons found in 2008 was the remains of Juana Pastrana Villanueva, a 57-year-old woman from Acapulco.

On Aug. 6, 2008, her remains were found about 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the northern part of the Tohono O'odham Reservation.

A jacket near the body contained the identification of a man from Acapulco. When Mexican officials contacted his family, they said he was alive in the United States.

He told them the body was Pastrana's.

He left his ID in that pocket because Pastrana wasn't carrying any ID, and he wanted to make sure her family knew she was dead. He knew authorities would call his family.

Her remains were found three weeks later southwest of Casa Grande. She likely walked for at least six days to get there, or she might have been picked up and driven north before being dropped off again, Garcia said. The medical examiner determined Pastrana died of hyperthermia, or heatstroke, the most common cause of deaths among illegal border crossers discovered in Arizona.

The New Border Fence

May 15, 2009
by Daniel Novick

The border fence cost taxpayers billions of dollars and was one of the most controversial border issues Americans faced. Now up in the El Paso for more than a year now, KFOX wanted to find out if it works and if it's worth the price tag.

Border Patrol Agent Joe Romero has worked on the U.S/Mexico border for three years."We're looking for any indication as to whether or not something may have come through," he told KFOX while on a ride-a-long.He's seen what life on the border is like with the new fence, and without it."It provides you precious time to be able to respond. And that is what the fence is intended to do is to gain time," said Romero.

Throughout the four hours KFOX spent with Romero, he kept bringing up time, and how important it is for agents like himself.

"We've got seconds, precious seconds. In some cases, 15, 20 second sprint from the river bank into one of the community areas. That's huge for us, because if this fence is going to buy us the minute and a half, two minutes that we need, to us, that's gold," Romero told KFOX.

Romero contends that it would take someone at least a minute to jump the new fence, but in exclusive video obtained by KFOX, it takes just 20 seconds for the suspect to go out of the view of the camera and jump the fence.

"We're talking 30 seconds, a minute," said James Stack, president of the local National Border Patrol Council Chapter. "If you are a quarter of a mile away and you become alerted to that activity, by the time you get there, they're probably over the fence."He said easily jumping the fence isn't the only problem. In the Downtown El Paso area agents are stationed between the fence and the border.

Stack said that makes them ineffective at catching illegal immigrants."The way personnel are deployed there, there's really nobody north of the fence, so once they're north, they're home free," Stack told KFOX.

But Romero contends the fence was built this way for a good reason."It allows us to patrol the actual border itself and not give up, because obviously this is a much larger spance of territory. Over there, the border sits three meters off the border. Here it sits considerably off," he said.

The Border Patrol said because of the new fence, they've been able to direct more of their manpower and resources to where the old fences are.

Like near the Santa Fe Bridge in Downtown El Paso, where moments after our KFOX crew left, about a dozen people tried and failed to get across."We have now taken control of this area of the border where we didn't before," said Romero."Those areas that you're talking about, historically and statistically have always been high traffic areas," said Stack.

So was the cost worth it? Romero will tell you not having to do constant maintenance on the new fence like they have to daily on the old fence is saving tons of money. Plus, "Over a 25 year period, it's actually cheaper to have this fence, to build a fence and maintain it over at 25 year period, than it would to hire the same or the number of agents we would need to do the job instead of the fence," said Romero.

But Stack would take the billions and invest differently."I think more technology. Sensors, cameras, infrared cameras, more agents, more boots on the ground, that probably would have been a wiser investment rather than the fence," Stack told KFOX.

He said not to believe all the hype about the fence."You're being deceived. You're being deceived. You can count the numbers you catch, but they're is no way to measure the numbers you don't catch," said Stack.

Keep in mind that the new fence is not up all across the El Paso sector. In parts where a primary fence already existed, the federal government was not willing to put up the new fence.

As KFOX has reported, President Barack Obama's budget blueprint does not include extending the border fence any further. However, that should not affect the fence already up in the El Paso area.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Judge throws out border fence case

May 15, 2009
Associated Press
by Nedra Pickler

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit to stop construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence ordered by the Bush administration.

The Texas Border Coalition, a coalition of mayors and business and community leaders, sued the Homeland Security Department last year. The group said the department did not fairly negotiate compensation with landowners for access to their land for six-month surveys to choose fence sites.

The Bush administration pledged to build roughly 660 miles of fencing and other barriers along the border to help keep out illegal immigrants. About 625 miles is complete.

But U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled Friday that the coalition did not have standing to sue since its members were not the affected property owners.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mexican Data Say Migration to U.S. Has Plummeted

New York Times
May 14, 2009
by Julia Preston

MEXICALI, Mexico — Census data from the Mexican government indicate an extraordinary decline in the number of Mexican immigrants going to the United States.

The recently released data show that about 226,000 fewer people emigrated from Mexico to other countries during the year that ended in August 2008 than during the previous year, a decline of 25 percent. All but a very small fraction of emigration, both legal and illegal, from Mexico is to the United States.

Because of surging immigration, the Mexican-born population in the United States has grown steeply year after year since the early 1990s, dipping briefly only after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, census data in both countries show.

Mexican and American researchers say that the current decline, which has also been manifested in a decrease in arrests along the border, is largely a result of Mexicans’ deciding to delay illegal crossings because of the lack of jobs in the ailing American economy.

The trend emerged clearly with the onset of the recession and, demographers say, provides new evidence that illegal immigrants from Mexico, by far the biggest source of unauthorized migration to the United States, are drawn by jobs and respond to a sinking labor market by staying away.

“If jobs are available, people come,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. “If jobs are not available, people don’t come.”

The net outflow of migrants from Mexico — those who left minus those who returned — fell by about half in the year that ended in August 2008 from the preceding year. The figures are based on detailed household interviews conducted quarterly by the census agency in Mexico, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

Along the border, the signs of the drop-off are subtle but ubiquitous. Only two beds are filled in a shelter here that houses migrants hoping to sneak into the United States. On the American side, near Calexico, Calif., Border Patrol vans return empty to their base after agents comb the desert for illegal crossers.

In recent weeks, the spread of swine flu in Mexico and the government’s response of shutting down schools and canceling public gatherings brought migration here and elsewhere nearly to a halt. But demographers expect the deep flu-related decline to be temporary.

With so many Mexicans remaining in their home villages, the population of illegal immigrants in the United States stopped growing and might have slightly decreased in the last year, an abrupt shift after a decade of yearly influxes, research by demographers in the United States shows. Mexicans account for 32 percent of immigrants in the United States, and more than half of them lack legal status, the Pew center has reported.

Still, at least 11 million illegal immigrants remain in the United States, the demographers say. Despite collapsing job markets in construction and other low-wage work, there has been no exodus among Mexicans living in the United States, the Mexican census figures show. About the same number of migrants — 450,000 — returned to Mexico in 2008 as in 2007.

Some researchers argue that the drop in crossings from Mexico proves that tough law enforcement at the border and in American workplaces can reduce illegal immigration in times of rising unemployment in the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials stepped up factory and community raids last year, and the Border Patrol expanded its force by 17 percent in one year, to nearly 17,500 agents.

“The latest evidence suggests that you can reverse the flow,” said Steven A. Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group in Washington that calls for reduced immigration. “It is not set in stone, so with some mix of enforcement and the economy, fewer will come and more will go home.”

But Wayne Cornelius, the director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, predicted that if the United States job market revived, border enforcement would become much less of a deterrent.

The center has documented the causes of the decrease in Mexican migration though interviews this year with more than 1,000 Mexicans in California and in a Yucatán village that has been a source of migrants. In the interviews, all of the Mexicans who did set out from Yucatán for the United States reported that they eventually succeeded in crossing.

Mexicans are “not forgoing migration forever,” Professor Cornelius said. “They are hoping that the economy in the United States will improve.”

For now, though, Mexicans like José Luis Z., 16, of the state of Michoacán, are setting the trend. José Luis went to the Albergue del Desierto, a migrant shelter in Mexicali for minor boys, after setting out from home without telling his parents.

But when a job planting trees in Washington State fell through and he heard from migrants of increased patrolling along the border, he decided to head back home.

“I thought it would be easy, but now I see how people suffer,” said José Luis, who asked that his last name be withheld because he was a minor. He said he would go back to picking strawberries in Michoacán, if his furious father did not banish him.

“There is work back home,” José Luis said, “but it doesn’t pay anything.”

The enforcement buildup along the border, which started during the Bush administration, has made many Mexicans think twice about the cost and danger of an illegal trek when no job awaits on the other side, scholars said.

“There is a lack of certainty about jobs, so for the time being it is better to stay home,” said Agustín Escobar Latapí, a sociologist at the Center for Research in Social Anthropology in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Most immigrants now need smugglers to guide them through searing deserts and hidden mountain passes where there are gaps in Border Patrol surveillance. In Mexicali, smugglers’ fees are now $3,000 to $5,000 for a trip to Los Angeles, immigrants and social workers said. They reported that Mexicans’ relatives in the United States, struggling to hold on to their own jobs, no longer had money to lend to a family member to pay a smuggler.

Some here in Mexicali said they were not surprised by the low number of Mexicans coming back from the United States. “Our people are not stupid,” said Mónika Oropeza Rodríguez, the executive director of the Albergue del Desierto. “There may be a crisis in the United States, but they know that we have been in an economic crisis in Mexico for many years.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

DHS files motion to take possession of city-owned land

Brownsville Herald
May 12, 2009
by Emma Perez-Trevino

Amid negotiations with Brownsville on the proposed border fence between the city and Matamoros, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moved Tuesday to take possession of the city-owned land for construction of the fence.

DHS on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court here for possession of 15,919 acres of land.

City Attorney Mark Sossi said it would be premature to comment on DHS' move and that he needs to speak with the City Commission first.

City Commissioner Charlie Atkinson said that DHS is acting in bad faith and is trying to "bully" the city from the land that would affect a projected riverwalk downtown and a loop to direct truck traffic to the Port of Brownsville.

A hearing is slated for June 1 before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, public records reflect.

DHS, on the other hand, stressed to city officials in an e-mail Monday that filing the motion does not mean that DHS is giving up on reaching an agreement with the city.

"To the contrary, it remains our intention and preference that we get a signed agreement with you. But the United States is facing delay costs if it does not proceed with construction on these parcels in the very near future," DHS' Assistant General Counsel for Litigation Nicholas D. Gray wrote to the city.

Gray said that although DHS remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached, it couldn't afford to wait to see how the City Commission might act, because if an agreement were not reached, deadlines would come into play and construction delay costs would begin to accrue.

Public records show that after mid-May, the federal government would have to pay contractors $30,000 per day in delay costs or alternatively, roughly $400,000 if the construction is stopped.

The federal government first filed the land condemnation action against the city Sept. 16 of last year. DHS also filed the declaration, noting it was taking the land and it deposited $123,100 into the court's registry, representing the value of the properties.

The process in federal court had been held at bay since March 27 when DHS advised the court that it was hoping to reach an agreement with the city.

"I think that they are going to do what they said they were going to do all along," Atkinson said of DHS' taking of the land.

"Everybody that has challenged possession has lost, but I hope that Judge Hanen sees that (DHS) has not negotiated in good faith," Atkinson said.

Despite the new filing in federal court, City Manager Charlie Cabler said, "I think we are still negotiating."

"They are still communicating with us. We feel that we can have a hearing and in all probability extend the final judgment on this from 20 to 30 days to find out exactly what our final ultimatum is going to be," Cabler said.

"The important thing is that we are still in negotiation and we are hoping that we can fine tune any agreement and hopefully present it to the commission in June," he said.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Texans react to Obama ending new border fence construction

Houston Chronicle
May 8, 2009
Texas on the Potomac Blog

Here are comments by members of the Houston-area congressional delegation on President Obama's decision to end construction of the border fence beyond the 670 miles that have already been built or planned.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston:
"These fences have proven to be a small deterrent and are not very effective in preventing illegal crossings without a border patrol officer watching that fence. Scarce federal dollars have been spent on building this fence that would have been better spent on hiring more Border Patrol officers, and I am glad that President Obama's budget ends efforts to extend the controversial border fence."

Rep. Al Green, D-Houston:
"Effective immigration reform has to be comprehensive and holistic. Piecemeal solutions are neither."

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston:
"I am very disappointed to see more proof that the new Administration will not truly secure our borders. No matter what this President does or does not do, I will keep working to expand the successful zero tolerance border security I helped implement in the Del Rio and Laredo sectors. I will not rest until our border is secure with zero tolerance for illegal crossings from Brownsville to San Diego.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands:
"We must use the right tools for the right job and we should not automatically exclude effective immigration enforcement tools such as a physical border fence and vehicle barriers. Continued enforcement is critical if we are to close the back door of illegal immigration so the front door of legal immigration can remain open."

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin:
"I was just in El Paso where the Border Patrol showed me first hand how it secures the United States and saves lives. I'm disappointed by the administration but not surprised."

Here are comments by Texas' two senators:

Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, said the U.S. Border Patrol had expressed support for the barriers as a way to slow undocumented immigrants' dash across the border into nearby communities before they could be apprehended. Cornyn said he would consult with Border Patrol agents to get their take on the latest development.

"We need to be able to know who is coming in (to the United States," Cornyn said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, called "a secure and safe border . . . one of our nation's top priorities" without taking a position on additional fencing.

"To that end, we need to not only put more boots on the ground along our southern border, but we need to support our local law enforcement agencies in the region to ensure that they are no longer outgunned and outmanned. I will continue to work with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to ensure that the increased funding they've promised is being used as efficiently and as wisely as possible."

Obama's plan: No extension of border fence

Houston Chronicle
May 7, 2009
by Stewart M. Powell

Rep. Green applauds move, calling barrier ineffective

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s budget blueprint Thursday shelved extension of the controversial border fence beyond the 670 miles already completed or planned — rejecting the much-heralded security approach orchestrated by former President George W. Bush.

The Obama administration’s turnabout left funds for roads, lights and so-called tactical infrastructure — but not a dime to extend the pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers erected along roughly a third of the nation’s 1,947-mile border with Mexico.

As a Democratic senator representing Illinois, Obama joined 79 other senators in 2006 to support construction of the barrier system, intended to keep immigrants from crossing into the United States illegally.

The top financial officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Peggy Sherry, and her team told reporters Thursday that the Obama administration would not extend a barrier network that has irked neighboring Mexico and raised concerns among immigrant advocates.

Some Texas’ landowners have stubbornly challenged the fence project, denying or delaying federal access to survey their property in legal warfare that prolonged construction along some parts of the border.

As recently as last October, the federal government had completed just a one half-mile section of the 110 miles of pedestrian border fence promised in Texas.

Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass and head of the Texas Border Coalition, welcomed the decision. “We’ve always wanted to stop the fence right where it is,” Foster said.

The Obama administration asked Congress for $779 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 for border security-related expenses that included installation of technology, tactical infrastructure and completion of some of the remaining 46 miles of barriers.

That represents a significant drop from the $1.9 billion spent on the same activities by the Bush administration in fiscal 2008 and the $926 million set aside by the outgoing administration for the current fiscal year.

“There are additional funds for implementation, some additional (money for) roads, lights some additional tactical infrastructure,” said one official. “In terms of any particular set (number of) additional miles of fence, there’s nothing specifically identified as money for further miles of fence.”

Cheers and jeers

The Obama administration will continue efforts “to finish up the fencing to get as close to the 670 miles of fence that has been previously identified,” the official said.

Claude Knighten, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, said contractors had completed 322.2 miles of the 370 miles of planned pedestrian fencing and 302 miles of the planned vehicle fencing.

Democratic Rep. Gene Green of Houston applauded Obama’s move, describing the barriers as “a small deterrent and not very effective.”

Others were disappointed by the measure, including Republican Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, and Michael McCaul of Austin.

Culberson said it amounted to “more proof that the new administration will not truly secure our borders.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Groups lobby for passage of Border Protection Act

Nogales International
May 5, 2009
by Dick Kamp

Mexico and the borderlands are seen in many lights within the United States.

In one light, Mexico is seen as the source of narco-violence, job-stealing migrants during economic decline, and allegedly as a source of swine flu. In the border-region light, Mexicans are neighbors, family, a source of art, culture, music, beautiful landscapes, dust and pollution, great food and cheap local dentists.

For many who live on the U.S. side of the border, Mexico has long been as close as you can come to an ocean that laps along the shore. Border residents in the U.S. find the 700 miles of sometimes impenetrable fence to be a shield from wild narco-bullets in a few areas, but also an intrusion on their lives.

In South Texas, residents who've been on their land since the 1800s demonstrated loudly against former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff in 2007 when he seized their land under the 2005 Real ID Act.

At the Arizona-Sonora border on the San Pedro River, in Arroyo Nogales, and in the Buenos Aires reserve, people and wildlife have been harmed during floods, and private property has been destroyed by new barriers.

Animal species that cannot cross to breed or to live within their native habitat including among many: bighorn sheep, a number of varieties of birds, beaver, jaguar, even the common javelina.

Twenty-seven photographic, environmental, human rights and church groups gathered in Washington, D.C., from April 26-29 to lobby for U.S. Rep.Raul Grijalva's, (D-Ariz.) recently introduced 2009 Border Protection Act as a basis to end the era of monolithic border fences and a more consultative approach to border security.

Grijalva's bill seeks for the end of the waiver of laws and seizure of land by the DHS in the name of fence construction and a new multi-sector technical approach to patrolling and protecting the border from illegal entry.

Behind the groups' lobbying of more than 120 Senate and House committee heads and border congressional representatives is a core of world-renowned photographers who are part of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) who traveled the border photographing lands, people and fence.

The ILCP calls this a “border rave” and spokeswoman-conservation photograher Krysta Schyler said that in addition to the border protection provisions in the Grijalva bill, “We'd like to see Secretary Napolitano agree to never use the waiver and that money is in place to pay for damages already caused by the fence.”

ILCP photographs in this portfolio include natural landscapes and the animals therein, the border fence tearing up land and blocking animals; and some of the best are of people.

No, there are no shots of the Border Patrol chasing smugglers. Added are a couple of surrealistic visions of border detritus taken by writer and reporter Debbie Nathan.

"More information on ILCP "borderland rave" at"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

SBInet spending plan not complete, GAO says

Federal Computer Week
May 1, 2009
by Alice Lipowicz

The Homeland Security Department’s latest spending plan for the Secure Border Initiative virtual fence and infrastructure program fully satisfies only three out of 12 legislative conditions for receiving additional funds, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The plan only partially satisfies the other nine legislative conditions, according to the report released April 30.

Under a supplemental war appropriations law in September 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was allocated $775 million for the SBInet electronic border surveillance system, physical fencing and other infrastructure at the land borders. Congress required the agency to submit an expenditure plan and to meet 12 legislative conditions before it could spend $400 million of those funds.

The agency was asked to provide a detailed description of all investments to date, a report on budget obligations and expenditures and proof that the spending plan has been reviewed by top procurement and information technology executives in the agency, among other reports.

The border protection agency met three of the 12 conditions and partially met the remainder, wrote Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO in the 71-page report, which is a summary of briefings given to House and Senate appropriations subcommittees.

For example, with regard to the SBInet electronic surveillance system, the agency did not describe system capabilities or services, did not include a detailed accounting of milestones achieved to date, and did not include life cycle cost estimates, the GAO said.

“SBI’s fiscal year 2007, 2008 and 2009 expenditure plans have consistently improved from year to year; each plan has generally provided more detail and higher quality information than the year before,” Stana wrote. “Despite this general improvement, the fiscal year 2009 plan did not fully satisfy all of the conditions set out by law.”

As a result, Congress does not have full information on the program to minimize cost, schedule and performance risks, he added.

DHS disagreed with the GAO’s assessment for three of the nine conditions that the GAO deemed to be partially satisfied. The department asserted that those conditions were fully met.

The agency began work in 2006 on SBInet, which is an electronic surveillance system comprised of cameras, radars, sensors and communications equipment strung on towers and transmitting information to border patrol agents in operations centers. A 28-mile prototype has been operating in Arizona since February 2008. The total cost for the deployment along the U.S.-Mexico border is estimated at $6.7 billion.

SBInet system qualification tests by prime contractor Boeing Co. took place in December 2008. Construction of the first permanent towers in Arizona was scheduled to begin in April or May.

The SBI program also includes physical fencing and vehicle barriers at the borders.