Thursday, May 21, 2009

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."

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