Friday, January 30, 2009

Border fence averaged $3.9 million per mile

Arizona Daily Star
January 30, 2009
by Brady McCombs

The flurry of fencing erected along the U.S.-Mexico border in the past three years by the Department of Homeland Security has cost more than expected, a government report shows.

The 140 miles of pedestrian fencing put up under the Secure Border Initiative prior to Oct. 31 of last year cost an average of $3.9 million per mile with costs ranging from $400,000 to $15.1 million a mile, a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday found.

That per-mile average is more than the $3 million estimated by the Congressional Budget Office in August 2006 and much more than the $2.2 million estimated by the Senate used during the immigration reform debate that same year. Even the highest estimate at the time, $3.2 million per mile from U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., ended up being too low.

Pedestrian fences, sometimes called primary fences, are 10-foot-or-higher steel barriers designed to stop or slow down people on foot.

Richard Stana, director of homeland security issues at the Government Accountability Office, said the GAO carried out the report to answer an intriguing question: If Homeland Security would have used the $393 million appropriated to the SBInet virtual fence project in fiscal years 2007-08, how many more miles of physical barriers could have been built?

The answer: 73 miles of pedestrian fencing or 232 miles of vehicle barriers; or 36 miles of pedestrian fences and 116 miles of vehicle barriers, the report says.

Project 28, the Boeing Co.-led virtual-fence test project anchored by nine camera and radar towers along a 28-mile stretch of border flanking Sasabe, Ariz., was delayed eight months by glitches and plagued with problems, a previous GAO report found. The second generation of virtual fences was scheduled to go up in late 2008, but the work was abruptly halted in August.

In reviewing Customs and Border Protection estimates of total contracts for fencing segments — the GAO did not independently verify or validate the information — the report offers a preliminary analysis of the actual costs of the biggest and fastest buildup of border barriers in U.S. history.

"It gives you an idea of what the fence is going to cost," Stana said of the report.
Final costs are still pending.

The report only calculates the cost of the miles finished before Oct. 31 of last year.

Earlier this week, Homeland Security officials said the agency has brought the total miles of primary fencing and vehicle barriers along the Southwest border to 601 miles, 69 miles short of the goal of 670 miles set during the Bush administration. That means there are more than 200 miles of fencing put up whose costs have not been calculated.

The price tag of the fencing won't be available until all the segments are completed and contracts with private companies are closed out, Stana said.

Prior to the Secure Border Initiative, which was launched in November 2005, the federal government had constructed 78 miles of pedestrian fencing and 57 miles of vehicle barriers, the GAO report shows.

The most expensive miles came in San Diego, where construction teams had to fill in a canyon known as "Smuggler's Gulch" with 35,000 truckloads of dirt. That 3.5-mile project, which is scheduled to be completed this year, could end up costing as much $16.5 million per mile, the report shows.

Vehicle barriers, the report found, came in slightly less expensive. The 75 miles of vehicle barriers put up — under chest-high steel barriers designed to stop cars and trucks but not people — cost an average of $1 million per mile, with costs ranging from $200,000 to $1.8 million, the report said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $1.3 million per mile in the August 2006 document.

Of Arizona's 350 miles of U.S.-Mexico border, there are 128 miles of pedestrian fencing and 151.6 miles of vehicle barriers, according to a Dec. 19 Customs and Border Protection release.

On StarNet: Find a multimedia presentation on the history of the border at

To read the GAO's full report on the cost of border wall construction, go to:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Activists keep heat on Obama over immigration

January 28. 2009
By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - When U.S. President Barack Obama took office last week, a coalition of south Texas landowners wrote to his new administration urging an end to a wall-building program on the Mexico border.

The following day, hundreds of pro-immigration activists rallied in Washington calling on the new president to halt workplace enforcement raids and revive a thwarted bid to overhaul of U.S. immigration laws.

As Obama settles into the White House, he faces renewed pressure from pro-immigration activists to keep a pledge to support immigration reform, or at the least, roll back some of the get-tough immigration policies of his predecessor George W. Bush.

"If immigration reform's not possible soon, then at least stop the immigration raids as it is something that is very important to the (Hispanic) community," said Antonio Bernabe, an organizer with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles who joined the rally in Washington a week ago.

Pressure on Obama, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, also comes from residents in south Texas, who want an immediate halt to a controversial program to complete 670 miles of barriers along the Mexican border pushed by Napolitano's predecessor Michael Chertoff.

"The overwhelming majority of the population in south Texas is opposed to the wall and votes Democratic," said Scott Nicol, spokesman for the south Texas-based No Border Wall coalition, which wrote to Napolitano on inauguration day calling on the former Arizona governor to end construction of the wall.

"So if Obama values that constituency he needs to bring about some changes in the border policies," he added.


Divisions over immigration run deep in the United States. Hard-liners decry illegal immigrants as a drain on resources and want them rounded up and sent back to their countries of origins.

Obama backed a comprehensive immigration reform proposed by Bush two years ago, seeking tougher border security and a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants living in the shadows. The proposal was killed by Republicans in Congress.

Activists on both sides of the immigration debate say he would be unwise to reopen a divisive fight over immigration as the country sheds half-a-million jobs a month amid the worst recession in eight decades.

Opponents say Obama is unlikely to tackle comprehensive reform until the second or third year of his term. Advocates say he could raise the issue as early as September if a stimulus package currently before Congress succeeds in stemming the economic slide, and if progress meeting other policy goals such as healthcare reform is made.

"If there's some signs of additional recovery ... and there's movement on healthcare, the country may say '(decisive action) is exactly what we voted for,'" said Frank Sharry founder and executive director of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice. "He would be smart to bring up this issue."


Short of pushing comprehensive reform in coming months, analysts say Obama may seek cross-party support for piecemeal immigration legislation.

Among options are support for the so-called Ag Jobs bill, creating a guest worker program to fill some seasonal farm jobs, or backing for the Dream Act, which would allow high-achieving, undocumented high-school students to seek permanent residency in the United States.

A surer bet, analysts say, is for the administration to use its discretionary powers to bring about a low-key shift in enforcement policy.

Instead of going after undocumented migrants in workplace raids, the administration may increasingly target their unscrupulous employers, or ramp up the use of E-Verify -- an electronic employment verification system that allows employers to check the eligibility of new hires.

"What we can expect is support for things like E-Verify, and more prosecutions of employers, but less overall enforcement -- and particularly less going after illegal workers," said Steven Camarota, research director at the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies think-tank.

But with avowed support for additional border police, infrastructure and technology on the border, advocates seeking a halt to the construction of barriers on the Rio Grande may be disappointed.

"Whereas Obama said raids don't work in the campaign, he voted for the fence, and hasn't disavowed that vote," Sharry said.

(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas; editing by Anthony Boadle)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Money on the line: Business provides steel for border fence

Brownsville Herald
January 27, 2008
Kevin Sieff

The city of Los Fresnos, known for its rodeos, biannual Elvis festivals and small-town feel, is rarely embroiled in regional or national controversy. But with a local construction company now aiding in the construction of the border fence, the barrier has become a sudden, if unexpected, topic of conversation around town.

Just outside of Meyn Sandblasting, near the intersection of Highway 100 and Paredes Line Road, the metal beams, each more than 20 feet long, are piled high. Soon, they'll be transported to Granjeno, where the border fence is being built atop Hidalgo County's levee system.

Meyn Sanblasting, a 30-year-old family business, received a subcontract from Harlingen-based Ballenger Construction to provide the fence's beams and aid in the erection of the barrier.

Ballenger received a $21 million contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build the 1.76-mile Granjeno segment. Ballenger representatives could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

"With the economy the way it is, I'd be stupid to turn down the job," said Mike Meyn, the owner of Meyn Sandblasting.

Meyn wouldn't disclose how much the contract is for, but said he expected the fence to be a boon to the local economy. Despite his mixed feelings about the fence, Los Fresnos Mayor David Winstead agrees.

"I'm not happy about the way they're doing it," Winstead said, "but somebody has to provide material, and it might as well drop into the community."

But some local residents don't want their city to be at all associated with the project.

Armando Drocio might be unemployed, he said, but working on the border fence is not what he considers a respectable job.

"We're all brothers," he said, while searching for jobs at the city's public library. "We should be investing in something else."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling told the Associated Press that 601 miles of the 700-mile project along the U.S.-Mexico border had been completed as of a week ago. Sixty-nine miles of the fence - including a stretch of about 40 miles in the Rio Grande Valley- still must be built along the border to meet the goal set during the Bush administration.
Most Valley residents are still unrelenting in their opposition to the fence, even as the project nears its completion.

"Sure, it will help the local economy," said Lynn Bassford, a Los Fresnos resident. "They'll have to hire people from the community (if and) when they tear the thing down."

Ballenger received $21 million to build the 1.76-mile Granjeno segment.

Fencing costs averaged $7.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing in 2008 - up from earlier estimates of $4 million per mile, according to the Government Accountability Office

There will be 70 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley

In Hidalgo County, the fence will be 18 feet tall.

Future of the border wall

Critics of a border wall hope President Obama will stop its construction. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.

US-Mexico border fence almost complete

Asocaited Press
January 27, 2009
Eileen Sullivan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is mostly finished.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling says that 601 miles of the project had been completed as of a week ago.

Easterling says 69 miles of the fence still must be built to meet the goal set during the Bush administration.

In December, then President-elect Barack Obama said he wanted to evaluate border security operations before he considers whether to finish building the fence under his administration.
Easterling said the Obama White House has not told Homeland Security to stop building the fence.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said a fence alone will not stop illegal immigration along the 2,000-mile border. About half of the fence has been built in Arizona, where Napolitano was governor.

The overall plan for security on the Southwest border — set by the Bush administration — includes additional Border Patrol agents, more enforcement of immigration laws, the fence and a high-tech "virtual fence" using surveillance technology.

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Napolitano said there is a role for fencing around urban areas. "It helps prevent those who are crossing illegally from blending immediately into a town population," Napolitano told senators.

Officials have said the border security improvements — like the fence — are working, and fewer people are trying to illegally cross from Mexico into the United States. Some of that can be attributed to economic woes and fewer jobs in the U.S.

The fence has been controversial since its inception and has faced several lawsuits, none successful so far.

Congress authorized the fence in 2005 to help secure the border and slow illegal immigration.
Lawmakers also gave the Homeland Security secretary the power to waive federal laws, such as environmental protections, when erecting the fence. Obama, as a senator, voted for the project.

Congress has set aside $2.7 billion for the fence since 2006. There's no estimate how much the entire system — the physical fence and the technology — will cost to build, let alone maintain.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks revived the immigration debate and advanced the idea of a border fence. Intelligence officials have said gaps along the Southwestern border could provide opportunities for terrorists to enter the country.

Boeing Co. has the contract for the technology portion of the fence, as well as for some construction work. The company's contract for the technology expires this year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nature Conservancy Fights Planned Border Fence

National Public Radio
January 26, 2009
John Burnett

The Department of Homeland Security has completed 90 percent of its controversial 670-mile border fence — most of the sections from California to western Texas. But the border barrier is running into opposition from conservationists in far southern Texas.

From the road there, it's not obvious there's much down to protect. The great river delta that comprises the southern tip of Texas, known as the lower Rio Grande Valley, is a vast patchwork of citrus orchards and vegetable fields, shopping centers and car lots.

Yet, down on the banks of the muddy, torpid Rio Grande, "It's a jungle," says Sonia Najera of The Nature Conservancy. "It's incredible wildlife and vegetation and habitat."

The Nature Conservancy owns the Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve — a thousand acres that include one of the largest remaining forests of native sabal palm. There, imperiled wildcats like the ocelot and jaguarundi still skulk through the underbrush. Birdwatchers come from around the world to check green jays, chachalacas and black-bellied whistling ducks off their life lists.

So last month, when the Department of Homeland Security announced its intention to erect an 18-foot tall, concrete-and-steel barrier for a mile through the preserve, the Nature Conservancy was not happy. Though the fence would be built on mainly nonforested land, conservationists worry it will sever the refuge.

"If the fence is constructed, it will trap three-quarters of the preserve between the fence and the river. That includes all of our facilities, includes the home of our preserve manager who lives there full-time," Najera says.

The conservancy has refused to accept the government's offer of $114,000 in compensation for the land under the fence. Now, Homeland Security has sued in federal court to force the sanctuary to let it build the barrier.

Other landowners, farmers and cities along the river also have said no to the fence. But a spokesperson with the federal agency says they've been able to work out a deal with most of the holdouts.

Dan Doty of the Border Patrol's Rio Grande sector says the new wall — though industrial in appearance — will be permeable and allow the passage of wildlife. He says people who live and work along the river will also be able to get through the wall by means of secure gates.

"The Rio Grande River is a beautiful resource. Our farmers depend on it, the communities here depend on it. Our goal is not to deny access to the river to anybody," Doty says.

The fence is part of border security measures mandated by Congress that include physical barriers, more agents and high-tech detection devices.

Though there's widespread skepticism among border residents as to whether the fence will do any good, the government reports that arrests of illegal crossers are down 19 percent since the fence went up — which it claims is significant, even accounting for the sour economy.

But conservationists remain concerned that a more secure border comes at a high price for habitat. The Nature Conservancy refuge is part of a 30-year effort to piece together public and private lands into a continuous wildlife corridor along the lower Rio Grande.

"Some estimates are that there's 1 percent of native natural land left along the river," says Betty Perez, a rancher and environmentalist in the area. "And the wall is fragmenting that."

The Nature Conservancy is hoping that the new Obama administration may consider alternatives to the final stages of the border barrier.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Environmentalists: $50M unable to mitigate border fence

Brownsville Herald
January 21, 2009

The federal government allocated $50 million last week to minimize the adverse environmental impact of the border fence - a measure that came just two weeks after the government sued one of Brownsville's largest nature preserves in order to begin work on the barrier.

Environmentalists in South Texas and beyond call the government's attempt at mitigation inadequate, pointing out that it might not aid fragile habitats outside of federal jurisdiction.

"Because we're not owned by the federal government, this money isn't for us," said Sonia Najera, South Texas Program Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, which owns Brownsville's Lennox Southmost Preserve.

At the Southmost Preserve and the Sabal Palm Audubon Center - two preserves that will be bisected by the fence - officials see a simple solution: keep the barrier off environmentally sensitive land.

"The damage already done to the borderland's natural and cultural resources is dramatic," said Michael Degnan, the Sierra Club's associate Washington representative. "Border walls have caused devastating floods in communities and have bisected critical wildlife corridors."
But unlike wildlife corridors in Arizona, most of the Lower Rio Grande Valley is still unscathed by fencing.

Environmentalists hoped that once President Barack Obama took office, plans to build fencing along the Rio Grande Valley's wildlife corridor would be derailed.

But a spokesperson for Obama told TIME Magazine that the president supports the fence "as long as it is one part of a larger strategy on border security that includes more boots on the ground and increased use of technology."

If Obama chooses not to halt construction in the Rio Grande Valley, both Brownsville preserves will be situated in a no-man's land south of the fence. The Sabal Palm Audubon Center has announced that its doors will close after more than 37 years if the fence is constructed. For Southmost Preserve, it's a "wait- and-see" situation, officials said.

"I was surprised by (the Obama administration's statement)," said Najera. "Why are we spending so much money to construct the fence without trying other measures that would have less of an environmental impact?"

A portion of the newly allocated $50 million will likely be spent in the Valley to restore or recreate the habitats of native species, according to Rick Schultz, the U.S. Department of the Interior's national borderland coordinator.

But the mitigation efforts are aimed at compensating for the impacts to resources "managed, protected or under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior," according to federal documents. That stipulation leaves Brownsville's privately owned preserves with little consolation, Najera said.

"I wasn't happy about that," she said. "But the fence hasn't been constructed here yet. There's still hope in Cameron County."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Opponents of the Border Fence Look to Obama

January 21, 2009

Federal bureaucrats call it the "border fence." The residents along the Texas-Mexico border say it's a wall echoing the Cold War. And south of the Rio Grande, Governor Humberto Moreira of the Mexican state of Coahuila has dubbed it a "wall of hate." But no matter what the controversial barrier being constructed between Mexico and the U.S. is called, the $1.6 billion, 670-mile-long first phase is close to completion as President Barack Obama enters office.

And for Obama, who voted for the border-fence bill back in 2006, the barrier may be best described as a big potential headache. Opponents are already appealing to him to halt construction and re-evaluate the project. But so far, the new Administration has given no indication that it is seriously considering doing so. While it has said it will make comprehensive immigration reform a priority, a spokesperson told TIME that Obama supports the fence "as long as it is one part of a larger strategy on border security that includes more boots on the ground and increased use of technology."

This, despite repeated pleas from border Democratic officeholders, residents with family and business ties on both sides of the river, and conservationists who fear their 30-year effort to string parcels of land into a necklace of treasured preserves for native fauna and flora will be destroyed as the acreage ends up in a riverside no-man's-land. On Wednesday, Obama's first day in office, advocates of immigration reform are holding a rally in Washington in which a multisectarian group of religious leaders will give the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Building a ritualistic cleansing to highlight the call to end workplace immigration raids and the construction of the border fence. (See pictures of the fence between the U.S. and Mexico.)

A map on the home page of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website shows the daily progress of the border-fence construction — green for completed, yellow for under construction and red for planned. There is a line of green and yellow for the 693-mile border between Mexico and the states of California, Arizona and New Mexico. The colors turn to red on the far western and eastern edges of the 1,241-mile Mexico-Texas border. In between, there are just small patches of red, since only 110 miles of Texas border fence are planned in the initial stage.
But those 110 miles have proved the most problematic for the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with overseeing the project. While much of the U.S. land on the border west of Texas is held by the Federal Government or large landowners, the projects planned for Texas involve negotiating with a hodgepodge of cities, private landowners, tribal lands, farmers and conservationists.

"It's a sorry piece of work," says Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass, Texas. Foster chairs the Texas Border Coalition, a group of cities, landowners, nonprofit conservation groups and Native American tribal communities that has sued the Federal Government to block construction in some areas. Plans in Eagle Pass, some 500 miles east of El Paso, call for the wall — now about 30% complete — to cross a municipal golf course. Initially, the city welcomed the idea of stadium lights on the bluff overlooking the city and the construction of a decorative fence, but when the plans were revealed, the wall-like barrier prompted community opposition. "One size doesn't fit all," insists Foster, whose community of some 50,000 people has close business ties to neighboring Piedras Negras, a city three times the size of its U.S. neighbor. He has pressed for a variety of alternative approaches, including the use of sensors to detect illegal movement and the eradication of "Carrizo cane" — an invasive, nonnative, tall river weed that provides easy hiding places along the riverbanks.

Meanwhile, south of the river, Moreira is planning a "green wall" of 400,000 tress along a 217-mile stretch of the border as a symbol of Mexico's protest. The green wall will provide sanctuary for the deer and other animals that normally cross to and fro between the two countries, Foster says. A confirmed supporter of President Bush, Foster believes that Bush, as governor, shared a widely held view in the region that Texas has a symbiotic relationship with Mexico. "I feel let down. I see the President as a fixer," Foster says. He believes "weighty issues" like Iraq distracted Bush, while national media voices like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and CNN's Lou Dobbs have fanned national sentiment on the border fence. "I am optimistic that with border governors like Governor [Janet] Napolitano, Obama is getting people in the Cabinet who understand the border," Foster says. (See who's who in Barack Obama's White House.)

But for Texas conservationists, any shift may come too late, according to Laura Huffman, state director of the Texas Nature Conservancy. In the last week of 2008, the Department of Homeland Security sued the conservancy in a condemnation proceeding involving the Lennox Southmost Preserve, a 1,000-acre parcel that is just that — southmost — where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. The preserve, bought in 1999 by the conservancy for $2.5 million, is home to a rare grove of native sabal palms through which endangered ocelots and rare jaguarundi roam.

The Federal Government has condemned a narrow strip of land about 60 ft. wide and 6,000 ft. long running across the preserve and has offered to compensate the nonprofit with a $114,000 payment. The fence will effectively place 800 acres of the peninsula south of the wall, including equipment sheds, management offices and the preserve's on-site warden's home. Several small, organic farm plots leased to locals will also be in the no-man's-land. A similar fate is facing an adjoining sabal plam preserve owned by the Audubon Society. Huffman fears that the endangered palms, prized as garden totems, will be susceptible to poachers.

The preserve is just one of several linked along the river that attract visitors from all around the world, particularly bird watchers — last April, the sighting of a rare South American fork-tailed flycatcher, not seen in the area since 1879, attracted more than 2,000 visitors. "What's sad is, this threatens the effort, the partnership — public, private and nonprofits — that has worked together in this area," Huffman says. The wall may shatter a three-year, $100 million effort to restore habitats and preserve vital native species, she says.

The conservancy plans to pursue all legal remedies, including joining this month's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by the border coalition group to strike down Homeland Security's waiver of 32 federal, state, local and tribal environmental rules in order to construct the fence — a power granted by Congress when the agency was established in the aftermath of 9/11. The department does not comment on the 300-plus lawsuits making their way through the courts. In visits to the region, Homeland Security Chairman Michael Chertoff has said the numerous lawsuits have slowed progress, but 90% to 95% of the initial 670 miles will either be completed or have had ground broken as Bush leaves office.

As for opponents in Brownsville, on the eastern end of the Texas-Mexico border, they plan a symbolic retirement party for Chertoff this week complete with piñatas and mariachi music.
Even an 11th-hour announcement by the Bush Administration promising $50 million in mitigation projects to address environmental and cultural issues in sensitive areas, including tribal lands, has not impressed opponents and is likely to be reviewed by the incoming Administration.

"The wall will surely hurt American interests all across the Americas for a whole generation," wrote State Representative Elliott Shapleigh, a Democrat and a fifth-generation El Pasoan, in a recent Op-Ed. "Is it too much too soon to ask that this wall come down or is it the right thing to do at the right time in history? If not now, when? If not under President-elect Barack Obama, then who?"

Watch a video of Texans fighting the border fence.,8599,1872650,00.html

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Border-fence lights worry astronomers

Green Valley News and Sun
April 5, 2007

Astronomers in Southern Arizona and elsewhere in the Southwest have a new worry — possible light pollution from planned border fences and walls.

Boeing Co. is designing a 28-mile “virtual fence” near Sasabe on the border southwest of Green Valley.

Dan Brocious, spokesman for the Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins, said there has been talk of “stadium lights” in some border areas.

Astronomers are always concerned that man-made lights will diminish the night’s darkness when telescopes are trained upward.

“It’s not just here that more border lighting is a concern,” said Brocious.

He named several observatories that could be affected, including Kitt Peak on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, the new binocular telescope at Mount Graham, an Iowa State observatory at Elgin, the Guillermo Haro observatory at Cananea, Mexico, and others in Texas and California.

He said there is a lot of “glary, sidewise light” in the San Diego-Tijuana area.Brocious said astronomers have had good relations with the Border Patrol, but sometimes they request it to keep their lights pointed down, not sideways or up.

Besides the professional observatories there are several smaller, private observatories, including ones at Patagonia Lake and in the Sonoita area.

Brocious is frequently asked to talk about light pollution. When the new Wal-Mart Center was being developed he spoke against a proposal to exceed Pima County’s county’s lighting limits on the parking lot.

The International Dark-Sky Association is devoted to preserving the cloak of night-time darkness.Last September Boeing won a $67 million contract to build a high-tech virtual fence.

“What we are looking to build is a 21st century virtual fence” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.Other estimates on the cost of a 700-mile virtual fence run to $2 billion.The first phase, near Sasabe, will take three years to install.

Chertoff said because the topography along the border changes from place to place, “We don’t want to lock ourselves” into any one technology.Brocious said he hopes the virtual fence will rely on infrared light and other less-instrusive technology such as night scopes and sensors.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Border Plan Will Address Harm Done at Fence Site

New York Times
January 16, 2009

LOS ANGELES — The federal government has pledged millions of dollars to make up for the environmental damage from building hundreds of miles of fences along the Mexican border through wilderness and protected lands.

But environmental groups who have fought the fence called it too little, too late.

In an announcement on Thursday, federal officials said the new spending was intended to resolve any conflict in the missions of the Departments of Homeland Security and Interior. The former is building nearly 670 miles of fences and other security equipment along the border, while the latter is charged with protecting and maintaining several hundred miles of public lands along the fence.

The officials said the Homeland Security Department would devote up to $50 million in the next year for “reasonable mitigation measures” to compensate for the damage or loss of animal and plant habitat and cultural areas like American Indian religious sites.

That compensation could include modifying the fence to curb flooding and to accommodate threatened and endangered species or restoring their habitats, but officials have not worked out those details and it will vary depending on the area.

The Interior Department will draft a list of priorities by June.

The agreement between the two departments has been in the works since April, when the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to the dismay of environmentalists and some scientists in the Interior Department, used his Congressionally authorized power to waive environmental laws to speed access to broad swaths of land.

At the time, in the face of an outcry from critics, Mr. Chertoff said the fence construction would proceed but with sensitivity to the environment and in coordination with the Interior Department.

Homeland security officials said the department had spent about $40 million in the past two years to address environmental problems associated with the border security project.

The fence construction and related roads and equipment for detecting illegal border crossers directly affect 200 to 300 miles of Interior Department land along the fence route and some of the most environmentally sensitive sites in the region.

With the promise of new spending coming just days before President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Tuesday, it was unclear on Friday to what extent the agreement would stick.

Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, a Democrat whom Mr. Obama has chosen to head the Homeland Security Department, has not publicly taken a position on Mr. Chertoff’s use of the waivers, a spokeswoman said.

But Ms. Napolitano has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the fence. On Thursday, she told a Senate committee considering her nomination that she planned a broad and thorough review of the department’s policies.

Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for the Obama transition office, said, “President-elect Obama will review all 11th-hour regulations and will address them once he is president.”

Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, the agency within the Homeland Security Department that will decide how to spend the $50 million, said transition officials were consulted on the agreement and took no position. But Mr. Easterling expressed optimism that it would go forward.

“Good environmental stewardship,” he said, “is transcendental of administrations.”

Environmental groups who challenged the fence construction, including an effort to have the Supreme Court block it, said dozens of species had suffered lost or damaged habitat. Among them, they say, are jaguars, ocelots, deer, javelinas and owls.

The environmental groups said that although steps to minimize the environmental harm of the fence were welcome, they would press the new administration to halt further fence building and reassess what had been done.

“We heard in Janet Napolitano’s remarks this week interest in evaluating this project, and that certainly is what the Sierra Club is asking for,” said Oliver Bernstein, a spokesman for that group in Texas. “This $50 million is too little, too late, but it is recognition that the border wall project is having tremendous environmental consequences.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

$50 million promised to soften border fence impact

Associated Press
January 15, 2009

McALLEN, Texas — The Department of Homeland Security will allocate as much as $50 million for projects to mitigate the environmental impact of the border fence.

The agency signed an agreement with the Department of the Interior on Wednesday to set aside those funds for projects that Interior determines will blunt or begin to make up for the environmental damage caused by the fence.

"Today's signing of this memorandum of agreement demonstrates that our commitment is not only words, but actual resources which have been set aside to allow DOI to mitigate the impact of our border security efforts in environmentally sensitive areas," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham said in a statement released Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security includes Customs and Border Protection, which is overseeing the fence project.

The environmental consequences of building 670 miles of pedestrian fence and vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border sparked some of the hottest opposition to the project.

"It's about time," said Julie Hillrichs, spokeswoman for the Texas Border Coalition, a group of politicians and business leaders opposed to the fence. "DHS officials finally got around to doing what the Texas Border Coalition has been asking them to do for at least six months. We support it completely."

Matt Clark, southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said he expected the projects to target threatened and endangered species most affected by the fence.

"It demonstrates goodwill on the part of both agencies," Clark said. "We see this as a down payment; $50 million will not come close to fixing the damage caused by the wall. Some of these impacts may not be able to be offset."

On April 1, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used authority granted by Congress to waive a host of environmental protection laws sparking howls of opposition and lawsuits. At that time, Chertoff promised the agency would be a good environmental steward even while the change allowed speedier construction of the fence.

In place of the established environmental impact statements that require a long list of extensive studies into potential project impacts, the agency developed its own Environmental Stewardship Plans.

The plan released for the Rio Grande Valley, for example, noted that government contractors would clear about 508 acres of land in the lower Valley. The plan also acknowledged that the fence "will likely impact wildlife movement, access to traditional water sources, and potential for gene flow" because some of the species cross the border into Mexico to mate.

Seventeen of the 21 fence sections in the Valley will affect wildlife management areas or national wildlife refuges, 14 of them directly.

The Department of Interior must give DHS its list of proposed projects by June 1.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hopelessness: DHS works to aquire land for border fence

Brownsville Herald
January 14, 2009

Although the border fence will run through Hope Park in downtown Brownsville, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not have possession of the land yet, officials said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling said Wednesday that Hope Park is included in the three-mile area where the fence will be constructed, but the DHS is still in litigation regarding land within in the park.

"We don't yet have possession of the land in the Hope Park area," Easterling said, adding, however, "It is in the planning segment."

Although no construction date has been scheduled, the cleaning of the area where the fence will be built is expected to begin soon.

County and city officials were notified earlier this week that the fence will run from an extension of Palm Boulevard to the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course, which is off River Levee Drive, and will go through Hope Park.

The notice sent to Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos, Brownsville Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. and the Texas Border Coalition is similar to one released two weeks ago in which county officials were notified that site preparations were to begin in eight areas of the county.

One of the areas included in that notice is the Riverbend Resort, where last week huge dump trucks could be seen traveling to and from the river levee, where 1.6 miles of the fencing will be constructed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

No More Hope: DHS issues notice to proceed with border fence at park

Brownsville Herald
January 13, 2009

It looks like hope has run out for Hope Park.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a notice to proceed with the construction of the border fence that includes Hope Park near the downtown area.

Local officials were notified Tuesday that a notice to proceed with the border fence project had been issued.

The fence will run from an extension of Palm Boulevard to the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course, which is off River Levee Drive, and will be in the areas of Hope Park near downtown Brownsville and the Gateway International Bridge, the notice reads.

Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said he didn't believe the land involved was county owned. He has often said that the DHS was going to move forward with the fence in the face of public opposition. Although the county had offered an alternative to the fence's construction plan, the DHS rejected its levee-fence proposal.

Brownsville Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. could not be reached for comment.

Although no actual construction date has been scheduled, the cleaning of the area where the fence will be built is expected to begin soon, the notice reads.

No other information was immediately available.

Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, could not be reached for comment.

The DHS news comes one day after Brownsville city officials agreed to join an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's waiver of state and local laws in order to build a fence along the border.

The notice is similar to one released two weeks ago in which county officials were notified that site preparations were to begin in eight areas of the county.

These areas include Nemo Road and Weaver's Mountain near Harlingen; west and east Los Indios; La Paloma; Ho chi Minh-Estero, also near Harlingen; and the Riverbend Resort Water Tower and the Public Utilities Board fence line in Brownsville.

Last week, huge dump trucks could be seen traveling to and from the river levee near the Riverbend Resort Water Tower on Highway 281, where 1.6 miles of the fencing will be constructed.

Joining Forces: Brownsville Joins El Paso County's Lawsuit Against DHS

Brownsville Herald
January 12, 2009

The City Commission joined other cities and counties throughout the U.S.-Mexico border in backing El Paso County in its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's waiver of state and local laws in order to build a wall along the border.

In joining the amicus brief, Brownsville and other affected cities and counties are not a party to the lawsuit, but are making the court aware that the issues before it also affect them.

The cities and counties noted that the waivers of state and local laws by a non-elected federal official of any statute that the officials sees fit in order to accomplish a given goal " . . . raise profound, unanswered questions . . ."

The commission majority voted Monday to join the brief under the understanding that the deadline to join is today. If not, the issue would be presented to the full commission at a future meeting.

But following the commission's special meeting Monday, Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. said that he was "ecstatic" that the commissioners present, Anthony Troiani and Edward Camarillo, approved his request. Commissioner Charlie Atkinson abstained while remaining commissioners were not present.

"This gives us one more opportunity to come together as a commission and community and oppose the border wall," Ahumada said. "Brownsville has nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining the brief."

Atkinson said he abstained because he was not sure what all the information entailed.

"It was put to us pretty quick," Atkinson said, adding that he would have hoped for a week's notice.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Security snub?

The Monitor
January 10, 2008

Local law enforcement leaders said Friday they knew little of a federal plan that would create a "surge" of civilian and military force along the border, should Mexican drug violence overflow into the United States.

Frequent reports of widespread murders and kidnappings in Mexico prompted Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to order the contingency plan last summer in case that activity spread north, a department spokeswoman said.

But local and federal law enforcement agents operating in the Rio Grande Valley seem to have been left out of the strategy's planning stages.

"Nobody on the border even knows about this," Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said. "It's not like we're living in the Wild West and people are killing each other left and right. I am almost sure (Chertoff) didn't consult any local law enforcement to develop that evaluation."

The plan - first reported Thursday in The New York Times - would be activated only if needed by local authorities, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

"We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge ... capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with," the Defense Department, Chertoff told the Times.


Suspected drug cartel violence claimed more than 5,300 lives across Mexico last year, according to that country's authorities.

Mexican border cities across from the Valley had their share of cartel-related violence and arrests during 2008, but not to the same degree as cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where killings and kidnappings became a part of daily life.

For about a year, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has directed military troops to patrol cities across his country to combat the violence.

The Homeland Security contingency plan follows the same model used during other times of crisis, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters, and calls for the deployment of additional federal agents or military personnel to the border should local law enforcement request it, department officials said.

Federal law prevents the military from taking over law enforcement duties on U.S. soil without Congressional approval.

"The plan doesn't supersede any authorities," DHS spokeswoman Kudwa said. "At this point, local authorities have had the situation in hand."

But Treviño said he sees the plan as an attempt by the federal government to interfere with local law enforcement.

"It is obvious it is an attempt to meddle in state and local problems, and I don't think it's his job," he said of the Homeland Security secretary.


Parts of the plan have already been activated, Kudwa said, without giving specifics.
But some local federal agents - speaking on background - said they had not even heard of it.

Homeland Security policymakers in the nation's capital "hardly ever consult with local police forces," said Tony Payan, a border violence expert and professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, across the border from Juarez.

"It is very typical for Washington, D.C., to determine what the security threat is - sometimes misguidedly - and then to come up with a plan that may be detached from reality," he said.
Department officials did talk to state leaders about the strategy, however.

Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, told The Associated Press that state officials were briefed on the plan but were not consulted beforehand about a strategy to fight Mexican drug cartels on the 1,254-mile border the country shares with Texas.

State leaders have their own specific security plans for each area of the Texas border, should violence from Mexico become an issue.

Cesinger declined to detail those plans Friday.


But the controversial border violence contingency plan could be up for review as soon as Chertoff steps down from his post in less than two weeks.

President-elect Barack Obama has nominated Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to succeed Chertoff as the Homeland Security secretary. Her confirmation hearings are set to begin in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

Obama, meanwhile, is set to meet with Calderón on Monday to discuss the drug war and immigration issues.

Should Napolitano be confirmed, she would likely change how the department handles border security issues, Payan said.

For Sheriff Treviño, that may be a silver lining.

"We will not have to worry about Mr. Chertoff and this ridiculous plan of his after the 20th" of January, he said.

Feds have plan if Mexico drug violence spills over

Associated Press
January 10, 2008

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — If Mexican drug violence spills across the U.S. border, Homeland Security officials say they have a contingency plan to assist border areas that includes bringing in the military.

"It's a common sense extension of our continued work with our state, local, and tribal partners in securing the southwest border," DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said Friday.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who described the contingency plan in an interview with The New York Times this week, said he ordered specific plans to be drawn up this summer as violence in Mexico continued to mount.

The plan includes federal homeland security agents helping local authorities and maybe even military assistance from the Department of Defense, possibly including aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to go to areas overwhelmed with violence, authorities said.

Kudwa would not give specifics on the so-called "surge" plan, but said it does not create any new authorities.

In the last year, more than 5,000 people have been killed and police and military officials have become common targets for violent drug cartels who are fighting with each other and the government for control of lucrative drug and human smuggling routes across Mexico.

More than one-fifth of the deaths have occurred in Ciudad Juarez, the hardscrabble border city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

Officials in Mexico reported about 1,600 homicides in Juarez in 2007 and at least 20 people have been killed in the first nine days of this year.

To date, there has been no significant violent spillover from the drug war in Mexico, but U.S. authorities have spent a tense year watching and waiting.

In October, Hidalgo County officials issued fully automatic weapons to deputies patrolling the river in the Rio Grande Valley. Sheriff Lupe Trevino also authorized his deputies to return fire across the border if smugglers or other criminals took aim at them.

In El Paso, the country's largest border community and one of the safest metropolitan areas in the nation, Sheriff Richard Wiles said that while he doesn't anticipate the city or county being overwhelmed by border violence he applauded the DHS plan to quickly respond if the worst should happen.

"I think it's appropriate for the federal government to have a contingency plan all the way up to the worst case scenario," Wiles said.

The contingency plan was news to most border states.

"At this point, DHS has not contacted the California National Guard to bring any forces ... to support first responders, i.e. (U.S.) Border Patrol, at the border in California," California National Guard spokesman Jonathan Guibord said Friday.

He said National Guard officials in California know only "what's been publicized" about the plan, but added that state military officials routinely train and prepare to respond to any order from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or the president.

Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said Texas officials were briefed on the plan but were not consulted beforehand about a plan to fight Mexican drug cartels on the 2,000-mile U.S. border, more than half of which is in Texas.

Cesinger said the state has its own specific security plans for each area of the Texas border should violence from Mexico become an issue. She declined to give specifics of those plans.

Officials with New Mexico's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said they are in constant contact with federal Homeland Security officials but weren't aware of any specific security plan that could include Department of Defense assets.

"We haven't seen a specific operational plan for a specific region or specific threat. The use of Defense Department resources ... would have to be an extreme situation," said Tim Manning, the New Mexico Homeland Security director.

Homeland Security officials did not respond to questions about which local or state agencies were notified about the surge plan.

El Paso border fence 80% completed, feds say

El Paso Times
January 10, 2009

EL PASO -- The U.S. border fence in the El Paso region is about 80 percent finished, and the rest should be done within a few weeks, officials said.

The fence -- part of the Customs and Border Protection's Secure Border Initiative -- was supposed to be completed by the end of December, said Lloyd Easterling, spokesman at the Border Patrol's national office in Washington.

"We didn't meet our earlier goal," he said, "but that part of the fence will be finished as soon as possible, within a few weeks, and within budget."

The U.S. government awarded contracts to several vendors for 45.62 miles of fence, from El Paso's northwest side to the Fort Hancock border crossing, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth.

As of Jan. 2, 34.67 miles of fence had been completed as far as the Rio Bosque Park in the Lower Valley, where a fence protester was arrested last month.

Due to the varied terrain, the fencing is not continuous, and some parts of the border don't have fencing.

Easterling said $172 million for the fence and technology was allocated in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and additional $775 million was requested to pay for the initiative in the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

"A couple of attempts to breach the new fence were reported, but they were unsuccessful," said Doug Mo sier, spokesman for the Border Patrol-El Paso sector. "We have contractors who will make repairs if the fence is ever damaged."

When the project is finished, Border Patrol officials will have a total of 670 miles of fence to help them safeguard the El Paso-area border against illegal immigration, terrorists and drug-traffickers, the officials said.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at; 546-6140

Ancient village found on U.S.-Mexico border

'Gateway community' uncovered during preparations for fence

Sierra Vista Herald
January 9, 2009

TUBAC — The construction of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007 led to the find of a prehistoric village east of the San Pedro River.

Some of those findings were presented Thursday evening to the Tubac/Santa Cruz County Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society. Twenty people attended the event.“The San Pedro is a special place,” said archaeologist Maren Hopkins, the project director.

Hopkins said the village was probably the biggest data recovery project that she has directed. The 27-year-old has been digging for 10 years in many places in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.

Evidence found at the “Upper San Pedro Village” indicates that it was a crossroads, or a type of “gateway community,” said Hopkins, who works for Northland Research Inc., which has offices in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson.

“It’s sort of an area that’s on the periphery of a lot of other areas that we do understand,” Hopkins said. “It’s a peripheral site to the Tucson Basin … it’s peripheral to all these areas. So these people were kind of a mix of people. It was frontier then, just like it is now.”

The village is believed to have existed from around A.D. 700 to 1200, Hopkins said, based on ceramics analysis. There appear to be some Hohokam characteristics, but it is yet uncertain exactly who lived there.

Archaeologists found 23 pit houses, 14 possible pit houses, 97 thermal pits, a number of storage pits, five dog burials and 69 human burials. As is customary in this region, the human remains have all been repatriated to the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation.There was an interesting artifact found at the site that Hopkins had not seen before. She calls it a “stone jaw bone.” It has a serrated edge, and she firmly believes it was used for scraping animal hides. Several of these implements were found at the site, which also yielded “more deer bone than I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.

Westland was contracted to do archaeological work for the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers and the U.S. Department Homeland Security so the agencies could comply with federal archaeological laws. In October 2007, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pushed ahead with the fence, winning federal court approval of his waiving of environmental restrictions.

“It is a sensitive subject,” Hopkins said of the border politics.

She told the Tubac archaeology society how complicated her work was because of the numerous government and private agencies involved. Those included ranchers on the U.S. and Mexican sides, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Arizona National Guard, just to name a few.She described how one time “the No. 2 guy” from Homeland Security flew to the San Pedro River archaeological site in a Black Hawk helicopter and asked the scientists, “Are you OK?”

At that moment, some of the nearby Mexican ranchers were delivering a plateful of delicious tacos, which the archaeologists had become accustomed to. The Homeland Security official asked, “Are they bugging you?” The archaeologists answered, “No.”

Hopkins did say there was genuine concern for archaeologists’ safety when they were working in the notoriously-violent smuggling corridor of Altar Valley.

But, overall, the archaeologists had to deal with multiple jurisdictions and a lot of curious people. “We just had people around us all the time,” she said.

Mexican archaeologists were among the interested parties, and their American counterparts are collaborating with them as always, Hopkins said.

One restriction posed by the U.S. government was that the archaeologists could only dig 5 feet deep, because that was as far as they were digging for the fence’s footers. Below that depth, “The archaeology, I guarantee, keeps going,” Hopkins said.

On another axis, the archaeologists were allowed to dig to a limit of 60 feet wide. That dimension related to President Theodore Roosevelt’s 60-foot-wide easement running the length of the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Texas. The “Roosevelt Reservation” was created “for the purpose of homeland security,” Hopkins said.

This “stripping” method of archaeology, done mainly by backhoe, ultimately extended for three-tenths of a mile and excavated 7,500 tons of soil from three-fourths of an acre.

The site has been reburied. Hopkins has not been back there for many months.“There’s a fence there now,” she said.

Herald/Review City Editor Ted Morris can be reached at 515-4614 or by e-mail at

Friday, January 9, 2009

Security Shift

Tucson Weekly
January 8, 2009

More than seven years after Sept. 11, its echoes still ring along the U.S-Mexico line.
They linger amidst the powerfully symbolic and hugely destructive border fence, among shifting strategies against illegal immigration, and sprinkled throughout nervous whispers in the borderland night. Although nearly a continent away from Ground Zero, this region has become an amplifier of America's anxiety.

It can also be argued that Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, has maximized that paranoia to push laws giving him unprecedented power. Foremost among them is the REAL ID Act of 2005, which allows the secretary to waive all environmental laws when building barriers and other security infrastructure along the border.

But as administrations change, many wonder whether a corresponding shift will occur within the Department of Homeland Security. Among the certainties is that Chertoff will soon be out of a job; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will likely succeed him. Assuming that she's confirmed by the Senate, there's plenty of speculation about whether she'll pursue a change in border policy.

There are a few teasers. For one, Napolitano is no fan of the border fence. "You show me a 50-foot wall," she famously remarked in 2005, "and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border."
She boasts more direct experience with border issues than Chertoff, and shares a working relationship with key Mexican officials, including Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours. Finally, she has not been tarnished by the Bush administration's legacy of sacrificing civil rights on behalf of security.

But Napolitano does inherit an agency that's still a work in progress. In 2003, the newly created department swallowed up 22 separate agencies, from the Border Patrol and the U.S. Customs Service to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It now has approximately 180,000 employees and an annual budget of about $50 billion.

Not surprisingly, the DHS also inherited all the problems of its agency stepchildren. Among them is fiscal mismanagement; according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the DHS has failed to ensure that public funds are "being spent wisely, efficiently and effectively."

Meanwhile, specific areas within the department have gone through drastic changes--and none more so than the U.S. Border Patrol, now part of DHS under the division of Customs and Border Protection. Once a sleepy agency, the Border Patrol has grown from 4,000 agents in 1993 to nearly 18,000 today.

Meanwhile, there have been plenty of failures. Top among them is Project 28, a $20.6 billion, high-tech surveillance program developed by Boeing that suffered serious glitches when unveiled near Sasabe, Ariz.

What is the future of these programs, and overall border policy, under a President Obama?
While many longtime border watchers predict a shifting course on the U.S.-Mexico border, Peter Andreas is not among them. A professor of political science and international studies at Brown University, he's author of Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide.

"For better or worse, the border is one area where I don't anticipate enormous change, in terms of border-control strategy, or the deployment of new agents," he says. "I also don't think immigration reform is going to be one of the first things on the new administration's to-do list.
And that is the thing that would potentially have the greatest impact."

Andreas says the signals are clear. "Notice, for example, that immigration was a nonissue in the presidential campaign," he says. "Frankly, Obama and (John) McCain didn't have much to disagree on--immigration policy, the border, drug control, border security in general--it was just not an issue of contention between the two camps.

"It wasn't something that Obama's people actually highlighted as something they were going to bring to the table. And that was before the economy tanked. So now, as you can imagine, the priorities have shifted even more toward this not being a top priority. 'It's all about the economy, stupid.'"

Ironically, the same economic downturn is believed to be largely responsible for plummeting immigration rates. According to Border Patrol figures, agents apprehended 705,000 illegal crossers from Mexico in fiscal year 2008--the lowest rate since 675,000 people were caught in 1976.

Secretary Chertoff has been quick to claim credit for those stats. In a speech last month at Georgetown University, he credited his department for a "collapse in the number of people who come across the border illegally."

"Two years ago, I don't think people had any belief that it would be possible within the remainder of this administration to stop, let alone begin to reverse, the tide of illegal immigration," Chertoff said. "But we have done that. Thanks to measures we've taken at the border and our record-breaking apprehensions in the interior ... we see a shift in illegal immigration."

While Secretary Chertoff credits the border fence, the increased prosecution of crossers and the beefed-up Border Patrol ranks for this decline, Andreas does not. Instead, he says there should be little surprise "that there would be reductions in Mexican migration to the U.S., due partly to the substantial contraction of the U.S. economy." By contrast, "part of the boom in migrant smuggling over the last decade and a half reflects a booming U.S. economy."

Whether or not that pattern continues, Andreas looks to the past in foretelling the future. Specifically, he suggests that conservatives will continue using illegal immigration as a potent political weapon.

"I would anticipate that this will be Clinton administration déjà vu in terms of the border and immigration policy," he says. "So to the extent that the right was using immigration as a tool to bash the Clinton administration, I don't see any reason why that would not be true in an Obama administration.

"The border profile of the Obama administration will not look all that different from Clinton in that regard. Of course, the only difference is that border-control issues are now more of a 'hard-security' issue, post-Sept. 11. It's more of a general homeland-security issue rather than specifically just a U.S.-Mexico issue."

In turn, President Bush "took the model developed under Clinton for border enforcement, added more resources to it, and politicized it through the border-fence proposal. Then he attempted--but failed--to bring about immigration reform."

So what's the final prognosis if Napolitano takes the reins at DHS? "I assume that she'll be an aggressive advocate for prioritizing border security," Andreas says. "It's just that in the immediate realm of competing issues, it's certainly not a top priority."

Construction workers busted with 600 pounds of pot

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
January 9, 2008

McALLEN, Texas — Three construction workers for the company building part of the border fence and an international trade bridge to Mexico remained in a South Texas jail Friday after they were caught with nearly 600 pounds of marijuana.

Alberto Montiel, Ruben Vela and Rolando Flores, all of eastern Hidalgo County, were arrested Wednesday at a Burger King not far from the Rio Grande, said Mission Police Sgt. Jody Tittle.

Police received a tip that a van and an SUV were transporting drugs. A patrol in the area spotted the vehicles driving together and followed them into the Burger King parking lot. Through the windows in both vehicles police saw large bundles containing marijuana. In total, the 12 bundles weighed 596 pounds, Tittle said.

The drivers were wearing reflective vests and when asked, said they worked for Houston-based Williams Brothers Construction Co., Tittle said.

A receptionist at Williams Brothers in Houston said no one was available to comment late Friday.
The men were arrested close to the Anzalduas International Bridge project, which will cross the Rio Grande just west of Granjeno. The $20.2 million segment of border fence that Williams Brothers is building is in eastern Hidalgo County near Progreso.

All three men remained in the Hidalgo County Detention Center on Friday evening, each held in lieu of a $250,000 bond for drug possession. It was unknown whether they had lawyers.

Popular border spot won't be accessible

San Diego Union-Tribune
January 9, 2008

SOUTH COUNTY — Frequent visitors to Border Field State Park, along with park officials, are expressing surprise and dismay over a sudden reversal of plans by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that will result in the permanent closing of a popular cross-border meeting spot.

A secondary border fence running the length of the park to the ocean is being built 90 feet north of the existing fence that marks the U.S.-Mexico border.

Until recently, federal officials said the plan was to have a gate in the secondary fence allowing public access to a small area known as Friendship Park. That area surrounds a marble obelisk dating to 1851 that marks the point where the United States and Mexico agreed on a border after the Mexican War.

The area surrounding the monument, which is accommodated within a cutout in the existing steel-mesh fence, has long been a popular spot for families to gather and visit with relatives on the Mexican side.

At a meeting with Border Patrol officials Tuesday, Border Field State Park Superintendent Clay Phillips and several other attendees were informed that plans had changed.

“They told us that there would be no public access of any kind or any form,” Phillips said. “I can say I was surprised, since the Border Patrol had designed the project with a pedestrian gate and with a walkway to the monument, and at least verbally made some indication that there would be some kind of controlled public access.”

Until recently, state and federal officials had been working out the details of public access to a roughly 40-foot-wide space surrounding the monument.

Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Washington, D.C., said the change of heart came after federal officials concluded that it would be too difficult for agents to monitor a public gathering place between the two fences.

“It would be requiring our agents to constantly monitor interactions at the primary fence, watching for people passing small items back and forth,” Easterling said.

Easterling said that while visitors frequently pass innocuous items such as food back and forth through small openings, others pass fraudulent documents or drugs.

For those who hoped to return to Friendship Park once construction was finished in May, the reversal is a disappointment.

“I may be in denial. I am not willing to accept it quite yet,” said Daniel Watman, an organizer of Border Meetup, which has conducted yoga, surfing and other events at the fence to promote cultural interaction.

Easterling said that once the second fence is complete, there will be no access to the primary fence at the beach, either. Visitors to Border Field State Park will be able to see through the two fences into Mexico, but only people on the Mexican side will be able to access the monument.

Phillips said state parks officials are hoping there is a way to negotiate a middle ground that would allow some public access without compromising security.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

U.S. Plans Border ‘Surge’ Against Any Drug Wars

New York Times
January 7, 2009

The soaring level of violence in Mexico resulting from the drug wars there has led the United States to develop plans for a “surge” of civilian and perhaps even military law enforcement should the bloodshed spread across the border, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

Mr. Chertoff said the criminal activity in Mexico, which has caused more than 5,300 deaths in the last year, had long troubled American authorities. But it reached a point last summer, he said, where he ordered specific plans to confront in this country the kind of shootouts and other mayhem that in Mexico have killed members of warring drug cartels, law enforcement officials and bystanders, often not far from the border.

“We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge — if I may use that word — capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with” the Defense Department, Mr. Chertoff said in a telephone interview.

Officials of the Homeland Security Department said the plan called for aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to converge on border trouble spots, with the size of the force depending on the scale of the problem. Military forces would be called upon if civilian agencies like the Border Patrol and local law enforcement were overwhelmed, but the officials said military involvement was considered unlikely.

Mr. Chertoff has expressed concern in recent months about the violence in Mexico, but the contingency plan has not been publicly debated, and the department has made no announcement of it. Department officials said Mr. Chertoff had mentioned it only in passing.

Aides to members of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the department and has often clashed with Mr. Chertoff over his border policies, said Wednesday that they had heard little about the plan, though they welcomed it.

“We support almost anything to secure our border,” said Dena Graziano, a spokeswoman for the committee.

Mr. Chertoff said that he had advised Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to succeed him as homeland security secretary, that “I put helping Mexico get control of its borders and its organized crime problems” at the very top of the list of national security concerns.

Ms. Napolitano’s confirmation hearing begins next week. Her office denied requests for an interview.

In the wide-ranging interview with Mr. Chertoff, two weeks before he leaves office, he suggested that his controversial efforts to rapidly build a fence along nearly 700 miles of the Mexican border, as well as his bolstering the size of the Border Patrol, were part of the push to defend against drug violence, not just to control illegal immigration.

“That’s another reason, frankly, why I have been insistent on putting in the infrastructure and fencing and stuff like that,” he said. “Because I don’t want, God forbid, if there is ever a spillover of significance, to have denied the Border Patrol anything they need to protect the lives and safety of American citizens.”

He said the Border Patrol had reached a target of more than 18,000 agents by December, though some are still in training and not yet patrolling. Officials of the agents’ union contend that the rapid buildup, to a size double that of less than a decade ago, and the agency’s turnover have resulted in a largely inexperienced corps.

Fencing has gone up on 580 miles of the 2,000-mile border, short of the planned 661 miles, but Mr. Chertoff said he expected it to reach the final mark sometime in the coming months.
And though he said he regretted not seeking more advice initially from the Border Patrol on developing the “virtual fence,” the much-publicized and much-delayed system of cameras and sensors to supplement border personnel, Mr. Chertoff predicted that it would gain widespread use in the coming years.

Mr. Chertoff said the department’s efforts to increase enforcement at the border and conduct immigration raids at workplaces had led to the lowest level of illegal immigration in decades, though he acknowledged that the recession had also had an impact on the number of illegal border crossings.

He expressed no regret over the department’s tactics, often criticized by immigrants’ advocates as draconian and a cause of family separation, and disputed critics who suggest that the department is sprawling and in need of “reform.”

Mr. Obama used that word in introducing Ms. Napolitano and describing what she would bring to the job of overseeing a department created in 2003 out of 22 agencies and now employing more than 200,000 people, making it the third-largest cabinet-level department.

There has been speculation in Washington that the Obama administration will reinstate the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an independent body outside of the department.
But Mr. Chertoff said that as part of the Homeland Security apparatus, FEMA had redeemed itself after an admittedly poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He pointed to more recent disaster responses, including the generally praised federal reaction to Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast last summer.“What I would not do,” he said, “is start to monkey around with the major working parts, because that is only going to set us back.”

City Representative Denied Access To Rio Bosque Park

January 7, 2008

EL PASO, Texas -- City Rep. Eddie Holguin came to Rio Bosque park a few weeks ago to give some water to a group of people protesting the border fence, but he got stopped in his car here, and was told he couldn't go any farther.

"When I went out there, there were Border Patrol agent blocking access to the park, actually closed the gate, and basically told me that I couldn't go in," said Holguin.

Holguin said he had to get out of his car and walk for miles.

"I don't believe that anyone has authority to block access to a city park that city taxpayers are paying for," he said.

KFOX went looking for answers. We uncovered that while Rio Bosque Park is city property, the road into it is owned by the El Paso County Water Improvement District. But in November, Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers, through a court order, took control of the road.

"Allows the Corp of Engineers and Homeland Security, and their contractors to come in and out and travel that area to build the border fence," said Jesus Reyes, general manager of the El Paso County Water Improvement District.

The Army Corps of Engineers would not comment, saying it was an issue with Border Patrol and the water district. Upon uncovering this information, Border Patrol did not return KFOX's calls.

Before learning more about the road, Border Patrol officials said they were there on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). However, the IBWC has no control of the road, or the park.

"The court order does not allow Homeland Security to turn anybody away, unless they go into emergency situations there, and I am quite surprised that they would turn the city councilman away," said Reyes.

Holguin, weeks later, is still upset over the incident.

"I'm an elected official, I couldn't get to a park that I represent, how do they treat people that aren't elected officials?" Holguin told KFOX.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Aide: Border Patrol to build border fence at park

Associated Press / Mercury News
January 7, 2008

SAN DIEGO—The Border Patrol will close a popular park on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean to make way for a triple fence along the Mexican border, a legislative aide and activists said Wednesday.

The Border Patrol had been mum on whether Friendship Park would be affected by plans to erect more than 670 miles of barriers along the southern U.S. border. The park draws big crowds from both sides, where people chat through a chain-link fence separating Imperial Beach, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico. They exchange kisses, tamales, even communion wafers.

By May, the half-acre plaza inside Border Field State Park is expected to be gone, replaced by three fences separated by about 125 feet, according to Jonathan Hardy, an aide to state Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego.

Hardy said he attended a meeting on Tuesday in which Border Patrol agents, led by the San Diego sector chief Mike Fisher, told legislative aides and community activists that the agency will build the fence at the plaza, which was dedicated in 1971 by then-first lady Patricia Nixon.

He said officials showed them backhoes that had already begun breaking up the cement plaza to make way for a dirt patrol road that will be sandwiched between the fences.

A Border Patrol spokesman, Mark Endicott, said he was unaware of any decision on the park's fate. He said Fisher was unavailable to comment.

The fence will extend to the beach, where the border is now marked by tall poles with spaces big enough for adults to slip their arms through, said the Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist pastor who was also at the meeting.

"There will be no public access, it could not have been more absolute," said Fanestil, who has offered weekly communion through the chain-link fence. "Their language was that they were demolishing the plaza and then they'll reconstruct it with a road."

In November, U.S. Reps. Susan Davis and Bob Filner, both San Diego Democrats, and seven state and local elected officials wrote President-elect Barack Obama's transition team to urge that the park be kept open, calling it a powerful symbol of goodwill between the U.S. and Mexico. They are awaiting a response.

A spokesman for Davis, Aaron Hunter, said the Border Patrol's decision to close the park was disappointing.

"We have a new administration. This decision was made by an administration that's on its way out," he said.

On the park's Mexican side, there is also a cement plaza, which sits next to a bullring. One group holds cross-border yoga classes.

Parts of the 800-acre Border Field State Park will remain open, including equestrian trails, according to those who attended the meeting.

The park is next to "Smuggler's Gulch," a gorge that is being filled with nearly 1.9 million tons of dirt to make way for fencing. The area was overrun by illegal immigrants until U.S. authorities launched a crackdown in the 1990s that pushed people to remote mountains and deserts.

Border Patrol officials told the group Tuesday that drugs have been passed through the fence at Friendship Park and that the agency lacked resources to patrol the crowds, said Hardy, the legislative aide.

"In their mind, it's supposed to be a controlled, secure area," Hardy said. "They feel they don't have the manpower to allow large groups."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Community celebrates Chertoff’s departure

Brownsville Herald
January 5, 2008

Border communities from Tucson, Ariz. to Brownsville on Saturday will celebrate the end of Michael Chertoff's term as Homeland Security Secretary with piñatas, music and a retirement cake.

There's only one catch: Chertoff isn't invited.

Some of the secretary's most vocal critics will gather at Brownsville's Galeria 409, just a few yards from where the fence will be constructed, to commemorate what they consider Chertoff's disastrous tenure.

"This is not a protest disguised as a party - this is a party," said Scott Nicol, of the No Border Wall Coalition. "Chertoff has only been secretary for three years but he has managed to do a tremendous amount of damage. Texas will be glad to see him gone, and it can't come soon enough."

A group in El Paso will also host a Chertoff sendoff party on Jan. 10, which will include a border fence limbo.

But before groups celebrate Chertoff's departure, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will begin preparing for the fence's construction in Brownsville.

In a letter to Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. last week, DHS officials wrote that clearing and grubbing will begin in two city locations where the barrier will be erected - in the La Muralla area and on a stretch near River Bend Resort. The two segments total 5.2 miles.

Though the government's deadline to complete the project passed on Dec. 31, plans to build 17 miles of fencing in Brownsville remain unchanged.

"We're still headed toward our goal," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling. "The contracts that were awarded (in Cameron County) still stand."

Ahumada hopes to add the City of Brownsville to an amicus brief filed by the Texas Border Coalition expressing opposition to the fence. He'll broach the issue at the Jan. 6 City Commission meeting.

The border fence has made Chertoff a household name in South Texas, as DHS's influence has grown. Created in 2002, the department has become the third largest cabinet in the federal government, overseeing U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

(For more information on the Chertoff Retirement Parties in Brownsville and El Paso, go to: )

Monday, January 5, 2009

Friendship Park's intended purpose is lost in fog of border war

Los Angeles Times
January 5, 2008

There are just two weeks left in his presidency, but down in San Diego County the heavy machinery is grinding away at one last grand project from the administration of George W. Bush.

As The Times reported Sunday, your tax dollars are paying for contractors to move mountains of earth and make canyons disappear at the U.S.-Mexico border. New fences are rising and a no-man's land is being carved into the Earth.

By government decree, state and federal laws that might have slowed down the project -- including the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts -- have been suspended in the name of national security.

This hurried display of Pharaonic excess from the people who brought us the Iraq war won't make us much safer. It's another bit of overkill that's blind to the causes of illegal immigration. And it also happens to be killing a place called Friendship.

Friendship Park sits on a spot of California territory overlooking the beach where the border reaches the Pacific Ocean. In the early 1970s, President Nixon and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan established it as a symbol of international goodwill.

These days, contractors hired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have sealed off its picnic benches with hurricane fencing.

For three decades, the park has been property of the state of California and a cross-border meeting place. Fernando Orozco, a legal U.S. resident, biked there Sunday. He recently had his wallet and ID stolen, and the park is the only place where he can see his wife, Marta Ramos, a Mexican national. They embraced and kissed through the fence.

John Fanestil, a Methodist minister, is one of several activists who say they are determined to "use the park for its intended purpose." Even as the construction project marches toward the sea, Fanestil holds Communion at the fence every week, passing a chalice of wine over or through the barriers.

"There is no accountability and no check on the power of Homeland Security," he told me as we hiked to the fence. "What they're doing here is almost punitive."

Illegal border crossings at the park stopped being a major problem more than a decade ago -- that traffic moved inland, to the Sonoran Desert, after the Clinton administration's Operation Gatekeeper brought fences, cameras, floodlights and motion detectors to the area. But the current administration's determination to build ever-higher barriers has not flagged.

In November, two members of Congress, half a dozen state legislators and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi wrote to President-elect Obama's transition team asking that he "intervene to save Friendship Park."

But construction has continued. And on Sunday, Fanestil, 47, passed tortillas that doubled as Communion wafers through the border. Border Patrol agents had prevented him from climbing up to the bluff and his usual spot near the picnic benches, so he held the ceremony at the beach. "Just another day at Friendship Park," he said afterward.

A lot of history has unfolded on that spot of earth and sand, much of it reflecting the tortured and ambivalent relationship we have with our Spanish-speaking neighbor to the south.

On Oct. 10, 1849, in the wake of the Mexican War, a group of U.S. and Mexican surveyors met there and began mapping the frontier. First Lady Pat Nixon dedicated Friendship Park in 1971, and even reached across the border to shake a hand or two. Until recently, you could picnic in its half-acre plaza, or walk up to the obelisk that marks the first point in the 1849 survey. You could even put your fingers through the fence and talk to someone on the other side.

That was the era of "friendship." John Carlos Frey, a San Diego native and filmmaker who joined me on my hike with Fanestil, remembers celebrating his ninth birthday at Friendship Park in 1972.

"My Mexican relatives passed their presents over the fence," he said. "And we could walk over to the Mexican side and buy some tacos if we liked. It wasn't a big deal."

Then came the era of The Wall, which was spurred by the anarchy of the 1980s and '90s. Large crowds of illegal crossers gathered at the bluff and nearby canyons at night to rush past the overmatched Border Patrol.

The fences the Clinton administration built in response shifted illegal immigration but didn't stop it. In the first years of this century, migrants have paid increasingly higher fees to smugglers who ferry them through the distant desert.

Last year, when I lived in Mexico City, I knew one woman whose husband paid $3,000 to a "coyote" to get across the border. He later called from Phoenix to say the smuggler was holding him hostage and demanding $500 more. It seems crazy that anyone would try to cross that desert by dealing with such criminals -- but many take the risk and make it across.

Even if the U.S. government managed to hermetically seal the land and river border, experts predict the smugglers would simply move out to the Gulf of Mexico, much like the Africans who cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe.

What will stop illegal immigration is a mega-construction project of justice on the Latin American side of the border, the sudden leveling of mountains of inequality.

That won't happen soon. But in the meantime, the crackdown on employers and the slowdown in the U.S. economy are succeeding in keeping more people on the other side.

"They don't want us over there any more," a Salvadoran man named Walter told me through the fence when I visited Friendship Park last spring.

He had been deported from the U.S. a year earlier, after 15 years in Los Angeles. His wife, U.S. citizen Alicia Sandoval, had moved to Tijuana to live with him and their two children. On the weekends, they come to the park to peer into the country where they used to live.

"Tijuana is not a good place to be," Alicia told me through the fence. "There's too much violence."

A few minutes later, I met another woman, Angelica, who stood on the other side of the fence with her son, 9-year-old Eduardo. She wept when I told her that a Border Patrol agent had chased everyone else away, saying the park was closed.She had come to the fence to meet her husband, a Cuban musician who had obtained asylum in the U.S.

The boy peered through the steel mesh into the United States, as if his father might appear suddenly on the empty trails and wetlands on the other side.,0,2887120.column