Monday, November 30, 2009

Border store sues fence builder, US over flood damage

Arizona Daily Star
November 28, 2009
by Brady McCombs

The U.S. government and the company with which it contracted to build a border fence in Lukeville are facing a suit from the owners of a border town convenience store for damages from a July 2008 flash flood.

The Gringo Pass Inc. lawsuit also accuses Kiewit Construction Co. of owing $2.7 million in unpaid rent and water bills. Gringo Pass owns property and a private water well next to the border in Lukeville, in southeastern Arizona south of Ajo.

In a motion to dismiss the case, Kiewit says it never had a written contract with Gringo Pass for rent or water, calling the grievance an "after-the-fact demand for an exorbitant property lease — matters that fail as a matter of law."

Attorneys for Kiewit — which was given a $21.3 million contract in 2007 to build 5.2 miles of steel mesh fence flanking Lukeville — also say the grievance is really against the federal government's mandate to construct the border fence.

No trial date has been set for the case, filed in U.S. District Court in May, but attorneys are scheduled to meet in court on Jan. 12.

Debris piled up

The Gringo Pass contention that the newly constructed, 15-foot-high wire mesh border fence caused flooding during a July 12, 2008, rainstorm has backing from a report issued that year by Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument officials.

According to the report, the fence acted as a dam during a storm that dumped 1 to 2 inches of rain in 90 minutes around the border towns of Lukeville, Ariz., and Sonoyta, Sonora.

The report said debris piled up against the fence, including in drainage gates designed to prevent flooding, and that the 6-foot-deep fence foundation stopped subsurface water flow. As a result, water pooled 2 to 7 feet deep, depending on the area, causing water that usually flows north to south across the border in natural drainage washes to flow laterally.

That water flowed toward Lukeville, causing flood damage to private property, government offices and businesses in Luke-ville and Sonoyta, the report said.

The fence did not live up to promises made by officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Kiewit that it would "permit water and debris to flow freely and not allow ponding of water on either side of the border" the report said.

The water pooled up in the Gringo Pass convenience store, damaging merchandise and forcing the store's closure for cleanup, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says the flooding diminished property value by $6 million.

Unpaid bills

The lawsuit says Gringo Pass entered into an agreement with Kiewit Construction in 2007 to rent property and provide water.

Gringo Pass says Kiewit agreed to pay 50 cents per gallon for water and that Kiewit still owes it $2 million for using 4 million gallons of water.

Kiewit says it never agreed to that rate and called it exorbitant. The city of Tucson charges customers less than one-fourth of a cent per gallon for water.

The lawsuit also says Gringo Pass rented Kiewit two parts of its property for $50,000 a month each for Kiewit to store equipment and materials. It alleges that Kiewit owes $700,000 in rent.

Kiewit said it has paid Gringo Pass for the use of the property and disputes the allegation that it agreed to additional fees for property or water.

It says they never had a written agreement and says Gringo Pass is not a utility, and thus can't charge for water.

After fence fight, border leaders get proactive with feds

San Antonio Express-News
November 27, 2009
by Gary Martin

WASHINGTON — After several years of fighting the U.S.-Mexico border fence, a coalition of Texas elected officials is working with the Obama administration on ways to improve border ports and facilitate trade while fighting drug smuggling.

The Texas Border Coalition's involvement with policymaking comes after a bitter tangle with the federal government over construction of the fence that Congress and the White House approved, but border business leaders and human rights groups opposed.

“We've got to work together,” said Chad Foster, Eagle Pass mayor and the coalition's chairman. “But that is where the wheels came off the cart — when there was legislation passed without any consultation.”

Coalition members are working with J.D. Salinas, the regional administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration and former Hidalgo County judge, on improvements to land ports of entry to enhance trade and bolster security.

It's not a new direction for the coalition, whose members first found strength in numbers more than a decade ago when they bonded to beat back legislative mandates from Austin and Washington.

The Texas Border Coalition was formed in 1998, with representatives from 10 border counties and 19 cities along the Rio Grande from Brownsville to El Paso, to lobby the state and federal governments for infrastructure improvements.

But that goal was derailed when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted Congress and the Bush administration to seek ways to shore up security along the Mexican border.

The coalition fought the resulting fence, but couldn't prevent its construction. Foster called it “false security for mid-America” that hindered legitimate trade and cultural ties between the two countries.

The coalition was also outspoken against a plan by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to put Texas Rangers along the border this year to protect property owners from Mexican smugglers and drug cartel violence.

The “Ranger Recon” plan, as it was dubbed, coincided with the challenge to Perry by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The coalition dismissed Perry's plan as electioneering, and told him so in a letter.

“While each of our communities has their own unique issues,” Foster wrote, “being overwhelmed by criminal elements from Mexico is not one of them.”

But the organization's biggest battle was the border fence.

The Secure Border Initiative was passed by Congress with overwhelming support. Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted for the bill, as well as Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Now, 670 miles of fence is under contract to be built, with 110 miles of it in Texas. Some portions in Texas still face legal challenges.

“We were against the fence act, but where some of the fence was built makes sense,” said Jose “Pepe” Aranda, Maverick County judge.

But this month, the coalition backed Democrats in Washington who rejected an appropriations amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that would have provided funds for more pedestrian fencing.

Aranda said the real challenge on the border now is safety. He said working with federal and state leaders is the first step.

U.S. Customs officials and the Border Patrol are working with local elected leaders on the challenge of stopping drug trafficking.

Aranda said Operation Streamline, launched by the Bush administration to find and deport unauthorized immigrants with criminal backgrounds, is a successful federal program.

“We need to be realists and understand what we are up against on the border,” Aranda said. “Sending the Texas Rangers down to the border? That's not going to do anything.”

As the Texas Border Coalition looks toward goals for next year, efforts should be concentrated on Austin, he added.

“Bringing attention to the border at the federal level has been successful,” Aranda said. “Coming onto next year, we need a stronger focus on the state Legislature.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

El Paso ranked 2nd Safest City by CQ Press

November 23, 2009
News Release from The City of El Paso--Texas
By Javier Zambrano

EL PASO, TEXAS – Today CQ Press, who is now the publisher of the City Crime Rankings Safest Cities/Most Dangerous Cities has released their latest rankings. El Paso has been ranked the 2nd Safest City in America of cities with a population of more than 500,000. El Paso was ranked as 3rd Safest in last year’s ranking. This years ranking are based on the 2008 U.C.R. crime statistics as well as other considerations. For more information on these rankings and the considerations used by CQ Press, please visit there website at CQ Press is now the publisher for Morgan Quitno’s study on city rankings.


Lowest Crime Rate Ranking Highest Crime Rate Ranking

1. Honolulu, HI 1. Detroit, MI
2. El Paso, TX 2. Memphis, TN
3. New York, NY 3. Baltimore, MD
4. San Jose, CA 4. Washington, DC
5. Austin, TX 5. Atlanta, GA
6. San Diego, CA 6. Philadelphia, PA
7. Seattle, WA 7. Indianapolis, IN
8. Portland, OR 8. Columbus, OH
9. Denver, CO 9. Milwaukee, WI
10. Los Angeles, CA 10. Dallas, TX

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thousands Allegedly Smuggled Through Border Fence Holes

November 19, 2009
by Amy Isakson

U.S. federal officials say they've broken up a ring that allegedly smuggled thousands of people across the U.S.-Mexico border to San Diego County during the last few years. The group allegedly cut holes in the border fence.

The two alleged leaders of the smuggling ring, brothers Maurilio and Erik Mosley, were arraigned in federal court in San Diego.

They ran what U.S. federal officials say was one of the largest and most persistent smuggling rings that's been uncovered recently.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack says the brothers trained guides to walk people across the border.

"One method they used was saws, and trained the foot guides that they hired to cut holes in the fence, so they could pass the people they were smuggling through those holes to get them into the United States," says Mack.

The U.S. federal government recently spent billions of dollars to build more border fencing in San Diego.

One alleged member of the ring remains at large.

U.S. cracks down on border meeting spot for Mexicans

November 19, 2009
by Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - The United States has severely restricted access to a spot on the Mexican border where families and lovers divided by illegal immigration could unite briefly to hold hands or kiss through a fence.

In a move to stop undocumented migrants and the passing of narcotics through gaps in the U.S.-Mexico border fence between San Diego and Tijuana, the United States has fortified the area with a second fence to tighten security.

The Friendship Park on the Pacific Ocean became a place for cross-border weddings, church services, Christmas parties and even yoga classes when opened in 1971 by then U.S. first lady Pat Nixon.

Planned as a U.S. park with access for people on both sides of the frontier, picnic tables and swings were put out of Mexicans' reach in 1994 when the United States raised a mesh fence to stop drug traffickers and illegal immigrants.

But families could sit on either side of the fence to kiss through it, talk and touch one another even as U.S. border agents nearby patrolled to keep out job-hungry illegal immigrants, terrorists and smugglers.

The fence became a popular spot for separated lovers who would pass notes on Valentine's Day.

But the U.S. government's second, larger barrier has sensors, lighting, radars and cameras on the edge of the park. Officials built a patrol road through it and fenced off access to the old mesh fence that abutted onto Mexico.

Work finished on the park fencing earlier this month, sealing off access for Mexicans on the U.S. side unless they take part in highly regulated visits.

"It was an act of cruelty," said Katy Parkinson, a U.S. resident in Tijuana who runs a charity for immigrants. "Here, grandmothers met their grandchildren for the first time, they took photos, people could find each other again."

The Border Patrol says those on the U.S. side can access the old Mexican fence for four hours on Saturdays and Sundays once vetted by agents in groups of up to 25 people.

"People can still meet at designated times," said San Diego-based Border Patrol Agent Jose Morales.

"The second fence was needed because the first one was ... breached by smugglers and people passed drugs and fake IDs through it," he added.


Nixon opened the park in Imperial Beach, California, in August 1971 as part of her efforts to promote U.S.-Mexican relations and, as she shook hands with Mexicans that day, was reported as saying "I hate to see a fence anywhere."

The fence is part of the 661-mile double-layered wall along part of the United States' 2,000-mile border with Mexico, built by the U.S. government.

"We will find a way to see each other," said shop assistant Carmen, 29, whose husband lives illegally in Los Angeles and who used to meet regularly at the old park fence. "I can't cross into the United States, I've been deported three times."

Almost 12 million illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic, live and work in the United States, including millions of Mexicans.

Since the Sept 11 attacks in the United States, political pressure for tighter border controls has grown sharply. Supporters of the border fence say Mexico's violent drug war that has killed more than 15,000 people since late 2006 makes it all the more necessary to keep criminals out.

But some border experts say the fence does not stop those trying to get into the United States and only makes it more dangerous. Some 5,600 people have died trying to cross into the United States from Mexico since the U.S. government increased border security in 1994, human rights groups say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reflecting on the Wall: Barriers threaten environmental protection in the Southwest

Harvard Crimson
November 12, 2009
by Patrick Behrer

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As we recognize the historic occasion of East Germany’s opening, America quietly completes construction of its own wall. The southern border barrier between the United States and Mexico covers 670 miles of southwestern desert between Mexico and the four states it borders. Like the Berlin Wall, the border wall is emblematic of much more than just a boundary between countries. Cutting indiscriminately across ecologically-priceless land, it has become a symbol of governmental disregard for environmental protection.

The Bush Administration began the project in 2006 as the most recent attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration, and it now nears completion; at 630 of 670 miles completed, Obama shows no signs that he intends to halt construction of the final portions. Humanitarians and budget hawks have blasted the wall as ineffective and enormously costly. With a final price tag of more than $4 billion and $6.5 billion in estimated maintenance expenses over the next 20 years, the direct, measured costs alone are immense. However, to discuss the project’s environmental impact, one must recognize the systematic neglect of environmental laws that occurred during its construction.

The Real ID Act of 2005 allowed the Department of Homeland Security to construct infrastructure along our nation’s borders with immunity from all government laws and regulations. Using the power granted under this act, the Secretary waived the impact assessment requirements of both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Protection Act. Thus, the border wall’s construction—which took place on some of the most ecologically valuable land in the country—went ahead without any consideration of its impact on the native species that call this area home.

Not surprisingly, this wall has wreaked havoc on the ecosystems of the area. It cuts off migration routes for species such as the Sonoma Pronghorn, already endangered, whose population has crashed to as few as 31 individuals. If congress had not exempted the border patrol from the ESA, this damage would have been sufficient to stop or dramatically alter the construction plans. Instead, building the wall has categorically ignored environmental damage and, as a result, threatened the survival of the only known pair of breeding jaguars in the United States.

Are environmental concerns sufficient reasons to stop this construction? Perhaps not. There are severe economic and social costs to unchecked illegal immigration. However, the wall should not have received blanket exemption from environmental regulation. The Obama administration claims it will step up to the plate to combat global climate change, yet their silent acquiescence to the destruction of the southwestern desert throws this commitment into question.

These may seem unrelated and, thus, some might understand how the Administration can separate climate change policy from broader environmental concerns. Their logic: Climate change is a global threat while the wall only damages a small section of desert. However, this view ignores the reality that the southwestern desert is a globally unique and important biosphere recognized by both The Nature Conservancy and the United Nations. Indeed, the wall threatens the San Pedro River, one of TNC’s eight “Last Great Places” in the world. Climate change is an issue so large that addressing it will entail broad behavioral changes—this, in turn, requires a new environmental consciousness. We cannot flip a switch and fix climate change, as it remains too pervasive for easy solutions. Only by considering the environmental impacts associated with all of our actions can we to truly address this global crisis.

Endeavors like the border wall demonstrate very clearly that this new consciousness does not yet exist. Unfortunately, this project has not occurred in isolation. The U.S. Navy conducts sonar testing that has little practical benefit but inflicts proven, lethal affects on marine mammals. Until the government shows a willingness to seriously consider environmental costs in all its decisions, the commitment to fight climate change is little more than empty words.
The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago signaled a sea change in international policy and kick started a period of unprecedented global openness. While the border wall does not have this same public resonance, stopping its construction would be a first step toward creating a new environmental consciousness within the U.S. government. This sea change would prove no less significant than that which occurred after the fall in Germany. The last 20 years have seen international barriers shrink on an unprecedented scale; the next 20 must see environmental consciousness of the same scale.

Texas group warns of weaknesses at land ports

Associated Press
November 12, 2009
by Christopher Sherman

McALLEN, Texas — The country's understaffed land ports of entry need massive investments in infrastructure, technology and personnel to avoid becoming the path of choice for human and drug smugglers, according to a report released Wednesday by a border advocacy group.

The Texas Border Coalition, a group representing border city mayors, county judges and economic development commissions, called for $6 billion to improve land ports of entry and 5,000 new customs officers during the next four years. The group said the money is needed to correct the imbalance between the security at ports of entry and the security covering the points between.

"We definitely have to redirect the way we've been thinking," said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chairwoman of the coalition's Border Security and Immigration Committee. In addition to shoring up security at the ports of entry, the additional funding and staffing would also help with facilitating legitimate trade and travel, said Weisberg-Stewart, a McAllen business owner.

From 1993 to a projected 2010, the Border Patrol budget has grown from $400 million to an expected $3.5 billion while funding for customs inspectors increased from $1.6 billion to an anticipated $2.7 billion during the same period, according to the report.

Comparisons between the security situation in the two areas are difficult. The only hard numbers available are for apprehensions of illegal immigrants, leaving how much gets by beyond that to guessing. But the coalition argues that the funding discrepancy is making ports of entry more attractive targets for smuggling.

"In the present environment, the (drug) cartels are choosing to conduct their trade across the bridges and highways, through the ports of entry and are rejecting the risk of crossing the Rio Grande and open spaces between the ports of entry," the report said.

It echoed one of the recommendations from the Southwest Border Task Force, created by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, which advised in September that the ports of entry were in serious need of improvement.

And last month, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents customs officers, testified before Congress that the federal Customs and Border Protection agency needed several thousand additional customs officers and agriculture inspectors.

A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office noted that the agency's managers at land ports said understaffing contributed to "morale problems, fatigue, lack of backup support and safety issues when officers inspect travelers — increasing the potential that terrorists, inadmissible travelers and illicit goods could enter the country."

Representatives of Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration, which controls the majority of the land port facilities, were not immediately able to offer comment. Government offices were closed Wednesday for Veterans Day.

There are 42 land ports of entry on the southern and northern borders.

The Texas Border Coalition, which opposed the border fence built along 670 miles of the southern border, plans to formally present its report at a conference Friday in Laredo.

DHS moves forward with border fence through orchard and man's heart

Brownsville Herald
November 11, 2009
by Ildefonso Ortiz

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s removal of more than 70 grapefruit trees from land that was once part of an orchard was the latest blow to Leonard Loop’s heart.

On Wednesday morning, members of the Loop family watched helplessly as a government contractor’s large yellow Caterpillar excavator began the process of removing the trees. The trees were removed to make way for the border wall, which is being built by the Kiewit Corporation for the DHS.

Some the grapefruit trees were more than 20 years old, said a visually saddened Loop.
"I’m pretty worn out by all of this," he said.

The removal of the trees is the latest installment in a nightmare that began more than 18 months ago when the 72-year-old Loop, who was born on his family’s property, received the federal government’s first notice of condemnation.

The notice informed him that his land would be cut almost in half with a large portion of his property sandwiched between the structure and the Rio Grande.

"My father and my grandfather farmed along the river," Loop said. "This fence will make that very difficult."

Since the wall will eventually divide his property, one of the main issues Loop had with the government was the location of access points to their land south of the wall and the rules applying to those gates.

"They (government officials) have said something and then changed their minds," he said. "At one point they said they would close the gates after 6 p.m.; then they said they wouldn’t. Its almost 2010 and I still don’t know what kind of gate they are going to put there."

According to the farmer, in order to access his property, he would have to cut through one or the other of his neighbors’ properties.

The difficult access to the property worries Loop’s wife, Deborah, because not only will her family and workers farm land to the south side of the wall, but some of her family members live there, too.

"I’m worried about the safety of my son, (Frank). His house is on the south side of the fence (which is near completion)," said Deborah Loop. "What happens if we need emergency assistance? How long will it take for help to get there and what happens if they can’t get through the gate? Now I don’t feel so free in my own country."

To make matters worse for the Loops, the government has now set their eyes on the river levee and is in the process of exercising eminent domain.

"We are not allowed to drive along the fence road or to drive onto the levee," Loop said. "We are not going to hurt anybody. We just want to be able to keep an eye on our land."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Conservationists Argue Border Wall Blocking Migration

November 11, 2009
NBC Affiliate Washington, D.C.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Leaders blame lost business deals on border fence

November 2, 2009
KGBT Channel 4 news
by Rafael Carranza

BROWNSVILLE -- The controversy over the erection of a border fence continues with business groups saying it has a negative impact, while Border Patrol insists it is vital for security.

Border Patrol said the fence is near completion in the Rio Grande Valley. So far, 45 miles out of the planned 52.12 miles have been completed.

However, city and economic development groups said the wall is breaking some business deals for the area.

"This wall killed a multi million dollar development, residential development and commercial development because the land is now inside the wall which makes it worthless," said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada.

He added that the fence goes “against the principles established by NAFTA.”

One Brownsville resident with the Brownsville Economic Development Council is also blaming the face for the loss of another multi-million dollar project.

"It was a project in the retail sector, they were planning to build some stores along the river levee, incorporate the river with that one project," Salinas said.

The Brownsville business expert said the retail project would have been substantial for the city.

He was unable to provide numbers, but he said it was comparable to a mall.

"It could be several million dollars in sales tax revenue that the City of Brownsville will not be getting, pretty much because of the border wall," he said.

But the Border Patrol said the fence is extremely important for the region's safety.

Regional Border Patrol Spokesman Juan Lopez said the fence is already bringing benefits.

He said Border Patrol agents are already seeing a 21 percent decrease in apprehensions so far, compared to this same time last year.

Meanwhile, Salinas said the business in the region will adapt to the fence.

"We're just going to have to learn to live with this wall that we have here on the border," he said.