Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finagling Access to Friendship Park

Voice of San Diego
February 27, 2011
by Adrian Florido

For 38 years, Friendship Park was a symbol of amity between Mexico and the United States, despite the fence that separated the two countries and suggested otherwise.

But in 2009, the park that straddled San Diego and Tijuana — where families and friends separated by the fence came to chat, kiss, or graze cheeks — was closed, the casualty of a second fence the U.S. government built to provide an added layer of border security.

Since then, advocates have been pushing to regain access, with only limited success.

But in the last two weeks, they have won their largest concessions yet from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which this summer will begin replacing the primary border fence, now rusted and deteriorating, with a brand new, taller one. The agency has agreed to revise its original designs for the project and allow visitors closer access to the fence over a wider area than originally planned.

Friendship Park, while hardly a park anymore, will be a little friendlier.

"It's impossible for this park, when it's finished, to be beautiful. It won't be," said Jim Brown, an architect who designed an alternative proposal to the Border Patrol's, and who, along with a group of advocates, presented it to agency officials. "But it's going to be a super important symbol amid all this militarization of the border."

The Border Patrol's proposal for access to Friendship Park called for not much more than the current setup. Since last year, the agency has allowed limited access to the border fence on Saturdays and Sundays, letting visitors go through a gate in the new outer fence and enter a corral-like area that gets them within a few feet of the primary fence to talk to people on the other side. But it does not allow them to be close enough to touch or kiss.

The agency has agreed to some of Brown's design proposals, which would allow visitors to walk right up to the fence across about a 100-foot area, depending on whether Border Patrol officials are concerned about a security threat.

To social activists, the reinforced border fence is a symbol of division, enmity, and loved ones torn apart by immigration status. For the Border Patrol and enforcement advocates, it represents security and the containment of illegal crossers and illicit contraband.

Those two perspectives are hard to reconcile, especially amid the constant politicking that surrounds border issues. And if anything, the tug and pull over access to Friendship Park has reaffirmed that notion.

The negotiations have been a give and take. More access in one place has meant more security in another.

The government's original plan for the new fence, for example, was to build it of thick metal pylons with gaps between them, enough space to stick a hand or an arm through. Visitors on the American side would have to stay behind a shoulder high fence a few feet away, so as to prevent them from passing contraband.

But that dashed advocates' hope that families and friends could come together to talk up close, to touch, as they'd always done before.

"We wanted people to be able to have more of a private conversation than the public one they would have if they had to talk across a wide gap," Brown said.

The Border Patrol agreed to allow it. But in exchange, it will build a different kind of fence — a tight mesh one with holes so small that items won't fit through. The agency also plans to install a canopy overhead that will prevent things from being tossed over.

"Our priorities are a little bit different," said Kelly Good, the Border Patrol agent who has negotiated the design with advocates. "Our first priority is security of that area, our second priority is the safety of our agents, our third priority is to make this a place where people want to go and visit. Our last priority is their first priority."

The government's plan would also only have allowed visitors to approach a section of the border fence roughly 50 feet wide. They would have been contained to that area by a fenced-in corral similar to the one that's there now.

Advocates wanted to make a wider stretch accessible, so families could spread out. So the agency agreed to do away with the corral.

But it still wanted the ability to restrict access, or grant it, depending on the so-called security threat level on any given day.

On days when threat levels are perceived to be low, visitors might be allowed to spread out across a 100-foot section of the fence. On riskier days, when agents want to keep a close eye on people, they might only allow access to 40 feet. Brown designed an adjustable barrier system similar to the knee-high ropes that keep visitors from getting too close to paintings at museums. Agents will be able to move the ropes depending on how wide a section of the fence they want to make available.

But some things could not be negotiated, like access to the obelisk monument that First Lady Pat Nixon dedicated as a symbol of friendship between the two countries in 1971, as a reassurance that despite the fence, good will remained. The monument currently straddles both sides of the fence, but the Border Patrol's redesign will leave it on the Mexican side.

That's because the new fence will not be built directly on the international line. When it replaces the existing one, it will move a few feet north. Visitors standing at the fence on the Mexican side will technically be on United States soil.

The Border Patrol wants to be able to perform maintenance on both sides of the fence. Currently, it can only maintain the American side, because to access the other, agents would have to step on Mexican soil. Moving the fence a few feet to the north will allow them to go through a gate and make needed repairs to the other side without technically entering Mexico.

"We're the only ones that will maintain it," Good said, because it is not Mexico's fence.

Texas landowners stuck on wrong side of border fence

Los Angeles Times
February 28, 2011
by Richard Marosi

Reporting from Brownsville, Texas — The Rio Grande once ran wide and deep behind the four-room house that Pamela Taylor and her husband hammered together more than half a century ago. Migrant workers had to take a ferry upriver to get across from Mexico, and a flood once inundated the family's citrus groves.

Over time, the waters receded, the river narrowed and Mexico got closer. Thieves led by a one-legged man stole Taylor's horses from the barn and beans off the stove. Drug smugglers hid marijuana in her bushes. Migrant workers would camp in her front yard and bring her fresh tortillas in the morning.

The once-swift river now could be crossed with little more than a leaky inner tube. Still, there was some comfort in knowing that, on the map anyway, the Rio Grande marked the international boundary. Nowadays, Taylor isn't so sure.

The Homeland Security Department last year put up a tall steel barrier across the fields from Taylor's home. The government calls it the border fence, but it was erected about a quarter-mile north of the Rio Grande, leaving Taylor's home between the fence and the river. Her two acres now lie on a strip of land that isn't Mexico but doesn't really seem like the United States either.

The government doesn't keep count, but Taylor and other residents think there are about eight houses stranded on the other side of the fence.

"It's a no man's land," Taylor said. "They said they were going to build a fence to protect all the people. We were just lost in the draw."

When the Homeland Security Department began its Southwest border buildup four years ago, erecting barriers seemed a straightforward enough proposition. The international boundary is ruler-straight for hundreds of miles from California to New Mexico, and planners laid the fencing down right on the border, traversing deserts, mountains and valleys.

But here, where the border's eastern edge meets the Gulf of Mexico, the urgency of national security met headlong with geographical reality. The Rio Grande twists through Brownsville and surrounding areas, and planners had to avoid building on the flood plain. So the barriers in some places went up more than a mile from the river.

While the border fence almost everywhere else divides Mexico and the U.S., here it divides parts of the city.

Authorities defend the barrier, saying it helps control illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The fencing doesn't stop immigrants, but they say it slows people down and funnels them to areas where U.S. Border Patrol agents can respond quickly.

In and around Brownsville, the fence slices through two-lane roads, backyards, agricultural fields, citrus groves and pastures for more than 21 miles, trapping tens of thousands of acres, according to some property owners' estimates. (The Homeland Security Department did not keep track of the total.) Narrow gaps allow back-and-forth access for cars and tractors, pedestrians and Border Patrol agents, but they are spaced as much as a mile apart.

"My son-in-law tells people we live in a gated community," joked Taylor, 82, who shares her modest home with her daughter's family.

Originally from England, she married her Mexican American husband during World War II, and picked tomatoes and cotton to scrape enough money together in 1948 to build a modest home and raise four adopted children.

She never learned to speak much Spanish and struggled with Mexican food. "My father-in-law told me I was the only person he knew that made square tortillas," Taylor recalled. Hers has been a life defined by adapting, but she said nothing prepared her for America's new border barrier.

"We feel abandoned here," she said. "That's why we refer to it as the Mexican side of the fence."

Planning challenges and fierce opposition held off construction crews for several years, making Brownsville the last border city to get barriers under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Tensions escalated in this mostly Latino, working-class city of 172,000 when people realized that large segments of the fence would not sit anywhere near the international boundary.

Some residents got the word by studying maps of the project at public hearings. Others answered knocks on their front doors to find Border Patrol agents bearing clipboards: Would they sign a waiver allowing the government to begin surveying their land?

Landowners were offered compensation, but many were outraged. They protested at public hearings, lobbied politicians in Washington and fought court battles. The government had to start condemnation proceedings against more than 100 residents, some of them poor farmers or senior citizens with centuries-old ties to the community.

Construction crews bulldozed orchards, drained lakes and graded over driveways and roads. The fence towers 18 feet and its steel posts, a few inches apart, whistle like a freight train when northern winds blow.

Eloisa Tamez, 75, who lives on land granted to her ancestors by the king of Spain in 1767, rejected the government's offer of $13,500 for a 50-foot-wide strip across her three acres west of Brownsville. The government seized the land and built the fence anyway. Now, three-quarters of the fallow acreage where her family once grew tomatoes, squash and okra is south of the barrier.

"It represents my heritage. This land here is what gave me life. I didn't have riches or luxuries, but we had food that was good for us," said Tamez, who is in a legal battle with the federal government over the seizure of her land. "I didn't want to let the government have it to build this monstrosity."

Rancher Alberto "Beto" Garza and his father have been cut off from their cattle. Ninfa Young, 56, said she can't stroll over to her neighbor's farm to pick watermelons. Nature Conservancy manager Maxwell B. Pons said the 6,000 feet of fencing on the Southmost Preserve severs an important corridor for coyotes and Texas tortoises.

At the Loop farm on the outskirts of Brownsville, dozens of citrus trees were bulldozed to make way for the fence, which splits the family's 900 acres. On the Brownsville side, Debbie and Leonard Loop tend groves of oranges and grapefruit; on the "Mexican" side, their son, Ray Loop, cultivates soybeans, sunflowers and watermelons.

Things could get more complicated. With the government planning this year to install gates at 40 of the gaps, the family wonders about access. Residents will be provided with access codes, according to border authorities. But they've also heard that the gates would be locked during a high national security alert. Debbie Loop, 69, wonders how her young granddaughters would get through to the Brownsville side of the fence under that scenario.

"It's an eerie feeling crossing that," Loop said, as she drove with her husband through the fence line onto her son's farmland. "In the past, if you needed to get out in a hurry, you could. Now you have to find a gap."

Duncan L. Hunter, the former congressman from San Diego County who co-wrote the fencing legislation before leaving office in 2009, visited Brownsville in 2008 to explain how barriers helped reduce the numbers of undocumented immigrants flooding into California border cities.

Though the Brownsville fence placement sounds "illogical," it is probably necessary if it means cutting off illegal crossings, said Hunter, who expressed surprise that the barrier here was placed so far from the river. Asked about the location, border officials said in a statement that a number of factors were considered, including the flood plain and "historic illegal crossing patterns."

"From time immemorial, the way that you keep people from going into a restricted area is a fence," Hunter said, citing a significant drop in crime in San Diego after the fence there was built in the 1990s. "It brought calm to both sides of the border."

Longtime resident Taylor, however, said the no man's land where her property ended up hardly qualifies as tranquil.

The fence funnels more illegal immigrants than ever through her property, she said, because it is close to an easily breached gap. Taylor is all for bolstering national security, but adding agents, cameras and lighting would have been more effective, she said.

She still opens her house to patrol agents on Thanksgiving and Christmas for turkey dinner. It's the politicians and senior officials who earn her wrath. She attended hearings and sent letters and e-mails to numerous officials, and got few responses.

"It was like talking to a brick wall," she said.

These days, immigrants walk across a small dam that serves as a footbridge, traversing the Rio Grande in minutes. Crossings trigger the immediate appearance of Border Patrol agents on the river side of the fence, but Taylor fears that U.S. Customs and Border Protection could someday reposition its agents behind the barrier, leaving her family more vulnerable.

Heightened U.S. enforcement efforts, Taylor said, have bred a meaner, more desperate class of illegal immigrants. Some banged on her doors and windows last week, possibly seeking help. She can hear the "booms and bangs" from the drug wars in Matamoros, and Mexican military helicopters have strayed over her house, she said.

"We're not afraid, but we do realize that Matamoros could spill over here," said Taylor, who keeps three assault rifles loaded. The guns give her a sense of safety, she said, unlike the fence: "It's not providing security for us, and it's actually shutting us out of America.",0,7333306,full.story

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Officials worry border fence expansion will be harmful to El Paso

El Paso Times
February 23, 2011
By Adriana Gómez Licón

Local officials worry that a fence project proposed by Customs and Border Protection near UTEP may leave a flood-control structure isolated, inaccessible and an easy target for vandalism.

"It is one of our most important structures, where we receive our water coming down from the American Canal," said Jesus "Chuy" Reyes, general manager for El Paso County Water Improvement District.

Officials met Tuesday afternoon at City Hall to discuss the impact the proposed border fence would have on El Paso.

CBP plans to fence a .65-mile stretch in the Hart's Mill Crossing area -- south of UTEP and west of Downtown. On the Mexican side, there are poor neighborhoods in Juárez that have been plagued by multiple and drive-by shootings.

The irrigation district has a generator that controls floodgates that send drinking water from the canal to the El Paso Water Treatment Plant between March and October, Reyes said.

What Reyes wants is for the CBP to shift its project south of the American Canal so that it leaves the structure accessible and protects El Paso from floods. The structure would still be on the U.S. side of the border, but it would be fenced off, according to the CBP plan.

So far, CBP officials have told him the project would cost $14 million to $16 million if the plan is changed, compared with $4 million or $6 million if the location stays the same.

Reyes did not invite the CBP to Tuesday's briefing.

"The original design and alignment was problematic due to levee stability issues and perceived real estate issues," said Ramiro Cordero, spokes man for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Cordero said his agency continues to negotiate with the irrigation district and the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The Hart's Mill Crossing area now has no border fence. Fencing from Downtown ends where the flood-control structure is and continues half a mile north.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, brother of Jesus Reyes, said that though he wants to see the border protected, the CBP should consult with community agencies.

"It's not a good answer to say it's too expensive," Silvestre Reyes said. "I mean, how expensive would it be if terrorists poison the water or do something else to take out our infrastructure."

Ed Drusina, commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, said CBP and local agencies will have to find a middle ground to decide the location of the fence.

"I see very clearly the city has a serious concern to protect the water in that stretch of the channel," he said.

"That's why we want to work cooperatively with the city and the DHS," the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the CBP.

El Paso Mayor John Cook said he hopes the CBP rethinks its strategy.

"This is a community issue that impacts our ability to provide water to the community," he said.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The battle of the US-Mexico frontier

The Guardian UK
February 20, 2011
by Chris McGreal

Charlie Bruce was a Texas police chief of the old school. In more than four decades on the force he gave homegrown criminals good reason to steer clear of Del Rio, his small town on the United States's southern border, but held no grudge against the steady flow of Mexicans across the frontier in search of opportunity. He admired them for their hard work and the chances they took to better themselves. Besides, some of them built his house.

What happened on the other side of the border, in Mexico, was another matter. There, Bruce unashamedly admits that for years he used his authority as a Texan police officer to run a lucrative smuggling racket. Mostly he dealt in duty-free whisky and cigarettes shipped in to Mexico, bribing officials with tens of thousands of dollars a time to avoid taxes, and then promptly selling the contraband on to Americans who brought it back across the border.

Occasionally Bruce branched out. He laughs when he recalls the handsome profit made from exploiting a sugar shortage in the 70s by paying off an official to illegally sell him a stock of subsidised sugar sitting in a Mexican government warehouse, which he shipped to a pie-maker in Philadelphia.

Now 75 and retired to a new house a stone's throw from the border, he recounts his years as a smuggler with undisguised pride and admits that it was all made possible by being a police officer. "That's exactly why I got by with it, because I was well known over there. My shield was law enforcement. I got by with murder more than other people," he says. "Other people may think it's wrong but the border's its own world."

Bruce laughs derisively at Washington's grand scheme to change that world. In the coming weeks, the US department of homeland security expects to complete the final parts of a nearly 700 mile (1,100km) fence and wall along the Mexican border intended to curb the perpetual flow of Latin Americans in search of work, and to block the ceaseless caravan of drugs feeding a very demanding American habit. The spur, though, was 9/11 and the ever-present fear of terrorist infiltrators.

The barrier covers one-third of the US's entire southern frontier with Mexico. In parts it is a fence about 5 metres (17ft) high built of a strong steel mesh and painted the same rust colour as the surrounding earth. In some places it is topped by coils of barbed wire; in others it is a solid steel wall. The fence cuts through towns and divides the desert. Its length is patrolled by thousands of armed border, drug enforcement and FBI agents. In Arizona they are complemented by an armed vigilante militia, the Minutemen.

The remaining 1,300 miles of border will be protected by a "virtual fence" – a network of electronic sensors, cameras, towers and high-flying drones that can see for more than 300 miles – that's already in place along parts of the frontier, setting off border patrols in pursuit of figures seen scurrying across screens or picked up by the motion detectors. The whole project is costing more than $4bn (£2.6bn), with the border fence alone working out at about $5m a mile.

The barrier's supporters say it is good value for money in the face of what they portray as an onslaught of illegal immigrants – increasingly scapegoats for economic blight and unemployment as they are accused of "stealing our jobs" – drug traffickers and the threat of terrorism. Others back the fence as a means to discourage what they describe as a flood of Mexican women pouring in to the US to have "anchor babies" – children who automatically gain American citizenship by being born inside the country.

Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has backed the fence because, she says, her state has become "the gateway to America for drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and crime". Fear in the state was stoked by the death in March last year of an Arizona rancher who authorities believe was shot on his farm by a drug-smuggling scout. In December, a border patrol agent was murdered by smugglers.

The barrier is a popular backdrop for political campaign adverts: John McCain was pictured driving along it demanding that the government "finish the dang fence". But for many who live on the border, particularly in Texas, alarm at the prospect of a fence dividing communities has turned to derision at what is shaping up to be a spectacular – and expensive – failure.

"The only thing it's deterred is a few wetbacks [Mexicans illegal immigrants] coming in and out," said Bruce. "And it's only slowed them down because the economy's so bad there's no jobs on this side of the border. You get back to a hot economy, here they come. Goddamn you'd better get your horses out because there are going to be lots of them coming and no fence is going to stop them or anyone else."

Eagle Pass was the first US settlement on the Rio Grande. A narrow stretch of the river divides it from Piedras Negras in Mexico, whose singular claim to recognition is as the birthplace of the nacho. Residents of the two towns mostly regard them as one. For years, Eagle Pass had almost no restaurants because its population strolled across the border to eat in the cheaper establishments on the other side. Almost everyone in the town is of Mexican origin and families straddle the border, which was what made estate agent Chad Foster so unusual when he was elected the first non-Hispanic mayor of Eagle Pass in more than four decades.

"They couldn't find anyone else so they came to me," he jokes. He proved a shrewd choice in 2004 when there was a Texan in the White House, George Bush, and Eagle Pass had caught Washington's eye as a gaping hole in border security.

Foster is the kind of Texan – an imposing, hunting, bull-wrestling Republican who is rarely seen in public without his cowboy hat – who was not easily ignored in Bush-era Washington. But he didn't have anything to say that the administration wanted to hear. The department of homeland security was still planning the fence in 2006 and had latched on to Eagle Pass as a major problem. It wasn't hard to see why. The town's municipal golf course runs right up to the Rio Grande. Mexico is so close that players have little difficulty in whacking balls across the border. As it was, the real problem for golfers was to avoid hitting illegal immigrants who swam the river and scurried across the course every few minutes. "There were 200-a-day coming across," says Foster. "The Mexicans liked to cross there because they could disappear in to the town within minutes."

Washington told Eagle Pass and other towns strung along the Texas border that it intended to build a barrier on the frontier. Mayors of the towns, grouped under the Texas Border Coalition (TBC), collectively renounced any physical barrier. Officials from Washington arrived to talk to Eagle Pass's council, where opposition hardened as they were told that the fence would run through the golf course. "The number that David Aguilar, the head of border patrol, came up with is that the fence would slow down an illegal entry by three to four minutes," says Foster. "To save three to four minutes and negatively impact our community and relations with our neighbours, you erect a wall between neighbours for no real purpose?"

So far as Foster and much of Eagle Pass was concerned the illegal immigrants weren't a problem. Most got through the town as fast as they could and kept going. Others provided the agricultural and construction labour that the local residents were not prepared to do. But the US's drug tsar, Gil Kerlikowske, has said the Texas border is his greatest concern because of the level of narcotraficante, or drug trafficker, violence on the other side. The Council on Foreign Relations says that Mexico is now more violent than Afghanistan or Iraq with its 20,000-plus deaths in the government's five-year war with the drug traffickers.

Nowhere has been hit worse than Ciudad Juárez, sitting just across the river from the US town of El Paso. Juárez is arguably the most dangerous city in the western hemisphere, with about 3,000 killings there by narcotraficantes last year alone.

"It is more dangerous to walk the streets of Juárez, a few blocks from El Paso, than it is to walk the streets of Baghdad," the attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott, told Fox News. "There is a very serious problem that is beginning to bulge at our borders and put American lives at risk."

What Abbot did not say was that whatever may be happening in Juárez, El Paso is statistically among the very safest cities in the US. There were just five murders there last year. In 2009 there were 12, still far below other US cities of a similar size.

But then there was the ace up Washington's sleeve: terrorism. When the Border Patrol moved to persuade frontier communities of the need for the fence, the first slide in the presentation was an image of the Twin Towers burning on 11 September 2001. It's an emotional and persuasive argument for many Americans. If Mexicans can breeze across the border, why can't al-Qaida? Never mind that the perpetrators of all the terrorist attacks on the US over the past 20 years have arrived by plane on student or tourist visas. Or in the case of homegrown terrorists, such as Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 people by blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, via the local maternity ward.

The government pressed ahead with its plan for the fence, regardless. Bush's homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, overrode dozens of federal statutes, and all state, city and tribal legislation governing everything from the environment, to property rights and historic preservation.

As the fence went up through Eagle Pass, across the river in Piedras Negras the local state government was building a "green wall" of trees on the edge of the Rio Grande in repudiation. Residents such as Guillermo Berchelmann, who used to nip across the border to buy cigarettes because they were cheaper in the US, have seen the frontier solidify with closer immigration checks, delays and an erosion of the idea of two towns united by a common border.

"I'm no homeland security strategist but in our view the fence is offensive," says Berchelmann, who runs restaurants in both towns. "People don't understand it. Eagle Pass and Piedras are one community. We intermarry. We have family there. Students from Eagle Pass come to school in Piedras Negras. We cross every day. We used to cross several times a day."

Berchelmann says he is also upset at the rhetoric echoing across the US. "I find it very disturbing. The language is offensive when they talk about anchor babies. It's their country, but are Mexicans taking away jobs from Americans? No. Those jobs were always done by Mexican immigrant workers. If you take those immigrants out, you stop agriculture cold. Corn production, wheat production, apples, oranges, you name it. That's the reality."

But residents of Eagle Pass are increasingly fearful of crossing the border as drug gang violence in its twin has risen sharply. The town's police chief was murdered last April. He had been appointed just three weeks earlier to purge the force of corrupt links to the traffickers. In the following months, the deputy police chief and three other officers were abducted.

Foster and other border mayors came to the view that the fence wasn't being built because of a serious threat to national security but to provide middle America with an illusion. "This fence is a placebo. It gives somebody in mid-America a fluffy warm feeling. It really provides no real deterrent. Look at the wonderfully engineered tunnels under the physical barriers that have been constructed in California, Arizona and New Mexico. They're backing up vehicles and climbing over. It's a very expensive joke," says Foster.

Efrain Valdez, the mayor of Del Rio and chairman of the TBC until last July, has also lashed out at supporters of the fence. "Beginning in the early 20th century, the US government has financed the construction of border fences in El Paso. In 1925, a 'hog-tight, horse-high and bootlegger-proof' barbed-wire fence was built in El Paso. Observation towers were added in 1937," he wrote last year. "As is true of the modern-day fence, the impact was minimal. The observation towers were removed under President Eisenhower, in part because of their resemblance to towers in East Berlin. In 1978, the fence between El Paso and Juárez was replaced with new "impregnable" 12ft-high metal barriers topped with barbed concertina wire. The new fence's manufacturer claimed that the wire strands of which they were made would be so sharp that anyone who tried to scale them might lose his fingers and toes. Within a week after the fences were finished, they were full of holes, some large enough to drive a truck through.

"In the past few years, the US department of homeland security has spent hundreds of millions of dollars constructing new and 'improved' fencing between El Paso and Juárez, obviously with the same ineffective results that have been evident for 85 years."

The ways around the fence have not changed much. In California, pickup trucks pull up, lean a ladder from the back to the top of the wire and the migrants are over in a minute. In the Arizona desert, smugglers have dug short tunnels under the fence. If the border patrol, farmers or Minutemen stumble on them, a new tunnel appears a few miles away. Other smugglers cut through the fence with hacksaws and blowtorches. Some have even built ramps to drive vehicles to the top of the wire and then lower immigrants down the other side.

But the fence has not been without impact. The barrier may deter some immigrants but for others it has added to the physical dangers of seeking a better life. Some now cross deeper into the desert, to remote areas away from assistance, and pay with their lives. They take to backtrails, attempt to head through mountains. Often they are ill-prepared with insufficient water or protection from the relentless sun. Their corpses are increasingly found in Arizona, where the morgue in Tucson is now overflowing with unidentified bodies. Some areas are so isolated that by the time they are found the bodies are little more than skin on bone. Some immigrants, lost and knowing what awaits them, have hanged themselves from trees.

Last year, the bodies of more than 400 suspected illegal immigrants were found in the desert, mostly in Arizona. Governor Brewer misused the rising number of such deaths to justify her popular but constitutionally questionable law requiring the police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. She claimed that some of the corpses were headless, murder victims of drug cartels. But when the police said no headless corpses had been found, Brewer declined to discuss her evidence and ran away from reporters pressing the question.

Foster says Americans look to the fence because they lack the will to do what really has to be done to curb the flow of drugs – reduce the market and end the sale of weapons to the Mexican cartels. "We're funding and arming the narcotraficantes, and then we blame the Mexicans," he says. "Billions of dollars Americans have spent on drugs go back to Mexico. Ninety per cent of the guns the narcos use come from the US. And our government does almost nothing about it."

The Obama administration appears to be recognising the futility of the barrier. Already it is backing away from the "virtual fence" after the US government has spent close to $1bn on the 53-mile network. An investigation by the GAO found that the electronic sensors could not tell the difference between people and small animals or large vehicles. The radar wasn't much better. It would have cost at least another $8bn to fill in the rest of the gaps.

But now the US is left with a fence and wall full of holes. Charlie Bruce, the former sheriff, smiles at the absurdity of it all. And what he sees as the hypocrisy of his fellow Americans who vilify illegal immigrants and then hire them to clean their houses, tend their gardens and build their swimming pools. Americans such as Meg Whitman, the billionaire Republican contender to be governor of California who supports the border fence and opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, and who was exposed as employing a housekeeper working illegally in the US for nearly a decade.

"A lot of these guys from Mexico, you've heard about them being lazy. They're definitely not lazy people. They're hard-working folks. I wonder in San Antonio and Dallas and Fort Worth and Austin how they'd ever build a goddamn house without Mexicans. They built this house here. I don't know where I would be without them Mexicans helping me," says Bruce.

Musicians play across border fence

KOLD 13 News
February 20, 2011
By Sam Salzwedel

NACO, Ariz. (KOLD) - Dozens of people staged a concert that crossed the border with Mexico Sunday afternoon.

"People who actually want to overcome divisiveness," Bisbee resident Edward Lee said, "we see fences as divisive."

The musicians played from the Mexican side of the fence near the Naco port of entry. The audience stood on the American side.

The rally was organized by Progressive Democrats of America Cochise County chapter.

Glenn Gerhardt came down from Huachuca City for the event. He says he has illegal immigrants pass near his home regularly.

"Most of the people that I've experienced in my 16 years in Arizona," Gerhardt said, "have been people just trying to get a better life."

Gerhardt hopes the group's message can stop some of the divisive politics in Arizona.

"I have a lot of friends in Mexico," Gerhardt said, "and they're people too. We can't demonize them."

The Progressive Democrats of America will hold another rally at the Tucson YWCA at 7:00 p.m. Monday. The address is 525 N. Bonita Ave.

Rep. Raul Grijalva D-Ariz., is expected to attend.

Rallies in Phoenix and Flagstaff are scheduled later in the week.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Smugglers Using Ladders to Get Past Border Wall

February 15, 2011
by Manuel De La Rosa

LA PALOMA - They said it would happen; some drug smugglers have used a ladder to get over the border fence. It's a new tactic being used to move drugs in the Valley.

Border Patrol agents say smugglers will do whatever they can to move their drugs. The border fence was supposed to slow it down, but it has not stopped the smugglers.

The 12-foot tall fence has been in place for months around La Paloma, near San Benito. Border Patrol agents intercepted more than 600 pounds of marijuana in the Rancho Grande subdivision. They say 10 smugglers were using a ladder to smuggle the drugs.

“I am not surprised. They used two ladders, one on the other and second one on the U.S. side. Then they have a truck there and they put the drugs on the truck," says Mario Guzman, who lives in the area.

While the Border Patrol caught this big load this time around, some resident say this isn't the first time drug smugglers have used a ladder to smuggle drugs over the fence. Guzman tells us for two to three months they have been smuggling drugs that way. Sometimes, they pass it through the fence and other times using the ladder.

Border Patrol uses surveillance cameras here to monitor drug trafficking. Guzman says you might not see the smugglers if you're not looking for them.

Guzman claims the Border Patrol doesn't come around too often. They pass by, but the people are long gone with the drugs by the time they come.

Agents say 10 people were involved with this operation. Eight got away running back into Mexico. They caught two. Those two are facing federal drug trafficking charges.

Border Patrol officials tell us smugglers have tried the same tactic in Hidalgo County. As the government tried to stay a step ahead, so have the smugglers.

Border Patrol spokesperson Rosie Huey says these tactics are proof the fence is adding pressure to smugglers.

"This is a technique we have seen before. Agents are out there vigilant. The smugglers are getting desperate so they're trying to use different tactics to get around our tactical infrastructure and to get a way to get their commodity into the U.S.,” says Huey.

Huey also says the wall is making more things difficult for the smugglers. She says border agents will continue to stay one step ahead.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nogales border-fence revamp under way

Nogales International
February 15, 2011
by Hank Stephenson

Out with the old and in with the new. The U.S. Border Patrol is tearing down the old, beat-up border fence that runs through downtown Nogales out to the edges of town – and building a new, state-of-the-art barrier.

The project is already under way, and a contractor is currently unloading hundreds of trucks worth of material onto two sites – one on the east edge of town, and another just west of the Mariposa Port of Entry.

The Border Patrol and its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, have so far declined to release the name of the contractor or the price tag for the overhaul.

The actual construction on the 2.8-mile replacement fence is scheduled to start in spring, and the project is slated to be finished by the end of the year, said Border Patrol spokesman Jason Rheinfrank.

The new fence will be a bollard-style post fence made up of interconnected steel tubes which will tower 15 to 20 feet above ground and will have roots running eight to 10 feet below the surface, Rheinfrank said.

The bollard fencing is already in use from the outskirts of town out to the desert. The downtown area has become more favorable to immigrants and smugglers in recent years, Rheinfrank said, because the fence there is seen as much easier to penetrate than the bollard fencing on the outskirts.

This project will replace all of the existing landing-mat fencing. The decorative wall in the downtown area will not be replaced.

The old fence, an aesthetically displeasing relic made of landing mat sheet metal left over from the Vietnam War, stands about eight to 12 feet above the ground, has no footer to stop tunneling and is constantly being cut through, tunneled under and climbed over, Rheinfrank said. And it also has some serious drawbacks for those assigned to guard it.

Agents can’t see through the landing mat fence to the other side, where smugglers, would-be immigrants and even kids line up to throw rocks at them. Border Patrol vehicles stationed along the line are often equipped with rock-proof cages over the windows and windshield, to protect from “rocking” as it’s known by agents.

“Any agent worth his salt has been rocked,” Rheinfrank said.

Besides being able to see rockers, agents will be better able to see scouts, people trying to cut holes in the fence to push drugs through and people waiting to cross, who can now hide behind the fence just a few feet from agents, but invisible to them and to the camera towers stationed throughout the region.

The bollard fence is also designed to be difficult to climb. Unlike the landing mat fence, which in some parts has supporting structures that act as ramps for spooked smugglers to climb back into Mexico, the bollard fence is made of straight, tall posts which are difficult to get footing on, Rheinfrank said.

Even so, a video that went viral on the Internet in January showed two women scaling a bollard-style border fence in less than 18 seconds.

Piece by piece

The Border Patrol is constantly patching holes cut throught the landing mat fence and pouring cement along the edges to fill tunnels and detour tunnelers, Rheinfrank said. The new fence will be not only much harder to cut through, but harder to tunnel under, which means Porder Patrol will have to do less maintenance work.

The bollard fence will also have a honeycombed opening near the bottom in wash areas, Rheinfrank said. This will allow for watershed from the higher-elevation Nogales, Sonora to flow more freely into the U.S., the way it used to before the landing mat fence cut through the washes in the hills around Nogales, causing water to build up and, in some cases, flood the Mexican side of Ambos Nogales.

Construction will be done section by section, Rheinfrank said. As soon as one part of the old fence is torn down, it will be replaced by the new fence.

“We cant just have a big hole there while we’re doing construction,” he said.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Border Patrol Plans Three New Projects in Border Field State Park

Imperial Beach Patch
February 11, 2011
by Greg Graziosi

The Border Patrol held an open house Wednesday evening at the Marina Vista Community Center to exhibit three renovation projects slated to begin this year.

Greg Gephart, program manager for tactical infrastructure for the U.S. Border Patrol, was on-hand to explain the nature of the projects, the goals desired and the background, environmental and design details of the undertakings.

If the changes are approved, the Border Patrol will begin a proposal period in March, then sign deals with private contractors for Friendship Park projects by April.

The Border Patrol wants to see construction for all three projects start this summer.

The Replacement of the Friendship Park Pedestrian Border Fence

The Friendship Park project drew a great deal of attention at the open house, as it directly affects visitors to the park, and in part due to a press conference held by the Friends of Friendship Park on the lawn of the community center Wednesday evening to promote an alternative re-design.

The proposed changes to Friendship Park—a binational park where people on both sides of the border can meet one another—centers around the re-construction of the pedestrian border fence, which the Border Patrol said no longer meets security standards.

This fence will be replaced with 965 feet of bollard fence on either side of Friendship Circle, the area of the park where those on the American and Mexican sides of the park can get closest to each other.

A bollard fence design is a series of large capped poles positioned tightly together to block anyone from squeezing through, but at the same time not make a solid fence, which can easier to climb.

At Friendship Circle, a 50-foot picket fence with mesh between the fences will be installed, allowing for a clear line of sight between friends and family visiting at the circle.

Other changes include removing an adjustable, wrought-iron fence in the walkway area, allowing for less constricted access for people entering Friendship Circle from the Mexican side and installing a canopy over Friendship Circle.

Replacement of the San Diego Surf Fence

The surf fence replacement project will be directly tied into the Friendship Park project, with construction on both being slated for June of this year.

The San Diego surf fence, which runs along the border and 320 feet into the Pacific Ocean, was built between 1993 and 1994 and consists of steel pipes driven into the ground.

Over the past several years, corrosion and vandalism have brought sections of the fence into various states of disrepair, the Border Patrol said. The new fence they propose would be a similar pole design but made of metals that will last longer than steel. The fence will be bollard style, which will allow some marine creatures to pass through the fence without trouble, but still restrict illegal crossings. To ensure dredging or land reclamation is not necessary, the project will be carried out from a barge stationed just off shore.

The Border Patrol has listed its intentions to be environmentally conscious during this project, citing it will obtain appropriate permits from federal environmental authorities and plan to conduct impact assessments for things like land use, geology, cultural and historical resources and protected species.

The Addition of an All-Weather Road at Bunker Hill

The construction of an all-weather road at Bunker Hill in Border Field State Park is proposed to begin in June of this year as well.

Bunker Hill is home to World War II-era bunkers, and separates the east and west sides of the Border Patrol’s surveillance area. The proposed all-weather road would consist of two segments, the western half which would span approximately 1,000 feet, and an eastern segment, spanning about 1,400 feet. The design is meant to take special care to maximize the Border Patrol’s ability to effectively police the border and leave the WWII bunkers undisturbed. Lighting along the road will also be added for extra security.

This project will not be offered to private contractors, but will be incorporated as part of a military project.

In each project, the Border Patrol made clear their intentions to seek out accountability and permits from environmental authorities.

A statement made by the Border Patrol explained the agency is “committed to consultation with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, states, local governments, Native American tribes and property owners in the United States to minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce and quality of life for the communities and residents located near the sites at which such tactical infrastructure is to be constructed.”

Each project falls under the Imperial Beach Border Patrol station’s territory, which extends from the Pacific Ocean to Otay Mesa.

To learn more, or offer comments or suggestions for these projects to the Border Patrol, visit:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dueling plans for Friendship Park on display

Sign on San Diego
February 8, 2011
by Elizabeth Aguilera

Friendship Park activists and the Border Patrol will unveil opposing design plans for the area around Friendship Circle on the border Wednesday.

Border Patrol plans include replacement of primary fencing and no changes in public access, while the Friends of Friendship Park's plan includes seating, landscaping and increased visiting hours for the public.

The Border Patrol is hosting the open house from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Marina Vista Community Center, 1075 8th St. in Imperial Beach.

Public access to the park, on the border near the most southwestern edge of the county, has been limited since 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security completed secondary fencing in the area that locked Friendship Circle and much of the park between the primary and secondary fencing.

The Border Patrol’s proposed design, called Surf Fence Project, would replace 1,200 feet of fencing from Friendship Circle to the surf. It will be made of “shade structure,” a slat-like fencing with spaces in between the slats, said Steven Pitts, spokesman for the Border Patrol.

Pitts would not comment on the Friends' proposal. He said the Border Patrol is focused on operational goals and safety of both the public and agents. Before the installation of secondary fencing, he said, the area was known as a place where agents were accosted with rocks and smuggling was rampant.

Members of the public are only allowed in the park on weekends between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for 30 minutes at a time. Only 25 people are allowed in at the same time. An additional barrier erected near the primary fencing keeps visitors from touching fingers or whispering updates to one another.

Since the changes were implemented, Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition of volunteers, have been pushing for increased access and a better design that would give the area between the fences a more park-like feel. The coalition’s design by San Diego architect James Brown, principal at Public Architecture and Planning, is meant to create a more inviting atmosphere.

Before the change in 2009, visitors could walk up to the fence, the monument and along the beachline. Guests to the park would visit with friends or family on the other side, touch fingers and chat through the fence. Some would tote beach chairs and set up picnics along the fence.

“That experience has virtually been eliminated,” said Jill Holslin, a leader of the Friends group. “You feel like you are entering into a prison on visiting day. It’s a highly militarized environment.”

Pitts said the Army Corp of Engineers is reviewing the Friends design and if it is approved it will go before Customs and Border Protection leadership for a final decision.

The design created by Brown allows public access up to primary mesh fencing at three points, the binational garden, the foundry monument and the beach area. The secondary fencing entries in the design would be flexible enough to be opened wide for regular park access and to be shut down for security reasons, according to the plans.

“You still have the fence, there is no negating that, but it takes away a little bit of that feeling of being in a holding cell,” Brown said. “We take the responsibility to create a park that fulfills current Border Patrol needs very seriously at the same time designing a park that allows enough flexibility that it can have a life in the future when there is not so much security around it.”

Arizona sues government on Mexico border security

February 11, 2011
by Tim Gaynor

(Reuters) - Arizona on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that Washington has failed to secure the state's porous border with Mexico.

Gov. Jan Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne, both Republicans, told a news conference that they filed a counter suit against the government in federal court in Phoenix.

The suit is in response to a government lawsuit last year blocking key parts of the state's tough law cracking down on illegal immigrants.

"Because the federal government has failed to protect the citizens ... of Arizona, I am left with no other choice," Brewer told reporters at a news conference in central Phoenix, as several boisterous protesters attempted to shout her down.

"We did not want this fight. We did not start this fight. But, now that we are in it, Arizona will not rest until our border is secured and federal immigration laws are enforced," she added.

The desert state straddles a furiously trafficked corridor for human and drug smugglers from Mexico, and is the principal gateway for illegal immigrants entering the United States.

In Washington, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security dismissed the suit as a "meritless court claim" that "does nothing to secure the border."

"Smart strategies, dedicated law enforcement personnel, and strategic partnerships with state, local, and tribal governments and agencies do," spokesman Matt Chandler said.


The suit detailed five separate counts, including allegations that the government had failed to achieve "operational control" over the border, enforce immigration laws, and protect Arizona from "harms associated with rampant illegal immigration."

Brewer locked horns with the federal government last April, when she signed the state's controversial measure cracking down on illegal immigrants into law.

It provoked protests in Arizona and around the country, although opinion polls showed that a majority of Americans supported the law,

At the heart of the state law is the requirement that police determine the immigration status of a person they have detained and suspect of being in the country illegally.

But before it could take effect last July, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton blocked key parts of the state law, arguing immigration matters are the federal government's responsibility.

In November, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in the case. It has yet to issue a ruling.

Brewer said the state would most likely have to pursue its claims all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She added that legal costs were covered by donations from thousands of Americans, and that no state taxpayer funds had been spent in defending the law.

Brewer said the state would most likely have to pursue its claims all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She added that legal costs were covered by donations from thousands of Americans, and that no state taxpayer funds had been spent in defending the law.

Arizona proposal would use donations to build border fence

Arizona Daily Star
February 10, 2011
by Howard Fischer

PHOENIX - Saying the state can't depend on the federal government, a Senate panel on Thursday voted to let the governor start taking donations to build a border fence.

The proposal by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, allows for construction of a new barrier on private property, with the consent of the landowners. Estimates are that would cover about a third of the approximately 370 mile long border, with the balance either on the Tohono O'odham reservation or federal land.

Jaime Ferrant of the Border Action Network called the plan in SB 1406 "fiscally irresponsible.'' He said it is costing the federal government about $4 million a mile to construct the kind of fence designed to keep people and vehicles out.

Smith said he has no firm idea of what it might cost to build a suitable fence. But he said that the costs to the state could be minimal if the state is able to get private donations.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said labor costs could be next to nothing if the state uses inmate labor. And Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said if the money comes from outside sources, the price tag is irrelevant.

What's behind the plan is the argument that whatever the federal government has build is insufficient, leaving large portions of the state vulnerable.

"We have a crisis in our state and it is caused because our borders are not secure,'' said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake.

But Allen said the failure of the federal government to build an adequate fence all along the border is more than just incompetence.

"I feel, unfortunately, if the little secret were known, for some reason, somebody's protecting the cartel,'' Allen said. "They don't want to shut the border and the flow of drugs that are coming in here because of how powerful and how wealthy these cartels are.''

Smith's plan, if enacted, would cover only a part of the border.

Antenori said about a third of the area is within the Tohono O'odham Reservation. When national forests and other federal lands are eliminated, he said that leaves private lands along only about a third of the border.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said an effort to build a new fence is misplaced. He said the key is fixing the immigration system, a system he said makes it virtually impossible for people to come to this system legally.

Gallardo said securing the border does need to be a part of any solution.

"If you truly want to stop illegal immigration, you have to look at reforming our immigration process, allowing people a legal method to come to this country,'' he said. Once that happens, Gallardo said, "no one's going to want to risk their lives coming through the Arizona desert in 120-degree heat.''

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said there is evidence that fencing works. She said there are large areas of the border around Yuma, El Paso and San Diego that have been secured by federally built fences -- fences that don't exist along other large stretches of the border in Southern Arizona.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Border fence bill alive in Mississippi Legislature

Associated Press
February 3, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. -- A bill to help fund a border fence between the United States and Mexico is still alive in the Mississippi Legislature.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane said earlier this week that he didn't plan to bring the bill up for a vote in his committee because the measure had unresolved questions. Without consideration, the bill would die.

However, Fillingane brought the bill up Tuesday and the committee passed it. The bill, supported by tea party groups, awaits consideration by Feb. 23 in the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill would put a $5 transaction fee on money wired to locations outside the United States, plus a 1 percent fee for any out-of-country wire transfer over $500.

The bill is Senate Bill 2255.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Border fence funding bill falters in Mississippi

Sun Herald / Associated Press
February 1, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi lawmakers killed a tea party proposal on Tuesday that would have raised money for a border fence between the United States and Mexico.

The bill would have established a $5 transaction fee on money wired to locations outside the United States, plus a 1 percent fee for any out-of-country wire transfer over $500. The money would have been put into a fund to build a border fence. Mississippi does not share a border with Mexico.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said Tuesday he filed the bill at the request of tea party groups.

"The tea party groups in DeSoto County and here in central Mississippi were very, very hip on it," Fillingane said Tuesday.

Fillingane said his committee wasn't considering the bill before a Tuesday deadline because there were too many questions about how a border fence fund would be administered. If the federal government paid for a complete fence, for example, Fillingane said the bill didn't specify what would happen with the money generated by the wire-transfer fees in Mississippi.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has been courting tea party voters as he runs for governor this year.

Mark Mayfield, a board member of the Mississippi Tea Party, said the border fence funding bill was important but was not the group's biggest issue this session. Instead, he said members are pushing lawmakers to agree on the final version of a separate bill that would allow a law enforcement officer to check a person's immigration status if the officer thinks the person might be in the country illegally.

The enforcement bill has passed the House and Senate in different forms and is likely headed to negotiations between the two chambers.

"The Mississippi Tea Party is a strong supporter of border security and of enforcing existing laws against illegal immigration," Mayfield said in a phone interview.

Tuesday was the first big deadline of the 2011 Mississippi legislative session. It was the final day for House and Senate bills to consider general bills originating in their own chamber. The border fence bill is among hundreds that died.

Bills that survived the deadline are moving to the full House and Senate for more work.

The bills are Senate Bill 2255 and 2719.