March 20, 2011
by Jacqueline Armendariz
The U.S.-Mexico federal border fence negatively affects minorities disproportionately, a study recently published by local university professors found.
The environmental effects of the fence on the people of the region, something little focused on amid the heated political debate surrounding it, was investigated by University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College professors Jude Benavides and Jeff Wilson.
"We do not want to speculate as to the intent of the government on where it was placed but the results are clear: the wall is in the backyard of those who would be least equipped to negotiate," Wilson, an environmental science professor, said. "This region suffers from extreme poverty and low education. The wall, given its placement, seems to exacerbate the undue burden that our already overburdened local community is trying to overcome."
The findings, published in the 2010 edition of the annual journal "The Southwestern Geographer," found that groups like Hispanics, those with low income and people who are foreign born, were most affected by the fence in Cameron County.
With the combination of the Secure Border Fence Act of 2006 and another 2008 appropriations bill, the federal government was set to construct about 700 miles of barrier, about 315 miles of which is in Texas with much of it on private land, the study said.
"It was an issue literally in our backyard," Benavides said in a press release. "No one was doing these types of studies, which would have been part of an environmental assessment study."
The research itself took place in 2007 and found Cameron County had one-third of the proposed fence gaps, more than any other Texas county, the study said.
Meanwhile, the government encountered significant resistance, the study said, some calling the fence’s placement "arbitrary."
The government was not forthcoming on its method to determine where the fence would go, so much so that eventually a lawsuit was brought against the Department of Homeland Security and Corps of Engineers to get the latest data, Wilson said.
He said researchers suspect the disparities may have been widened with the fence’s current location compared to its proposed location.
"Obviously, the groups more in position to negotiate are going to be the ones with greater means and educational qualifications," Wilson said.
UTB-TSC itself filed a civil lawsuit against DHS when it was proposed the fence run through the university’s property. The two entities reached a compromise in August 2008.
Benavides and Wilson collaborated with several other academic entities on the study, including the University of Texas at Austin’s Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice.
Currently, Wilson said, he and his fellow researchers are analyzing the final location of the fence compared to its planned location to find any changes in disparities.
Future research is in the planning stages regarding the deaths of undocumented immigrants in Arizona and California border regions in the context of the fence’s construction, he said.
The fence has pushed undocumented immigrants further into remote locations where water and shelter are not readily available, which results in more deaths, Wilson said.