Thursday, September 29, 2011

U.S. mulls Canadian border fence

CBC News
September 29, 2011

The United States is looking at building fences along the border with Canada to help keep out terrorists and other criminals, according to a draft report by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency

The report proposes the use of "fencing and other barriers" on the 49th parallel to manage "trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control."

But a spokesperson for U.S Customs and Border Protection said the government is not considering the fence option "at this time" and instead is looking at the environmental effects of putting more manpower, technology and infrastructure along the border.

The border service is also pondering options including a beefed-up technological presence through increased use of radar, sensors, cameras, drones and vehicle scanners. In addition, it might continue to improve or expand customs facilities at ports of entry.

The agency considered but ruled out the possibility of hiring "significantly more" U.S. Border Patrol agents to increase the rate of inspections, noting staffing has already risen in recent years.

Customs and Border Protection is inviting comment on the options and plans a series of public meetings in Washington and several U.S. border communities next month. It will then decide which ideas to pursue.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano noted last month the challenges of monitoring the vast, sparsely populated northern border region. She stressed manpower, but also a greater reliance on technology.

Ironically, the moves come as Canada and the U.S. try to finalize a perimeter security arrangement that would focus on continental defences while easing border congestion. It would be aimed at speeding passage of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border, which has become something of a bottleneck since the 911 attacks.

Relatively speaking, Washington has focused more energy and resources on tightening security along the border with Mexico than at the sprawling one with Canada.

But that may be changing.

Only small portion secured

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report recently warned that only a small portion of the border with Canada is properly secure. It said U.S. border officers control just 50 kilometres of the 6,400-kilometre boundary.

The Customs and Border Protection report says while fences have been a big element in deterring unauthorized crossings of the U.S.-Mexican border, "it is unlikely that fencing will play as prominent a role" on the northern border, given its length and terrain that varies from prairie to forest.

However, the agency would use fencing and other barriers such as trenches to control movement and sometimes delay people trying to sneak across the border, increasing the likelihood they could be caught, says the report.

It doesn't provide details about what the fences might look like, but suggests they would be designed to blend into the environment and "complement the natural landscape."

The approach would also involve upgrading roadways and trails near the border.

"The lack of roads or presence of unmaintained roads impedes efficient surveillance operations," says the report. "Improving or expanding the roadway and trail networks could improve mobility, allowing agents to patrol more miles each day and shortening response times."

Over the last two years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already made what it calls "critical security improvements along the northern border," adding inspectors at the ports of entry and Border Patrol agents between ports, as well as modernizing land crossings.

Nearly 3,800 Customs and Border Protection officers scrutinize people and goods at crossings. The number of Border Patrol agents working between crossings along the northern parallel has increased 700 per cent since Sept. 11, 2001. And some three dozen land ports of entry are being modernized.

Unmanned U.S. aircraft patrol about 1,500 kilometres along the northern border from Washington to Minnesota as well as more than 300 kilometres of the Canadian border around New York state and Lake Ontario.

U.S. denies border-fence plan, despite report

Globe and Mail
September 29, 2011
by Tu Thanh Ha and John Ibbitson

The United States government insists it has no plans to put up a fence along parts of the Canada-U.S. border, despite a report that contemplates exactly that.

The report from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency put forward the possibility of fencing the border to deter illegal crossings. But a statement from the agency insisted that “a border fence along the northern border is not being considered at this time.”

The study that proposed the fence was intended to put forward options that could be considered “if additional manpower, technology, and infrastructure were employed,” the statement said.

There is no suggestion as yet that Congress or the Obama administration are planning to substantially increase border-protection funding.

The issue of a possible fence emerged as both countries prepared to release their Beyond the Border joint initiative that aims, in part, to improve border security through co-operation.

The possibility of the fence was brought up in a draft environmental impact study released two weeks ago seeking input from American communities along the 6,400-kilometre border from Maine to Washington State. The fencing would be far less extensive than that of the U.S.-Mexico border. Other tools could include deploying more remote sensors and upgrading checkpoints.

“While fencing has played a prominent role in CBP’s enforcement strategy on the Southern Border to deter illegal border crossings, it is unlikely that fencing will play as prominent a role on the Northern Border, given the length of the border and the variability of the terrain,” the document says.

“CBP would use fencing and other barriers to manage movement (e.g., trenching across roads) in trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control; the resulting delay for cross-border violators would increase the rate of interdiction.”

An accompanying table shows there would be about five major projects, either upgrading access roads or building fences of more than 400 metres in length in each of four geographic areas: the border west of the Rockies, the Prairies, the Great Lakes and New England.

The proposal does not involve the border between Alaska and Canada.

The document outlines five alternatives to help the border agency “protect the Northern Border against evolving threats over the next five to seven years”:

- Maintaining the status quo. The study warns that “this alternative would not fully meet the need for the program because it would not allow CBP to improve its capability to interdict cross-border violators or to identify and resolve threats.”

- Upgrading current facilities such as border-patrol stations and ports of entry and providing more housing for personnel. “These facilities, built for a different era of operations, are poorly configured to support CBP’s evolving trade facilitation and antiterrorism mission,” the study says.

- Increasing detection by fielding more patrols and deploying more high-tech hardware, such as body and container scanners, remote sensors, microphones and cameras and radar.

- “Tactical security infrastructure,” meaning expanding access roads and “constructing additional barriers, such as selective fencing or vehicle barriers, at selected points along the border to deter and delay cross-border violators.”

- A mix of the last three options.

U.S. eyes fencing along Canadian border

Globe and Mail
September 29, 2011
by Jim Bronskill

The United States is looking at building fences along the border with Canada to help keep out terrorists and other criminals.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has proposed the use of “fencing and other barriers” on the 49th parallel to manage “trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control.”

The border service is also pondering options including a beefed-up technological presence through increased use of radar, sensors, cameras, drones and vehicle scanners. In addition, it might continue to improve or expand customs facilities at ports of entry.

The agency considered but ruled out the possibility of hiring “significantly more” U.S. Border Patrol agents to increase the rate of inspections, noting staffing has already risen in recent years.

The proposals are spelled out in a new draft report by the border service that examines the possible environmental impact of the various options over the next five to seven years.

Customs and Border Protection is inviting comment on the options and plans a series of public meetings in Washington and several U.S. border communities next month. It will then decide which ideas to pursue.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano noted last month the challenges of monitoring the vast, sparsely populated northern border region. She stressed manpower, but also a greater reliance on technology.

Ironically, the moves come as Canada and the U.S. try to finalize a perimeter security arrangement that would focus on continental defences while easing border congestion. It would be aimed at speeding passage of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border, which has become something of a bottleneck since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Relatively speaking, Washington has focused more energy and resources on tightening security along the border with Mexico than at the sprawling one with Canada.

But that may be changing.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report recently warned that only a small portion of the border with Canada is properly secure. It said U.S. border officers control just 50 kilometres of the 6,400-kilometre boundary.

The Customs and Border Protection report says while fences have been a big element in deterring unauthorized crossings of the U.S.-Mexican border, “it is unlikely that fencing will play as prominent a role” on the northern border, given its length and terrain that varies from prairie to forest.

However, the agency would use fencing and other barriers such as trenches to control movement and sometimes delay people trying to sneak across the border, increasing the likelihood they could be caught, says the report.

It doesn’t provide details about what the fences might look like, but suggests they would be designed to blend into the environment and “complement the natural landscape.”

The approach would also involve upgrading roadways and trails near the border.

“The lack of roads or presence of unmaintained roads impedes efficient surveillance operations,” says the report. “Improving or expanding the roadway and trail networks could improve mobility, allowing agents to patrol more miles each day and shortening response times.”

Over the last two years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already made what it calls “critical security improvements along the northern border,” adding inspectors at the ports of entry and Border Patrol agents between ports, as well as modernizing land crossings.

Nearly 3,800 Customs and Border Protection officers scrutinize people and goods at crossings. The number of Border Patrol agents working between crossings along the northern parallel has increased 700 per cent since Sept. 11, 2001. And some three dozen land ports of entry are being modernized.

Unmanned U.S. aircraft patrol about 1,500 kilometres along the northern border from Washington to Minnesota as well as more than 300 kilometres of the Canadian border around New York state and Lake Ontario.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creative pot smugglers try 'a little bit of everything'

Arizona Daily Star
September 28, 2011
by Brenna Goth

Nogales smugglers are trying new tricks to get their product through the border fence built this summer.

Capitalizing on the 4-inch openings between steel bars in the fence, pot bundles have been found molded into long, thin tubes that can slip between the slats, law enforcement officials say.

Tossing large, football-shaped bundles over the fence has also become prevalent since the new construction, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. Estrada has worked in law enforcement at the border for more than 40 years and said smugglers have tried "a little bit of everything."

With the football bundles, smugglers tape the packages before throwing or launching them from Mexico.

"There are quarterbacks in Mexico and receivers in the U.S.," said Lt. Gerardo Castillo, who works for the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force. "We try to intercept, obviously."

The thin bundles of pot were first found during a July seizure and were likely passed through a space, Castillo said. He said the tubular bundles were about 20 inches long and about a half-inch thinner than the new border-fence gaps.

The 2.8-mile border fence completed this summer aimed to provide more security through increased height and strength.

But smugglers find tactics to address any new challenges a fence provides, Castillo said.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game," he said. "If we build a wall, they're going to climb it. Whatever barrier exists, they're going to overcome it."

Increased Border Patrol manpower and technology have forced smugglers to bring across smaller loads in recent months, said Agent Jason Rheinfrank.

Rheinfrank recalled other unusual smuggling tactics, like a colleague who found a man wading through the Douglas sewage system with a scuba mask and bundle of marijuana, and the time someone used the lighting system at a baseball field in Douglas to attach fishing line from Mexico to a house.

"They'd zip-lined it (marijuana) down across the border," Rheinfrank said. "They come up with all different methods."

Though it is possible for people to pass things between spaces in the new fence, the visibility provided by the openings is beneficial, Rheinfrank said.

"If you're up to no good? Boom. We can instantly respond to that area," Rheinfrank said.

Estrada said he did not envision any changes being made to the fence to prevent the package-passing. Opportunity will remain despite prevention efforts, he said.

"It just makes cartels more creative," Estrada said. "That's the nature of the beast down here in Nogales."

Border fence fails to end drug smuggling

September 28, 2011

NOGALES, Ariz., Sept. 28 (UPI) -- A new border fence in Nogales, Ariz., is no barrier to drug smugglers who simply make narcotics hand-offs between the fence's re-enforced bars, officials said.

The Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force says its investigators discovered a number of oddly shaped bundles of marijuana during a recent drug seizure, the Nogales International reported Tuesday.

Forty-eight pounds of marijuana had been wrapped in thin tubular packages investigators say they believe were slipped through the fence, which has interconnected, concrete-filled steel tubes with an approximately 4-inch open space between them.

Task force Lt. Gerry Castillo dubbed the transfers "boom-boom" hand-offs in which someone on the Mexico side quickly pushes a package through to a person on the U.S. side before fleeing.

Passing contraband through the fence is nothing new and smugglers use "any method they can conceive of," Border Patrol Agent Eric Cantu said.

The $11.6-million, 2.8-mile border fence was completed this summer following a groundbreaking in March.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Smugglers making hand-offs through bars of border fence

Nogales International
September 27, 2011
by JB Miller

In another change of tactics precipitated by the new Nogales border fence, smugglers appear to be making narcotics hand-offs from Mexico to the U.S. through the bars of the barrier, authorities say.

Lt. Gerry Castillo of the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force said his office is looking into a case that began in July when investigators discovered a number of oddly shaped bundles of marijuana during a seizure at an undisclosed location.

He said the investigators at first thought the 48 pounds of marijuana that had been wrapped in thin tubular packages might be "tunnel bundles." However, upon closer examination, they discovered that the bundles were not dirty.

That's when investigators decided that the packages had likely been passed through the fence, which features interconnected, concrete-filled steel tubes with an approximately 4-inch open space between them.

"Boom-boom," is how Castillo described the suspected hand-offs, in which someone on the Mexico side quickly hands a bundle to a person on the U.S. side before taking off.

"We block them for awhile and they come up with another plan," Castillo said of the cat-and-mouse game between drug smugglers and law enforcement.

Castillo said no arrests have been made in the ongoing investigation, but authorities have identified three people of interest.

No change

The new $11.6-million, 2.8-mile border fence was completed this past summer following a groundbreaking in March. At the time of construction, Border Patrol officials said the taller, stronger, more secure barrier would allow it to station fewer agents at the fence and deploy more of them to outlying trouble spots.

However, Agent Eric Cantu, spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, said there has been no change of staffing at the fence area. He added that passing contraband through the fence is nothing new and smugglers use "any method they can conceive of."

Cantu said blocking the space between the bars with material like steel mesh would be unproductive because smugglers would just cut through it.

"We have to be aware of all techniques currently used and try to mitigate through the increase of infrastructure, manpower, and technology and also through our cooperation with other law-enforcement partners," Cantu said.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

County Residents Still have Questions About Border Wall

September 23, 2011
by Camaron Abundes

LOS EBANOS - People living near the Rio Grande in northern Hidalgo and Starr counties still have many questions about the border wall. The federal government has yet to figure out where it plans to build 14 more miles of border fence.

Ignacio Gutierrez has lived in Los Ebanos for 34 years in the home he built. Over the last six years, he has heard a lot about changes coming, changes-in the shape of a border fence.

"The way of life we live is the way of life. If you put a wall, the problem won't be for us but for the people who want to come here," says Gutierrez.

Gutierrez says he's not sure the wall - and the multi-millions of dollars it will cost to build it - in this region is worth the money. He says he does feel the impact of Border Patrol agents constantly keeping watch on this sleepy little town.

Fourteen miles of required fencing is expected to go up in Starr County, but that won't happen until there's an agreement between the International Boundary and Water Commission and the Department of Homeland Security.

A spokesperson for DHS says the IBWC has already completed a hydrology study of the land. The study was to help experts understand the impact of the wall on the flood plain. They have yet to sign off on any final plans. That means just about everything about the construction remains in limbo.

Gutierrez doesn't know if the wall will ever come or on which side of the fence he'll find his beloved home. There's just one thing he's certain about.

"Bad people that want to do bad will find a way to keep doing it," says Gutierrez.

He says people who want to enter the United States and move drugs and illegal immigrants will keep looking for ways to do it.

Another thing still up in the air is if the federal government will step in to buy additional lands to build the wall in those areas.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Feds plan forum on Paisano Drive border fence

El Paso Times
September 22, 2011
by Daniel Borunda

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials will have a public meeting tonight about the environmental impact of the planned construction of an 18-foot-tall border fence at a historic spot off West Paisano Drive.

The open-house-style meeting by CBP Facilities Management and Engineering will be at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express, 409 E. Missouri in Downtown El Paso.

The planned fence would be behind Old Fort Bliss and where conquistador Don Juan de Oñate is thought to have crossed the Rio Grande at "El Paso del Rio del Norte" in 1598.

"The project will be constructed in the only remaining section of the border in El Paso that does not have a pedestrian fence installed," CBP materials stated. "The fence will reduce illegal cross-border activities in this heavily travelled area of the city."

CBP said the 0.63-mile fence would connect to steel-mesh fencing already along the Rio Grande to the west near Asarco and to the east to the Downtown. The planned fence and an access road would be built in the spring.

The planned fence, named segment K-1B, would be next to the American Canal on U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission land and some private property. Officials said parts of the fence would be removable to allow access to the canal.

In 2008, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security issued a waiver of many environmental laws to speed up the construction of border fences, CBP officials said.Ê

Critics of the so-called border wall argue that the barrier is costly, conveys a hostile message and pushes illegal immigration to remote and dangerous locations.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Higher border fence causes smugglers to go airborne

Nogales International
September 20, 2011
by JB Miller

Like a football team with a faltering ground game, drug smugglers are turning to an air attack in an effort to get their product past the new border fence in Nogales.

Lt. Carlos Jimenez of the Nogales Police Department said that due to the increased height and strength of the new barrier, smugglers are having a hard time climbing or cutting through it. As a result, they are coming up with new ways of launching their product over the fence - including tossing football-shaped bundles of marijuana.

"We have seen different shapes and sizes from football-type to large 5-gallon-can-size, cylinder-shaped bundles," Jimenez said.

In one case, a police canine unit responded to the vicinity of East Nelson Avenue on the night of Sept. 9 after someone reported a suspicious amount of car traffic in the area.

An NPD officer checked several parked vehicles and came across a car with fictitious license plates, which "heightened the officer's attention to it," Jimenez said.

"The officer deployed his police canine and the canine alerted to the car interior," Jimenez said. "The car was unsecured and abandoned so when the officer opened the door to the car in plain sight he saw the black football-shape marijuana bundles."

In all, police seized 39 bundles with a total weight of 39.7 pounds and impounded the car.

The incident sparked a series of football-related jokes and puns when Sheriff Antonio Estrada mentioned during the Sept. 14 County Board of Supervisors that NPD had "intercepted" the football-sized bundles.

"There were no receivers," he said after noting that no arrests had been made. As for the smugglers, "Their timing was off," he suggested.

Catapults also suspected

Jimenez said he believes that smugglers are also be using catapult-type devices to launch heavier bundles over the fence.

For example, on the night of Aug. 5, an anonymous caller reported that packages were being thrown over the border fence near Escalada Drive. A few minutes later, as officers were checking out the scene, another anonymous caller reported that there were bundles being heaved over the fence at West International Street.

The officer who responded to Escalada Drive eventually found five "cylinder-shaped" bundles of marijuana with a total weight of 62 pounds - an average of more than 12 pounds each - and NPD asked Border Patrol to use its cameras along the fence in hopes finding the location and device from which the bundles were being tossed. However, no further discoveries or arrests were made.

Meanwhile at West International Street, officers managed to arrest two men and seize five bundles of pot totaling 117 pounds. Several other men reportedly carrying bundles on their backs escaped into Mexico.

While most cases like these are turned over to the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force, Jimenez said, NPD also shares information with law enforcement on the Mexico side in an effort to catch suspects and contraband.

The new $11.6-million, 2.8-mile border fence, completed this past summer, ranges from 23 to 30 feet in height and is topped by a 5-foot high, south-facing metal sheet to discourage climbers. It's made of six-inch-square metal tubes, filled with concrete with a strand of rebar running down the middle to thwart cutting.

The landing mat fence that it replaced measured approximately 10 feet tall, and was easier to cut through and burrow under.

Monday, September 19, 2011

House measure would expand Homeland Security powers, waive environmental laws

Great Falls Tribune
September 18, 2011
by John S. Adams

HELENA — A controversial bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security unprecedented authority over federal lands within 100 miles of the United States' border is making its way through Congress.

The proposed measure, called the "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act," would let Homeland Security waive 36 major federal environmental protection laws in order to facilitate border patrol activities on public lands.

Supporters of the bill say it would give U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents more control in securing the nation's borders. Opponents argue that the measure is overly broad and would give Homeland Security unchecked authority to disregard major environmental laws on public lands, including wilderness areas, national parks and wildlife refuges among others.

Congressman Denny Rehberg, one of the 49 Republican co-sponsors of the measure, said the bill is aimed at giving border patrol agents the tools they need to secure the border.

"This bill is about ending a dangerous turf war being waged between various federal government agencies — and it's a turf war that is threatening America's national security," Rehberg said. "The simple idea of the bill is to provide the border patrol with the same access on federal land that it currently has on state and private land. There is nothing about this bill that creates any new authority to intrude into the lives of Americans."

Critics, including Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, say House Resolution 1505 is on par with the Patriot Act and REAL ID, in terms of granting the federal government unprecedented and overreaching powers.

"It's a federal land grab at its worst," Tester said. "I just can't see how any lawmaker would think it's a good idea to allow the Department of Homeland Security to make sweeping decisions about our land and ignore our rights without any public accountability."

The bill would give the secretary of homeland security total operational authority over all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. international and maritime borders. Under the proposed law, DHS would have immediate access to, and control over, any public land managed by the federal government for "purposes of conducting activities that assist in securing the border (including access to maintain and construct roads, construct a fence, use vehicles to patrol and set up monitoring equipment)."

In Montana, the law would impact nearly the entire northern third of the state, including Glacier National Park; portions of the Kootenai and Flathead national forests; The Flathead, Blackfeet, Rocky Boy's, Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Indian reservations, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and tens of thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management lands.

The measure also waives 36 major environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Clean Air Act.

Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said the agency does not comment on the specifics of pending legislation.

Kim Thorsen, deputy assistant secretary for law enforcement, security and emergency management at the U.S. Department of Interior, testified to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands that the Obama administration opposes the measure.

"We recognize the significant ecological and cultural values of the extensive lands Interior agencies manage near the borders, and we strive to maintain their character and fulfill our mission to protect and preserve these assets on behalf of the American people," Thorsen said in written testimony to the committee. "We also believe that these two objectives — securing our borders and conserving our federal lands — are not mutually exclusive; we are not faced with a choice between the two, instead, we can — and should — do both."

According to Thorsen, HR 1505 would have a significant impact on the Interior Department's ability to carry out its mission to protect natural and cultural resources on federally managed and trust lands.

"As drafted, this bill could impact approximately 54 units of the national park system, 228 national wildlife refuges, 122 units of the National Wilderness Preservation System managed by Interior, and 87 units of BLM's National Landscape Conservation System, resulting in unintended damage to sensitive natural and cultural resources, including endangered species and wilderness," Thorsen wrote.

John Leshy, a University of California - Hastings, law professor and a former committee staffer, told the committee that compared with other legislation he has seen, HR 1505 is "the most breathtakingly extreme legislative proposal of its kind."

"I have grave concerns, not only about its wisdom as a matter of policy, but also its constitutionality as a matter of law," Hastings told the committee.

He also said that under the bill, Homeland Security's actions would be immune from court review, except for constitutional claims.

Supporters of the measure say that's exactly the point.

Zack Taylor, vice chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, said the foundational components of border security are national security and public safety. He said no other laws — including environmental protection laws — should ever supersede those foundational principles.

"What has happened is the importance on the environment has come to rule everything else," Taylor said in an interview last week. "In our view, the people are more important than the porcupine or the wolverine or the wolf or the grizzly bear."

Jane Danowitz, director of U.S. Public Lands for the Pew Environment Group, said the measure is part of a "disturbing trend" in Congress to undo environmental regulations in the name of public safety or national security.

"Anti-environmental bills that would never pass under their own merits are now being recast as solutions to some of the country's most pressing problems," Danowitz said. "We all care about national security and protecting our borders, but waiving core conservation measures is not the way to do it."

Supporters say the criticisms of the bill are overblown.

"HR 1505 isn't about creating new enforcement authority. Rather, it's about making existing laws actually work as intended by alleviating the regulatory burden of certain environmental laws," Rehberg said.

Rehberg said the bill is not just about preventing terrorists from entering this country, it also is about stemming the flow of illegal immigrants, drug smuggling and the abuse of public lands by criminals and drug cartels.

"At the end of the day, I never want to have to tell a Montana family that their loved one was killed by someone on drugs that got into our state because some federal bureaucrats couldn't work together to control the border," Rehberg said.

Tester said the bill has far greater implications than its supporters acknowledge.

"This is a whole lot worse than just granting agents access to certain federal lands. It gives one federal department the ability to run roughshod over the rights of law-abiding Americans and seize vast swaths of land we all own and use — with no public accountability," Tester said. "This nation is very capable of fighting terrorism without turning into a government police state, but that's exactly what this unpopular plan would do."

According to the bill's sponsor, Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, the measure could see a mark-up before the end of the year.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lucio: I Plan to See Border Wall Torn Down in My Lifetime

Rio Grande Guardian
September 17, 2011
by Steve Taylor

BROWNSVILLE, Sept. 17 - State Sen. Eddie Lucio says if Rio Grande Valley residents keep up the pressure, they will succeed in tearing down the border wall.

“I was born and reared here and I have never seen anything like this monstrosity,” Lucio said, referring to the border wall. “In my lifetime I want to see the border wall come down, just like I saw the Berlin Wall come down. Even if I am 85 or 90 years old, I want to be there when the wall comes down.”

Lucio said he also wants to see, in his lifetime, the appropriate level of compensation paid to those whose homes and land have been disfigured by the border wall. “We give big corporations on Wall Street billions of dollars of tax relief. Why can’t we give the little people, people I consider great Americans and great Texans, some relief? We should not turn our backs on those in need,” he said.

Lucio, D-Brownsville, made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Guardian immediately following a town hall meeting he held to discuss to the impact the border wall has had on landowners who live between the wall and the Rio Grande.

Lucio said all the evidence suggests the border wall has not been an effective method in deterring undocumented immigration. He said it was only erected “to satisfy the appetite of immigrant-bashing politicians in other parts of America.”

A much better method of deterring undocumented immigration, Lucio said, would be to set up a four-state immigrant employment zone where Mexican residents could come in and work under a guest worker program. He said he is confident that if such a program were in operation, Mexican nationals would return to their homeland once their work is done.

“If we want to do something about illegal immigration we should create an immigrant employment zone and have guest workers come in. We would know who they are and where they live. At the moment people get in illegally and they spread out. They are in hiding,” Lucio said.

“I want to see the federal government pass legislation to allow the four Border States – Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California - to address this issue at the state level. We know better than the federal government how to set up this program. We need bricklayers, we need roofers; we need dishwashers, we need agricultural workers. Let us as Border States hire workers from Mexico to do the jobs our people are unwilling to do.”

Lucio said if the federal government allowed the Border States to create an immigrant employment zone for Mexican workers, the four states would be a lot cleaner. “These people are workers. They have an incredible work ethic. They would keep our state clean. All they want to do is make a little bit of money to maintain their families. They want to eat. They want to live. Who can blame them? It is all about if we are going to be humanitarians or not,” he said.

Lucio said the U.S. should also be doing more to help Mexico.

“The way you curb illegal immigration from Mexico is to create an economy there that is robust. The Mexican government needs to establish a national minimum wage. You get a $5 dollar minimum wage and these workers will not be coming here. They will stay in Mexico. Lift their economy and you keep these people in their homeland,” he said.

Lucio concluded his interview with the Guardian by casting doubt on the usefulness of a congressional hearing being staged at the University of Texas at Brownsville on Monday by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble. The hearing is slated to focus on border violence.

“My staff has been told only invited guests will be allowed to speak at this hearing and that the people of my community, the people who attended this town hall meeting, will not be allowed to testify. That is un-American,” Lucio said.

“Why bother to hold a hearing if you are not going to hear from the public? Why waste taxpayers’ money? Send us the money for public education or healthcare. Don’t spend all this money on a joyride. As far as I am concerned these members of Congress could have stayed back home and done a teleconference. I am extremely disappointed our residents will not get to speak.”

Poe is a big backer of the border wall. Last March he co-authored the Unlawful Border Entry Prevention Act, which would require construction of an additional 350 miles of border wall.

Despite not being allowed to testify at Poe’s hearing, Lucio said he will try to get all the comments made by those at his town hall meeting entered into the congressional record. “I am going to see if they make these comments part of the record or chuck them away,” Lucio said. He said he would also be sending the comments of those who attended the town hall meeting to President Obama.

Lucio’s town hall meeting was held at the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course, adjacent to the Rio Grande.

Among those who spoke at the event were state Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, landowner Michelle Taylor Moncivaiz, whose home lies between the border wall and the Rio Grande, Equal Voice for America’s Families leader Mike Seifert, La Unión del Pueblo Entero Director Juanita Valdez Cox, Sierra Club Borderlands Team Co-Chair and No Border Wall Coalition Co-Founder Scott Nicol, UT-Brownsville professors Jeff Wilson and Jude Benavides, Hidalgo County Democratic Party activist Aaron Peña III, Texas Rangers Liaison Art Barrera, and Rick Perez, a member of the special investigations unit set up by Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio. The only person at the hearing to speak in favor of the border wall was Brownsville resident Dagberto Barrera.

Impact of border wall discussed at meeting

Brownsville Herald / The Monitor
September 17, 2011
by Jacqueline Armendariz

BROWNSVILLE -- Drug trafficking from Mexico into Cameron County has increased, not decreased, since the border fence was built, a sheriff’s lieutenant said Saturday at a public meeting.

It was one of many points discussed at the “Border Wall Impact” meeting hosted by State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. at the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course. The event brought together legislators, city representatives, state and county law enforcement and private citizens to air concerns about the fence.

“Is the fence keeping drugs from coming in? No,” Lieutenant Rick Perez said responding to a question. “We have more drugs now than before.”

Perez is part of the special investigations unit of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department.

A disconnect between U.S. border communities and the federal government, and the perceived ineffectiveness of the border fence, emerged as the major themes at Saturday’s gathering.

One property owner shared stories about finding drugs near her home and also being the victim of a home burglary.

Among people who spoke, some supported the fence while most did not.

“This is terrorism from the United States to other countries,” Yolanda Garza Birdwell said of the fence and its environmental impact. She described herself as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico and a Laguna Vista resident for a year.

Dagoberto Berrera was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He said he supported the fence, and he spoke disparagingly of undocumented immigrants.

‘Better than nothing’

“The wall is better than nothing,” he said. “Sure, it costs a lot of money, but it also costs us by just letting everybody in here. We are a land of law and order. You’ve got to obey the laws.”

The audience, which included District 4 City Commissioner John Villarreal, numbered a little more than 20 people.

Lucio said he has been disappointed by the lack of information about the impact of the border fence, and said he hoped to use what he learned Saturday to be an advocate for the region in Austin.

“I truly hope that today’s meeting will be the first true step in understanding the real impacts of the border wall on our region with the information that you share, being armed with facts, figures and knowledge,” Lucio told those in attendance.

Lobbying for property owners

Lucio’s brother, Bob Lucio, is the manager of the border golf course that hosted the meeting and said his hope is to get more support for his group called the No Man’s Land Association.

With power in numbers, he said he wants to lobby to help for property owners or businesses like himself whose land has ended up between the Rio Grande River and the border fence.

At the meeting, several audience members brought up concerns about being able to communicate with law enforcement and the environmental impact of the fence, while others spoke to decreased property values and alleged that the federal government has abused its power of eminent domain.

Still others spoke to serious safety concerns, while another audience member raised concerns about the potential psychological effects the border wall has created for communities on both sides. There was also discussion of a University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College study that found the fence effects minorities disproportionately.

Fears for safety

Michelle Moncivaiz identified herself as a property owner living just a short distance from the border fence, but she said she feared for the safety of her family. She pleaded to the law enforcement representatives and legislators present for “more boots on the ground” to help.

“Washington doesn’t understand what this fence has created,” she said. “Where is our Homeland Security? ... Where is America helping us on the border?”

No one at the meeting disputed the assertion that more law enforcement officers are needed along the border. Perez said at the end of this year the Sheriff’s Department will lose 12 deputies who were temporarily staffed through a $2.2 million grant from the Department of Justice.

He read a statement on behalf of Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio saying that he never supported the fence. The sheriff was not present at the meeting.

“The sheriff suggests that instead of building the fence, take into consideration giving him the $10 million and you can hire 12 deputies for several years and they would do a better job than the fence,” Perez said. Still, the statement discussed a high-traffic drug smuggling area along Highway 4, where there is no fence.

Sharing information

Texas Ranger Staff Lieutenant Art Barrera said he is the liaison between local, state and federal law enforcement in Operation Border Star, and he reports information to Austin. He and Perez said the entities they work for have not conducted studies on the impact of the fence.

“It’s getting better,” Barrera said of sharing knowledge. “I’m not saying we’re there yet, but information sharing between federal, state and local is on the right track.”

Hearing Monday

A federal hearing on border security is scheduled for Monday. Lucio said state legislators were not invited and that testimony would not be taken from the public. He invited people to attend and submit written testimony with him.

“Only those that have been invited will be able to testify,” he said. “That’s not the practice we’re used to in Austin, and it bothers me.”

On Saturday, Lucio said he had just found out about the federal forum that day, but earlier in the week his spokesman told The Herald that the timing of Saturday’s meeting and Monday’s hearing was coincidental.

The “Secure our Texas Border Forum,” headed by House Representative Ted Poe, R-Humble, and other members of the House Committee on the Judiciary, was rescheduled at least once already this summer. The forum will be at the UTB-TSC Arts Center at 10 a.m. Prominent figures related to border security are scheduled to testify as witnesses.

Too expensive

Lucio said he introduced Senate Bill 1809 this past legislative session in an effort to secure an economic impact study of the border fence in this area. It failed in the House, he said.

He said the state comptroller told him such a study would likely be too expensive to undertake, but he hoped legislation for it could be pushed for in the future.

State Representative Rene Oliveira said the issue of security and immigration were two different things, though they are often connected when discussing the desirability of the border fence.

“I don’t want cartels in the Valley or Texas,” he said. “I don’t want those people to flourish in our country.”

But, he said, learning the impact of the border fence, and how to mitigate any negative effects, is now the necessary focus.

“The wall is here whether we like it or not,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to tear it down. The political will is clearly nonexistent for that.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Environmental waivers enter DHS bill amid growing opposition

September 16, 2011
by Annie Snider

Efforts to let the U.S. Border Patrol waive environmental laws on public lands along the border advanced this week in a Senate spending bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2012 Homeland Security spending bill that would give Border Patrol agents free access to public lands within 300 miles of the border with Mexico. The committee approved a modified version, 13-4, that scaled the provision back to a 100-mile zone.

Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Ariz., said McCain's amendment and the whole issue of a conflict between between border security and environmental protections is a red herring.

"There's a motivation for politicians to grandstand on the issue," he said. "Unfortunately, what underlies this issue in general is a lot of ignorance and hysteria that's driven by misinformation."

Serraglio said the proposed exemptions could have a devastating effect on wildlife. In his region of Arizona, he points to jaguar, ocelot and Sonoran pronghorn as some of the sensitive species that could be affected.

Although worded differently, McCain's amendment closely follows a bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) that applies to the northern, southern and maritime borders. So far, the bill has attracted 49 co-sponsors.

Bishop and other supporters say environmental protections prevent Border Patrol agents from doing their jobs along the 40 percent of border land that is under federal management. Specifically, they point to the 4.3 million acres of wilderness areas where motorized vehicles are generally prohibited (Land Letter, July 14; Greenwire, April 18).

But in two studies completed last fall, the Government Accountability Office found that even when they caused delays, environmental protections were not a significant hindrance to security operations.

And at recent hearings, Border Patrol, Interior Department and Agriculture Department officials have denied that there is a problem.

"Does the Border Patrol face challenges with respect to operating around protected lands when they are in our enforcement zones? Yes," Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of U.S. Border Patrol, told lawmakers in April. "But we have been able to establish practical solutions to allow for mission success."

Many of those solutions came from a 2006 memorandum of understanding between the Customs and Border Patrol and land managers that gives Border Patrol agents greater access. Most notably, it allows the Border Patrol free access in exigent circumstances, like when in hot pursuit.

But Republicans say the Obama administration is putting a nice face on a dangerous problem.

"You can't come before the American people and say everything is rosy and fine," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a co-sponsor of Bishop's bill, told administration officials in April. "The American people are dying. They are getting killed because we have holes in our security ... and we're putting border patrols out there and saying, 'Oh, go on horseback, go on foot,' because we'd much rather protect this little cactus."

Local concerns

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee have brought southern ranchers to testify about the dangers of the border region during hearings on Bishop's bill. But Hugo Tureck, a rancher and former chairman of the Central Montana Resource Advisory Council, said that is not an issue in his region.

Moreover, Tureck, who has been closely following recent debate over the Interior Department's ability to designate national monuments on federal land, said he saw hypocrisy in the fact that some of the same lawmakers who co-sponsored Bishop's bill this week decried the Antiquities Act as a "land grab" (Greenwire, Sept. 13).

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) "is talking about how the government has come in the middle of the night and taken away landowners' rights, but then he goes and proposes a bill that gives an agency extreme powers with no oversight," said Tureck, who grazes cattle on public land in Coffee Creek, Mont.

Tureck plans to pen an opinion piece in his local paper to alert Montanans to the issue.

"Homeland Security could stop timber sales, snowmobiles, hunting, they could kick cattle off the land and build a fence wherever they want -- that's all given to them," Tureck said. "Montanans just cherish their public lands. That's why we're here."

'A fundamentally scary piece of legislation'

For John Leshy, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of Law and a former Clinton administration solicitor for Interior, the problem with the border security bills is that they prevent DHS from being challenged in court.

"This is a fundamentally scary piece of legislation," Leshy said of Bishop's bill. "DHS basically gets a pass on judicial review. You can only challenge them on constitutional grounds, you can't challenge it as being inconsistent with any statute."

Leshy pointed to an exemption that Congress granted DHS in 1996 that was expanded. First, DHS had the right to waive the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for the construction of 14 miles of fenceline along the Mexican border. Then, in 2005, the right expanded to 70 miles of fence and all environmental laws. A year later, Congress extended the waiver to 400 miles of fence construction.

"If you've got the power, you're eventually going to exercise it," Leshy said. "That's just a fact of human nature."

Public meeting will address border fence

Brownsville Herald
September 15, 2011
by Jacqueline Armandariz

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. is hosting a “Border Wall Impact” public meeting on Saturday, just two days before a federal committee hearing in Brownsville is set to address border security.

Saturday’s meeting will be at the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course Clubhouse, 300 River Levee Road, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“In order for Texans to respond to federal policy, we need to have facts, figures and analysis,” Lucio said in a press release. “However, when it comes to the federal border wall, there exists very little centralized information. This public meeting represents an opportunity for Valley residents to unite and study the impact that the border wall is having on us.”

Immediately before that gathering, a group calling itself the No Man’s Land Association will hold its first meeting at the same place.

The local start-up group aims to discuss the effects of the border wall on property owners whose land is fenced off from other U.S. lands, and to lobby for a tax-free zone or enterprise zone to help them, according to organizer Bob Lucio. He is the state senator’s brother and runs the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course Clubhouse.

Worry of spillover violence and the death of some Americans in circumstances related to the Mexican drug war have attracted attention to the U.S.-Mexico border. A national debate that connects border security and immigration policy has continuously brewed, while the miles of border wall for residents along the banks of the Rio Grande is a fact of life.

Through a spokesman, Lucio said the timing with the federal event on Monday is coincidental.

That hearing, the “Secure our Texas Border” forum, will be hosted by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, and other members of the House Committee on the Judiciary. It begins at 10 a.m. at the UTB-TSC Arts Center. Prominent figures related to border security are scheduled to testify as witnesses.

At the Saturday event, there will be presentations from various law enforcement agencies, and the public is asked to provide input and discuss the impact of the fence on businesses, the environment, property values and border security.

While Sen. Lucio said there is little data on the effects of the border fence, in March two faculty members from the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College discussed their study that found the fence negatively affects minorities disproportionately.

Jude Benavides and Jeff Wilson conducted the study that found Cameron County had one-third of the proposed fence gaps, more than any other Texas 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. Much of it is on private land, the study said.

Wilson, an environmental science professor, said: “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.”

The findings were published in the 2010 edition of the annual journal “The Southwestern Geographer.”

UTB-TSC itself filed a civil lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security when it was proposed that the fence run through university property. The two entities reached a compromise in August 2008.

Today, No Man’s Land Association organizer Bob Lucio said it’s no longer an issue of debating the construction of the fence. It’s here, and now it’s time to deal with the effects, he said.

“What I’m trying to do is create an association that will give us numbers,” he said. “I do not want to fight battles that we fought five years ago when they were putting up the fence. ... We’ve got to go forward. ... We need to start asking questions.”

He said the several years he’s been a business owner dealing with the border fence have been “horrendous” and he believes property values are affected by it. The perception of danger the border fence conveys has also cut the number of memberships bought at his golf course, he said.

He calls the U.S. land between the river and the border fence a “no-man’s land.”

He said he worked with his brother to schedule the Saturday meetings together and brought his concerns as a business owner to the state senator.

“We’re on the border by the sea. That’s our city’s slogan, right?” he said. “Well, I say we’re on the border fence by the sea.”

Lucio said being on the banks of the river could be an asset, but the fence has ended that.

“Our kids don’t even see the river anymore,” he said.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Border wall impact public meeting set

Brownsville Herald
September 14, 2011

A public meeting on the impact of the border wall is set for Saturday, organized by State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.

The meeting will take place from 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. at the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course Clubhouse, 300 River Levee Road in Brownsville.

"We will hear presentations from our law enforcement agencies regarding public safety and then open the discussion to the public," Lucio said. "I sincerely hope people will join in and share their stories."

Parts of the border wall have been built in all four southern border states since the passage of the Congressional Secure Fence Act in 2006. A 70-mile-long, 20-foot high section of the wall has been built in the Rio Grande Valley.

Lucio said there has been no firm assessment that quantifies the social, cultural or economic impact of the fence.

The aim of the meeting is to bring together diverse groups, organizations and individuals in order to discuss the impact of the wall on the local community.

“In order for Texans to respond to federal policy, we need to have facts, figures and analysis,” Lucio said. "However, when it comes to the federal border wall, there exists very little centralized information. This public meeting represents an opportunity for Valley residents to unite and study the impact that the border wall is having on us.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lucio to Hold Public Meeting to Discuss Impact of Border Wall

Rio Grande Guardian
September 14, 2011
by Steve Taylor

BROWNSVILLE, Sept. 14 - State Sen. Eddie Lucio is to hold a public meeting on Saturday to discuss the Border Wall.

The meeting takes place from 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. on Saturday at the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course Clubhouse at 300 River Levee Road in Brownsville.

“We need to know more, much more, about the federal border wall,” said Lucio, D-Brownsville. “At the meeting, we will be hearing from our law enforcement agencies, sharing our personnel stories about the wall and discussing potential solutions.”

Lucio said he sincerely hopes citizens affected by the wall will join him at the meeting.

“In order for our communities to respond to federal policy, we need to have facts, figures and analysis. Saturday's meeting is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Brownsville residents were in the forefront of the opposition groups that sprang up in 2006 and 2007 in opposition to the border wall. They held rallies on the international bridges and organized public meetings. It was to no avail. The Department of Homeland Security built the border wall in the city and on University of Texas at Brownsville land.

Lucio explained why more needs to be learned about the border wall and its impact.

“Since Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006, 70 miles of fencing - 20 feet high - has been built in the Rio Grande Valley. But because the river is the true boundary between Texas and Mexico, the wall actually lies north of the border, dividing residential and commercial properties that run to the river edge,” he said.

Lucio pointed out that during this year’s regular 82nd legislative session he filed a bill that dealt with the federal border wall.

“My bill, Senate Bill 1809, would have required the state government to study the economic impact that the border wall is having on homes, properties, and businesses. The reason is simple. We need to know how many homes are caught in the no man's land between the wall and the river. We need to know how many citrus groves and other agricultural businesses the wall slices through,” he said.

Lucio said he worked hard on this issue and was pleased to see his bill pass the Senate with bipartisan support. “Unfortunately, the bill died when it went to the Texas House of Representatives. To be honest, I was both surprised and disappointed that it did not pass,” Lucio said.

Lucio said it is clear to anyone living in the Lone Star state that Texans value property rights very highly. “With this in mind, you would expect politicians in Texas to be enthusiastic about passing my border wall bill. After all, it would ensure that Texans have accurate information about a controversial federal program that encroaches on local rights,” he said.

“My personal conviction is that border Texans should have the same rights as other Americans when it comes to property rights and freedom of information,” Lucio argued. “Unfortunately, we currently have limited information about the border wall's impact. That is not good enough for the Valley or Texas.”

Lucio said that while Saturday’s public meeting will be a step in the right direction, more needs to be done.

“We need the state government to do its part as well. That is why I plan to file my border wall bill again during the 83rd legislative session in 2013,” Lucio said, assuming he is re-elected.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gates to Be Added to Border Wall

September 13, 2011
by Farrah Fazal

PROGRESO - All along the border wall are openings that smugglers use. Illegals also go through them. Smugglers see an opportunity in the openings, but not for much longer.

“The bad guys like to use the access points,” says Border Patrol spokesman Dan Milian. “Once we put the gates, it’s going to increase security for the residents and push the activity out to the underdeveloped remote areas.”

Milian says the holes in the wall will start going away in the Valley next month. Eighty gates on the 95 miles of fence will cover the openings. Milian says land owners and law enforcement will unlock the gates two different ways.

“It’s going to be a keypad entry; every person will have access to the code,” says Milian. “Within each unit, they have the radio system. When they hit the mike, it will have a frequency which will communicate with the receiver and open the gate.”

Milian says the gate could be open for periods of time if farmers need more access to their land.

“If it will stop the traffic on our property, we welcome that,” says Othal Brand, general manager and president of Water District No. 3 in McAllen.

Brand says if you're going to build a fence, you need to build the gates. Not all farmers feel the way he does. Only a handful showed up to hear the Border Patrol's plans during a recent public meeting.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS asked a Border Patrol spokesman what happens if a smuggler decides to hold a gun to a farmer's head to get him to open the door. He said it's a tough situation. He also says agents plan on patrolling the gates 24/7, 365 days a year.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

For U.S.-Mexico border town, September 11 brought high wall

September 10, 2011
by Tim Gaynor

When news broke of the airliners striking the twin towers in New York 10 years ago, Mexican bookkeeper Jose Manuel Madrid was readying for work in his tiny hometown on the Arizona border.

Watching the tragedy unfold on television, he had no inkling of how it would transform the lives of residents in the remote community of Naco straddling the international border.

"Nobody imagined the repercussions ... that these events would have" for us, said Madrid, now the mayor of Naco, a dusty ranching town of 6,000 residents in Mexico's northern Sonora State.

The September 11 attacks, orchestrated by al Qaeda militants, led to the largest shake-up of the U.S. federal government since the Cold War, with the founding of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

As part of its core mission of preventing "terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States," the new Customs and Border Protection agency has since sharply boosted security on the nation's borders

The surge more than doubled the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000. Infrastructure added to secure the Mexico border includes nearly 700 miles of additional fences as well as lights, sensors, cameras, ground radar and even unmanned surveillance drones.

The changes transformed the lives of residents in Naco, Mexico, and its namesake twin in Arizona -- which have strong community and family ties dating to before the Mexican Revolution more than a century ago.

As a mark of a sometimes quirky relationship, firefighters from the Arizona side used to race south to help their less well equipped colleagues put out fires in Mexico, and residents would hold a joint fiesta with a volleyball game over the waist high border fence. Those things no longer happen.

"We had to adapt to a new situation and get used to the changes," said Madrid, sitting in his office a couple of blocks south of the tall, steel border fence that now marks the international border.


On September 11, 2001, locals recall how Border Patrol agents armed with assault rifles immediately took up guard at the Naco station, although the larger changes to security have been incremental over the past decade.

Most noticeable is the new border wall. Whereas it once extended about a mile either side of Naco, a curtain of steel up to 15-foot (4.5-meter) tall now carves across 20 miles of the high grassland valley, lit at night by stadium-style lights, and monitored by video cameras.

The number of agents at the local U.S. Border Patrol station, meanwhile, has quadrupled to around 400. The station itself is being rebuilt at a reported cost of $40 million to include a new helipad, stabling for more than two dozen horses, as well as a gym, indoor shooting range and offices for agents.

As a measure of its success, the Tucson sector Border Patrol notes that drug seizures in the stretch of border including Naco have risen over the decade, while illegal immigrant arrests have plunged to 212,000 last year from highs of 616,000 in 2000.

"I believe, as an agent, we are more effective than we were 10 years ago, no doubt about it," said Tony Dominguez, a supervisory Border Patrol agent who has worked at the Naco station since before the attacks on New York and Washington.

"All the new infrastructure, the technology, the manpower increase -- it's given us an advantage to basically interdict anything that comes north," he added.

While the security surge has ended the volleyball match over the fence, it is welcomed by some on the Arizona side concerned about Mexican drug traffickers and even bandits slipping over the border.

"It feels a bit safer because of the wall," said local fire district chief Jesus Morales, who is the only elected official in the tiny, unincorporated Arizona town.

"It's ... a bit harder for people coming in to do bad stuff over here," he added.


But other residents in the high desert valley are not persuaded that the buildup has been a benefit to the local community.

"With the wall, and the lights and the Border Patrol hovering over my house at five o'clock in the morning, I'm a lot less happy on the border now than I was," said Diane Daniel, who made soap and goats' cheese at her home near Naco at the time of the attacks.

Daniel is also skeptical that the surge at the border would prevent future attacks like those in 2001, carried out by 19 hijackers from several Arab countries who entered the United States legally.

"I think that the terrorists are either going to be domestic -- that would be my first concern -- or they are going to fly in First Class just like they did the last time," she said.

Local rancher John Ladd says some things have not changed since the attacks.

A decade on, a daily game of cat and mouse between the Border Patrol, smugglers and illegal immigrants continues to play out across his family's 14,000-acre (5,666-hectare) spread outside Naco, damaging fences and gates and letting livestock onto the highway.

"We've got cameras, we've got radar, we've got street lights, we've got more agents, we've got a wall," he said with a weary smile. "Nothing's changed."

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 years of increased border security

San Antonio Express News
September 9, 2011
By Jason Buch and Lynn Brezosky

LAREDO — In the decade since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, property owners along the Rio Grande have lost land to the border fence and those who live near gaps in the unfinished structure are in the mouth of a funnel for illegal immigration and smuggling.

Travelers can no longer gain entry into the U.S. simply by declaring “American citizen.” Instead, they're met with long lines, rifle-toting customs officers and an array of electronics to scan documents and vehicles.

Cross-border communities in West Texas have withered and died when the unofficial crossings they relied upon were closed. A privately run detention center holding thousands of immigrants went up in a flash near the border.

RFID scanners, X-ray and Gamma-ray machines, SENTRI passes and FAST lanes have become part of the border lexicon, the response to the terrorist attack that cost thousands of U.S. lives and the effort to prevent it from happening again.

“It changed the way we live in this country, and rightfully so,” said Gene Garza, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection field office director who oversees eight ports of entry from Brownsville to Del Rio. “I think we were too relaxed. I think it raised the level of security in this country.”

Overseeing the changes for the last eight years is the Department of Homeland Security with its 200,000 employees and $50 billion annual budget. Often derided as a behemoth bureaucracy, officials defend it as a way to bring the nearly two dozen agencies tasked with protecting the country under one roof.

“I can tell you that our ability to investigate customs related crimes or to investigate immigration related crime would be enhanced by bringing it all under one agent,” said Jerry Robinette, the special agent in charge of the San Antonio office for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which covers much of South Texas.

But the increased security has divided communities, separated families, and, according to Cynta De Narvaez, a West Texas activist who lives in Terlingua, weakened cross border communication and made some border communities more susceptible to the corrupting influences of drug traffickers.

“We messed up pretty badly,” said De Narvaez, who's worked with Mexican families in remote towns that were cut off from U.S. grocery stores and medical facilities after 9/11. “We just didn't do our homework. I think we were in a pretty bad situation and everyone drummed up this stuff about border security.”

The wall

Half a continent away from ground zero, on a small plot of land with three white frame houses, Texas border resident Eloisa Tamez sees daily a reminder of the 9/11 attacks — what locals call the muro, or border wall.

“They defaced our community, and no telling the outcome on wildlife,” she said. “We are those unrecognized, invisible victims of 9/11. We should be having a memorial also, because we lost our land.”

Tamez was the poster child of protests against the Secure Fence Act of 2006, a keystone of President Bush's pledge to crack down on illegal immigration and secure the porous southern border.

The tangle was that in Texas, most of the land backing up to the Rio Grande was private, in some cases dating to Spanish land grants predating America's Revolutionary War. A map leaked to the press showed federal engineers had drawn lines for the fence without local input. It cut through a college campus and wildlife preserves and created a “no man's land” south of the fence that would have engulfed much of a small city.

There were bumper stickers and protests. At one, Tamez shouted “ No al muro!” and beat apart a wall-shaped piñata.

In the end, the fence that went up near her wasn't very imposing. It stretches in back of neighborhoods like a long row of toothpicks.

The fence is intermittent, meaning migrants and drug traffickers just come through the gaps. About an hour west in Granjeno, now backed by a reinforced levee-wall, resident Gloria Garza said one such opening funnels migrants through at a rate that has neighbors terrified.

“It used to be those people would come now and then... you'd give them a lunch bag or water,” she said. “We don't do that any more.”

She's seen them hiding in her plants, sitting on her porch. One rang the doorbell to say thanks; the smuggler had told him residents were paid a sort of campsite fee. Another was belligerent and demanded water. The faces are from India and China, not just Mexico and Central America.

Border Patrol spokesman Daniel Milian said the agency recently hosted two open houses to tell residents that punch-code gates were on the way.

“It's a very lengthy process as far as getting all the particulars behind the gates, figuring out what dimensions they needed to be, what type of design they wanted to use,” he said.

The economics

Some of the changes wrought by 9/11 took years to manifest themselves. For almost eight years after the attacks, it was possible to enter the U.S. at the international bridges simply by declaring citizenship.

Travelers are now encouraged to show a passport card, enhanced drivers license, a passport or documents identifying them as part of a trusted traveler program. CBP cannot deny entry to a U.S. citizen, but someone trying to get through without approved documents is likely to face a battery of questions and possibly spend some time in secondary inspection. Short-term visitors from Mexico must cough up $150 for a border crossing card.

That's had an impact on commerce. Les Norton, whose family owns three stores in the downtown Laredo shopping district full of shops that offer “ mayoreo y menudeo” (wholesale and retail) products primarily to Mexican customers who walk across the international bridge, said increased scrutiny makes it harder for shoppers to enter the U.S. and longer lines discourage them.

It wiped out McAllen merchant Monica Weisberg-Stewart's customer base: the maquila workers who'd cross by foot and take a bus to shop for discounted bras and dresses.

“In over 57 years of family business, we've never seen anything like this,” she said. “This was worse than any peso devaluation.”

The long lines are a burden as well to Nuevo Laredo resident Jose Manuel Zamora Diaz, who crosses several times a day to buy goods in Laredo that he ships to Mexico City and sells. When lines reach 1 ½ to two hours, he can sometimes only cross once a day, Zamora Diaz said.

CBP has put in programs intended to make the bridges run more smoothly, most of which involve CBP electronically collecting information about people and goods before they reach the ports of entry. Travelers with a SENTRI pass pay about $125 and undergo a background check to use an expedited lane.

In order to qualify for bringing goods across through expedited commercial lanes, customs broker Daniel B. Hastings Jr. said he's dropped money into heightened security including random drug tests for employees, camera surveillance of trucks as they're loaded and measures that restrict the movement of employees and visitors around company property.

“Our lives have changed in that we have placed security at a paramount of importance,” Hastings said.

Increased security or no, large-scale international commerce continues to thrive. Trade between the U.S. and Mexico is at an all-time high.

Some positive impact

The focus on security has had a positive economic impact as well. The major population centers along the Texas-Mexico border performed well in the recession, in part due to the increased federal spending there.

Since 2004, the number of Border Patrol agents in the country has doubled to more than 20,000 by 2010. In the Laredo Border Patrol sector, the number has increased by more than 800 to 1,858. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, it's increased by about 1,000 to 2,441. An entry-level position with Border Patrol pays about $38,000.

“For every one government employee that comes, like Border Patrol or a customs inspector, the multiplier factor can be 3.1 to 3.7” jobs created, said Hastings, who serves on the board of directors for the International Bank of Commerce in Laredo and is a past member of the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas' San Antonio branch.

Those government employees spend money on things like “housing, retail, electricity, schooling,” Hastings said. “Plus they're paying taxes. So the impact is exponential.”

In addition, the government has spent money on infrastructure and technology. Newfangled scanners grace ports of entry and Border Patrol checkpoints and agents now zoom up and down the river in airboats and overhead in helicopters and airplanes.

Humanitarian costs

Even as Homeland Security finds ways to accommodate border life — Laredo's new port director said he plans to add more pedestrian lanes to the international bridge there and CBP says that next year the famous Boquillas crossing at Big Bend National Park will reopen — there are broader implications.

University of Texas law professor Denise Gilman said the fence is only part of how the Sept. 11 attacks brought a sea change in how the nation viewed the southern border and illegal immigrants.

“I remember President (Vicente) Fox and President Bush meeting and promising that there was going to be reform, that we were going to bring the approximately 11 million undocumented individuals out of the shadows,” she said. “Those negotiations completely fell apart and we went pretty much in the other direction.”

Deportations escalated, she said, as did detentions. There was the round-the-clock construction to erect the “tent city” detention center in Raymondville in time for Bush to announce the end of “catch and release” of non-Mexican illegal immigrants. Allegations of human rights abuses have been rampant.

University of Texas-El Paso economist Thomas Fullerton published a study on how the attacks impacted border trade.

“Even while El Paso wasn't hit by any of the planes, it was clear that regulatory practices at the airport and the international bridges were disrupting travel and commuting patterns,” he said.

It was a multi-year effect, he said, that started with three-hour wait times on the Mexican side of international bridges in the months after the attacks.

“The geographic proximity of Ciudad Juarez was dealt a blow by 9-11,” he said. “It was as if Ciudad Juarez all of a sudden was three hours south in the interior of Mexico.”

Laredo resident Roberto Sanchez said he crosses to Nuevo Laredo occasionally to buy medicine. The longer wait times are a hassle, Sanchez said, but he's more concerned about the lack of bathrooms on the bridge than the increased scrutiny.

“They check every card from everybody,” he said. “But that's OK, because it's more secure.”

Ex-Border Security Chief Calls Fence a Dumb Idea

US News and World Reports
September 9, 2011
by Mallie Jane Kim

Fencing off the entire U.S.-Mexico border was one of the "dumbest" ideas former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham was presented with during his tenure, he said Friday. The comments, given at an event on border security since 9/11 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, fly in the face of claims by 2012 GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, who have both emphasized their support for a border fence, and lend credence to candidates Rick Perry and Ron Paul, who both oppose it.

"You can't just pick up the phone and call Long Fence," Basham joked, pointing out a 10-foot fence would inspire would-be border crossers to get an 11-foot ladder. When he became commissioner in 2006 under President Bush, the fence idea was all the rage, and he said congressional mandates from lawmakers who didn't understand the challenges had CBP "chasing our tail" trying to keep up. "We all knew that [the fence] wasn't the answer. That wasn't the solution."

On a tour of the Southwest border, Basham says, then House Speaker Dennis Hastert continually insisted the fence was the only way to seal it. The tour passed a penitentiary surrounded by a chain-link fence with barbed wire. "He said, 'That's what we need right there,'" Basham remembers of Hastert. "And I said, 'With all due respect, no.'"

After three days of briefings and a tour of the harsh border terrain, though, Hastert changed his tune. At a press conference in Nogales, Ariz., the speaker stood up and endorsed Basham's three-pronged approach: some infrastructure (like a fence), better technology, and the right level of staffing.

Current CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin, who was also at Friday's event, chimed in, diplomatically assuring the crowd he didn't blame Congress, but adding, "I'm still waiting for that call from Long Fence."

The commissioners expressed frustration that some members of Congress and others continue to say the border region is insecure and crime-riddled. The fight against organized crime in Mexico is seeing little seepage over the border, they said, and Bersin pointed out that the border is the safest it has been in 30 years. Though border patrol agents do put their lives at risk in their line of work, crime rates in El Paso and San Diego are far lower than those of Detroit or Philadelphia. "Part of the aftermath of 9/11," Bersin said, is that "the vulnerability we felt that day in regards to our borders is taken advantage of by those who would exploit fear."

To those people, Bersin says he offers two bits of wisdom: To paraphrase Mark Twain, "First, let's get our facts straight. Then you can distort them as much as you like"; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "The only thing the American people have to fear is fear itself."

DHS Pushes for Border Fence in Floodplain

Texas Observer
September 7, 2011
by Melissa del Bosque

The Department of Homeland Security is pushing for 14 miles of border wall to be built through Hidalgo and Starr counties even though it could flood U.S. towns and violate a treaty with Mexico.

In 2006, Congress passed its Secure Fence Act mandating the construction of 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Hundreds of Texas landowners were sued and their land seized by the Department of Homeland Security.

Residents in the communities of Roma, Los Ebanos and Rio Grande City got a reprieve from construction, however, because of “engineering and hydraulic problems,” according to U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, who said in a 2008 McAllen Monitor story: "Realistically and practically, they're basically passing this decision (on the border fence) to the next administration. Certainly, for my constituents, we have a victory."

The “engineering and hydraulic problems” the Congressman alluded to was the fact that the 18-foot impermeable fence would have to be constructed in a floodplain to fulfill the congressional mandate. Building a fence that costs approximately $4.5 million a mile in a floodplain sounds like a joke. And it would be if taxpayers weren’t paying for it, and if it weren’t common practice for the Department of Homeland Security to build fences in washes, floodplains and riverbeds along the border.

Recently, 40 feet of steel border fence washed away during a flash flood in the Arizona desert. This was after the U.S. Border Patrol had been warned by Arizona park officials that the fence would be washed away during the summer monsoon season. Despite their warnings, Border Patrol issued an environmental assessment saying that the fence “would not impede the natural flow of water or cause flooding.”

The destroyed fence constructed by Kiewit Western Co. cost taxpayers $21.3 million to build, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

When it comes to the border wall, the Department of Homeland Security has a history of avoiding scientific data and environmental impacts when it stands in the way of constructing border fence.

The 14-mile section of border fence through Roma, Los Ebanos and Rio Grande City is no different. Several hydrological studies conducted by a private firm Baker Engineering hired by U.S. Customs and Border Protection have shown that an 18-foot impermeable fence in a floodplain will either push floodwaters into Mexico – violating a 1970 international treaty or it will worsen flooding on the U.S. side of the border.

Despite the findings, government documents reveal that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (the DHS agency) which oversees construction of the fence is pushing the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which has jurisdiction over the Rio Grande to sign off on building the 14-mile fence in the floodplain.

In a February 2010 letter, David Aguilar, CBP’s deputy commissioner applied pressure to IBWC’s Commissioner Ed Drusina to approve the project despite his agency and Mexico’s opposition to constructing the fence.

“Because the Mexican Section of the IBWC has opposed all proposed border fencing

within the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers’ floodplains since the enactment of the

Secure Fence Act (regardless of the expected floodplain impacts), Commissioner Ruth

was not optimistic that the Mexican Commissioner would agree to support the proposed

fencing and indicated during the January 6th meeting that an unilateral decision would

likely be needed to construct the fence segments. We understand that the Mexican

Commissioner did in fact recently inform Commissioner Ruth that Mexico would oppose

the fence segments if formally submitted to them for consideration.

For the numerous reasons stated above, we respectfully request that the USIBWC and

Department of State reconsider your position and approve a unilateral decision to allow

us to proceed with the design and construction of the O-1, O-2 and O-3 fence segments.”

The IBWC was not persuaded, however. “Until other analysis can demonstrate that the fence will not deflect flows or increase water elevation above our criteria we must again deny our support for the proposed alignment of the fence…” wrote Commissioner Drusina to Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Bersin wrote back asking for a meeting with high level officials from the State Department, the IBWC and USCBP to talk about “challenges” to building the border fence segments “which are urgently needed to secure this area of the border.” One challenge Bersin listed was “Mexico’s recent opposition to border fencing regardless of hydraulic modeling results.”

IBWC met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection two more times. The end result was that CBP paid Baker Engineering to create yet another flood model, to try and prove that a wall in a floodplain was a good idea, says border resident Scott Nicol, a Sierra Club volunteer and author of the No Border Wall blog. Nicol learned of this during a conference call with IBWC officials. He also learned that the Baker Engineering report will be turned over to IBWC any day. If the agency signs off on it CBP could begin construction of the fence. The Department of Homeland Security has already seized several properties in these cities and is making an effort to speed up lawsuit settlements with landowners.

Nicol started looking into the new fence construction after he saw a brief mention of it in a government report last spring. “I thought they’d given up,” he says. “But apparently they were really pushing to get it done.”

Nicol worries that the new fence segments will flood the U.S. communities. He's examined the various Baker Engineering flood models and is especially concerned about the Los Ebanos wall.

“It could have serious implications for local residents,” he says. “There at the split point the river takes a sharp southward bend, while the wall runs due east. There could conceivably be a dry space between the community, which would have water sent towards it by the wall, and the river to its south (near the hand-drawn ferry). Even worse, the wall abruptly turns to the north at the end of town. This could bottle up waters that have been split off from the river, trapping flood water in the community.”

The question for these border communities now is will the IBWC be steamrollered by the Department of Homeland Security? It’s happened before and it could happen again. And if it does, once again U.S. taxpayers and border communities will pay the price.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Border Security and Public Lands

PRI The World
September 7, 2011
by Ashley Ahearn

Imagine yourself for a moment on the slopes of Washington’s Mt. Rainier, near Puget Sound, one of the highest peaks in the western United States. “We are on the hike to Comet Falls in Mount Rainier national park. We’re looking at a number of cascades that are rushing down a rock canyon and we’re sitting over a wood trail bridge” says Tom Uniack who doesn’t have to imagine it.

As conservation director of the Washington Wilderness Coalition he comes here often. Mt. Rainier National Park is one of the natural jewels of the northwest. And it seems utterly untouched by the changes that have rippled across the US in the years since 9/11. But a bill now pending in Congress could change that.

HR1505, as the bill is called, would allow the Department of Homeland Security to build roads, transmission lines, and security installations on any federally owned land within 100 miles of the US coast or border.

Tom Uniak says that includes national Forests, wilderness areas and National Parks like this one. “The bill is written in a way that all these things, potentially, if seen as part of the national interest or national security, could apply and laws could be exempted.”

Altogether, the bill would allow DHS to override 36 environmental and other laws on these federal lands in the interest of border security, including such bedrock laws as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The idea gives some environmentalists night sweats. But supporters say it just makes sense.

Representative Rob Bishop is the Utah Republican who introduced HR1505: “Wilderness designation in no way should trump border security.” Bishop says current law allows federal land managers to “bully” the US border patrol on public lands. “They can do what they need to do on private property, it’s only on public property that they’re restricted and that is ridiculous. That’s simply asinine.”

The bill would allow DHS to basically do whatever it thinks it needs to do in order to achieve “operational control” of public lands within 100 miles of the US border. That means keeping out terrorists and illegal immigrants. In particular, Congressman Bishop says it’s necessary to secure parts of the US border in Arizona, where he says large numbers of illegal immigrants cross the border from Mexico.

“To my belief it’s because 80 percent of the Arizona border with Mexico is federal property, over half of that is wilderness designation, Endangered Species habitat, conservation habitat where the border patrol is limited to the kind of access they have and what they can do,” says Bishop

But opponents of HR1505 say the bill would give unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to ignore environmental laws. Jane Danowitz, of the Pew Environmental Trust in Washington, DC, says there’s a lot more at stake than just the Arizona desert or Mt. Rainier. A huge amount of public land would fall under the bill’s scope.

“We’re talking about some of the nation’s most popular national parks and beaches. Glacier National Park, the Florida everglades, beaches along Cape Cod, the great lakes and the California coastline.” Danowitz says the bill is overkill.

“After 9/11 national security for all the right reasons jumped to the top of America’s priorities but the sweeping waiver of our bedrock environmental laws has little to do with accomplishing that goal.”

What it does have to do with, Danowitz asserts, is a rising anti-environmental movement in Congress. “There’s going to be a lot of things happening this fall in Congress that are under the radar. There are more than 70 provisions that would undo longstanding protections for clean air, clean water, wilderness, endangered species.”

Regardless of the intentions of its sponsors, it’s not just environmentalists who oppose this bill. The very agency that supporters say will benefit the most from HR1505 – Customs and Border Protection – doesn’t want the power it would be given.

When asked about a testimony in July in which the Customs and Border Protection* said it opposes 1505, Congressman Bishop replied: “I will tell you right now privately, when I talk to people who are current Border Patrol personnel as well as those who are retired Border Patrol, they have a different story than this current administration has.”

Along with Representative Bishop, HR1505 has 48 co-sponsors in the House, all Republicans. The bill, which is officially titled the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, will begin working its way through the House early this fall.