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.