Friday, December 30, 2011

New fencing doesn’t stop illegal crossings

Washington Post
December 30, 2011
by Nick Miroff

CALEXICO, Calif. — A decade ago, when illegal immigration from Mexico was at an all-time high, this stretch of border was as good a place as any to sneak into the United States.

Migrants and smugglers could slip through the alfalfa fields outside town or plow their pickup trucks through the desert, where the biggest worries were stuck tires and getting safely across the irrigation canals.

But in the past five years, the international border here has become a harder, tougher, taller barrier — an American Great Wall. Miles of steel fencing now ride the desolate sand dunes west of Calexico, and to the east, giant jack-shaped “Normandy” barriers block off old smuggling routes, named for their resemblance to the defenses that once lined the beaches of northern France in World War II.

Overall, the United States has added 413 miles of new fencing to its southern boundary since 2006, raising to 649 miles the total length of border that has some form of man-made barrier to people or vehicles. The Rio Grande creates a natural partition along another 1,252 miles, and the government has been putting new fencing there, too.

Now the question is: How much more should be built?

Border Patrol officials say their current plans are to construct just one more mile of fence, in Texas. But as illegal immigration takes an increasingly central role in Republican campaign debates, several GOP candidates have renewed calls to fence the entire 1,969-mile boundary.

President Obama has made light of such proposals, saying fence advocates won’t be satisfied until the U.S. builds “a moat” stocked with “alligators.” But leading Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have vowed to barricade the entire U.S.-Mexico divide, with Gingrich signing a pledge to install a “double fence” while campaigning in Iowa earlier this month.

With such an endeavor projected to cost tens of billions of dollars, this stretch of California desert might be as good a place as any to assess how the existing border fence actually works.

The new barriers have been particularly effective at stopping vehicles from coming across, Border Patrol agents say. Along one stretch of desert here, the number of drive-through incursions plunged from 350 in 2007 to four so far this year.

But agents also say it is not the case that smugglers and illegal migrants on foot simply go to the place in the desert where the fence ends, and walk around it.

“Anywhere is a good place to sneak across if we’re not watching,” said Special Agent Jonathan Creiglow, a Border Patrol officer assigned to the agency’s El Centro sector here.

But there are also sections of 18-foot fencing right in the middle of downtown Calexico, opposite its sprawling sister city of Mexicali, where border jumpers can be up and over the wall in a matter of seconds, melting into shops and residential streets once they land on the other side.

At night, smugglers toss Hail Marys of pot-stuffed footballs and fling golf-ball-sized heroin nuggets over to waiting receivers. Stealthy ultra-light aircraft bomb the lettuce fields outside town with bundles of dope, then swoop back into Mexico, well below radar but high above the fence.

Then there are rugged sections in the desert where fencing is porous or nonexistent, but crossings rare. And those who do try to slip through are tracked by the Border Patrol’s growing array of sensors, high-powered night-vision cameras and surveillance drones.

In short, agents say, fencing is a tool and a first line of defense, but it does not bestow border security by its mere existence. “Without the fencing we wouldn’t have as much time, but nothing is going to stop them from going over or cutting through it,” explained Creiglow, who, at 26, is one of the many recent hires at the Border Patrol, which has doubled in size since 2002, with 18,500 of its 21,500 agents now deployed along the U.S.-Mexico frontier.

A costly barrier

Most of the barrier does not sit on the actual international boundary, but slightly north of it, allowing maintenance workers to access both sides without technically crossing into Mexico. Upkeep for the existing 649 miles of fencing is projected to cost $6.5 billion over the next 20 years, according to a 2009 report by the Government Accounting Office, and U.S. Homeland Security officials say the fence was breached 4,037 times in the government’s 2010 fiscal year, at an average cost of $1,800 per repair.

With most of the remaining unfenced stretch of border in Texas, the debate has shifted to the question of walling off the Rio Grande. Even in areas where the river can be shallow enough to wade across, putting a fence along the river’s sinuous levees is both costly and unpopular with local ranchers who want to preserve riparian access for thirsty cattle.

In Arizona, where Border Patrol agents catch more illegal migrants than anywhere else, lawmakers are soliciting public donations to put barriers along the remaining unfenced 82 miles of the state’s 370-mile boundary with Mexico. Such a structure would need to climb up and over steep mountain areas where construction costs are exorbitant and the deterrent value is questionable, enforcement experts say.

“I think the question is: What are you trying to achieve? Just to be able to say that you built a fence on top of a mountain?” said Thad Bingle, who was the Border Patrol’s chief of staff from 2007 to 2009. “If someone climbs 10,000 feet to the top of a mountain they aren’t going to be deterred by a 10-foot fence.”

Construction in rugged areas is made even more pricey because every stretch of new fence needs an accompanying road for maintenance and patrols, he added.

Fewer arrests

While the agency tallies the number of migrants it catches, it does not plot the locations of those apprehensions. But after hitting an all-time high of 1.6 million apprehensions in the government’s 2000 fiscal year, the number of arrests dropped to 327,577 in the 2011 period which ended Sept. 30, the lowest level since 1972.

Migration experts attribute the decline primarily to the weak U.S. job market — especially the lack of construction jobs — as well as growing fears of kidnapping gangs in northern Mexico. At the same time, average family sizes have fallen dramatically in Mexico, employment opportunities have improved, and the United States is letting more Mexicans in through the front door.

Mexican workers received 516,000 temporary work visas in 2010, “the highest number since the Bracero Program of the late 1950s,” said Douglas Massey, an expert on Mexican migration at Princeton University.

Tougher enforcement on the U.S. side has also been a factor, driving up the costs of getting across as well as the difficultly. But migrant smugglers on the Mexico side say the fence is hardly their biggest concern.

“There’s too much surveillance now,” said Luis, a husky guide-for-hire known as a pollero, standing in the Niños Heroes park in downtown Mexicali, where recent deportees and would-be border crossers gather. “The Migra [Border Patrol] has cameras everywhere,” he said.

Luis wouldn’t give his last name, but he said for $500 smugglers will get customers over the fence by creating elaborate diversions for the Border Patrol and deploying teams of helpers with roll-up ladders and ropes, even forming cheerleader-style human pyramids Better yet, Luis said, for $3,000 a guide will take you over the fence and through the desert at night, and $6,000 buys a legitimate U.S. visa rented from a look-alike with legal status.

“There’s always a way in,” he said with a wily grin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Texans who live on the ‘Mexican side’ of the border fence: ‘Technically, we’re in the United States’

Yahoo News
December 21, 2011
by Liz Goodwin

BROWNSVILLE, Texas—Pamela Taylor's living room has a Santa-hat-wearing stuffed dog atop a red doily on her coffee table, poinsettias near the couch, and, in the center of the room, an angel-topped Christmas tree with a few wrapped presents underneath.

Outside, the Christmas spirit is less visible, amid repeated warnings to KEEP OUT—though a "Merry Christmas!" sign hangs next to a warning to would-be trespassers that they're being filmed by a surveillance system. Written outside the front gate is the message: "Don't even think about parking here."

This will be Taylor's fourth Christmas living on what some Texans call the "Mexican side" of the U.S. border fence. Although she lives in Texas, her home is south of the 18-feet steel-and-concrete border wall erected by the American government. Taylor, who is 84, can see it from her front porch.

The wall was built to satisfy a law, passed in 2006 and 2008, that authorized 700 miles of fence on the southern border, 315 miles of it in Texas. President Bush said the fence would make the border safer and was "an important step toward immigration reform." Many of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, say they want to build a fence that spans the entire U.S. border. The Brownsville area shows just how complicated that project would be.

Because of a decades-old treaty with Mexico prohibiting building in the Rio Grande floodplain, the government built its border fence more than a mile north of the snaky river, trapping tens of thousands of acres of Texas--land in Cameron and Hidalgo counties--on the wrong side of the fence. The border wall is also riddled with miles-long gaps, seemingly placed at random. The U.S. Border Patrol says that illegal crossers are pushed to these gaps, where they are more easily apprehended.

Some Texans, like Taylor, live completely on the other side of the $6.2 million-a-mile wall. Others had their property split in half by the fence, after the government seized portions of their land. At least 200 people in Cameron County had some of their land seized for the fence.

'It's really done nothing for us'

Ten years ago, Taylor found a stranger sitting in her living room. "He had used my bathroom, he had shaved and cleaned himself off and he was watching the border patrol go by, sitting in that rocking chair," she said in an interview with Yahoo News. A few years later, she found 40 kilos of marijuana hidden in her bougainvilleas.

Taylor says she had to work hard to get her citizenship when she married an American soldier and moved to Texas from England after World War II. She doesn't think illegal immigrants should get a chance to become citizens. "If anything comes really easy, it's not appreciated," she said.

But the government's solution to the problem strikes her as ridiculous. "It's really done nothing for us because they're still coming across," Taylor says. Earlier this year, teenage illegal immigrants pounded on her front door in the middle of the night. She called the Border Patrol, which arrested them and a group of Hondurans they were trafficking, according to Taylor. She keeps a gun and a taser in her house, just in case.

'This is our property'

A few miles east of Taylor's house, Tim Loop's green two-story home, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, is also stuck behind the border wall. He agrees that the fence is not solving anything. Driving in his truck along the fence this week, he pointed out several places where scuffmarks suggested that people had recently climbed over. On one part of the fence not too far from his house, a torn shirt hung from the top of a pole.

Loop worries that the government will close the gaps in the fence. A complete wall wouldn't let him get to his house from the road, which is on the "American" side. The road also provides access to his farm, which grows sugar cane, grapefruit, corn, and other crops, for his eight employees.

Earlier this year, Homeland Security told landowners that it planned to close the gaps with 15-feet-wide gates that would have keypads on them. Each landowner would get a personal code to open the gate, and the government would be in charge of who else might be allowed to use each code.

"This is our property behind here," Loop said in an interview with Yahoo News. "We don't want somebody else to be the boss of our gate."

Taylor worries about a proposed highway whose path would require the government to move the fence closer to her house. "We will be more shut in than ever before," she said.

'We're in the United States'

Bob Lucio, the owner of a 165-acre golf course that lies entirely on the "Mexican" side of the fence, says the thought of Homeland Security using a secured gate to close the one entrance to the course keeps him up at night.

"If that happens, I don't think we can survive," he told Yahoo News during an interview in his office.

Lucio worked with Homeland Security to beautify the fence. Near the course, the wall is several feet shorter than elsewhere and is painted green. The wall is so subtle that some putters, many of them "winter Texans" from Canada and the Midwest, don't realize they're on the south side of the border wall, he says. A gate would change that.

"Technically, we're in the United States," Lucio said. But during a drug-cartel gun battle in June just across the Mexican border from his property, several Border Patrol agents lined up on the north side of the fence and didn't venture beyond it, he said. It gave him the impression that the Border Patrol was securing the fence line in times of trouble, instead of the actual border.

"The whole situation left me kind of numb," he said. "It's kind of like, 'You're on your own, buddy.'"

Rosalinda Huey, a spokeswoman for the Customs and Border Patrol, declined to comment on that episode but said agents patrol both sides of the fence.

'I couldn't sell my house now'

The landowners on the other side of the fence in Brownsville know their property isn't as valuable as it once was. "Would you want to buy a house behind the border wall?" Loop asked dryly.

The government didn't offer to buy the land it walled off from the rest of Texas, or to compensate people for the subsequent devaluation. It offered only to pay for the strips of land that were seized for the fence's path.

Eloisa Tamez, a nursing professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville and an outspoken opponent of the fence, refused to sell the government a quarter of an acre of her three-acre plot. She was initially offered $100 for the patch of land, which was used for the fence that now bisects her property.

Tamez's family has lived on her land since the 1700s. The family traditionally held an Easter party near the river, which is now on the other side of the wall. The only way Tamez can access the other part of her land is through a gap 1,200 feet away, which she can reach only by trespassing on her neighbors' land.

The government's offer eventually went up to $13,000, but she still didn't accept. She refused to sign the papers and is locked in a court battle with the government over the quarter acre it took from her.

"I couldn't sell my house now," she says.

Border fence becomes art medium

Yuma Sun
December 26, 2011
by Cesar Neyoy

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Son. — A group of Mexican artists have made a statement about border issues and world affairs in a series of mural they recently painted on the south side of the fence between this city and San Luis, Ariz.

And while the murals might serve to make the fence more attractive visually, they don't necessary portray it in the best light.

“The murals have different themes,” said Mauricio Villa, one of the Baja California artists who took part in the project. “The border fence is like a lost space. We wanted to portray a little of the sad aspect of the division that the fence signifies.”

The fence, he added, “reflects the lack of a fair immigration policy that divides family and has caused deaths.”

Villa and other members of the arts group named Arte Publico (Public Art) came to San Luis Rio Colorado on Dec. 10 to paint the murals on a 100-yard stretch of the fence on the city's east side.

Using aerosol cans, they created the murals on the original fence erected by the U.S. government in the early 1990s. In recent years, additional layers of fencing have been put up as part of efforts to further seal off the border at San Luis against smugglers or illegal immigrants.

Villa said the San Luis Rio Colorado officials were supportive of the group's plans to paint the mural.

“In places like Mexicali, (painting murals in public places) is considered visual contamination,” he said.

“We do it only for the satisfaction. We don't earn anything from it. All we do is promote awareness of this form of expression.”

The murals are located in the area of 26th Street, which runs perpendicular to the fence.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Border fence blocks access to important historical site

San Diego City Beat
December 21, 2011
by Kinsee Morlan

Before fences marked the U.S.-Mexico border, a series of small obelisks dotted the landscape and identified the line separating the two countries. Fifty-two monuments were erected between 1849 and 1857, and then, due to population growth in the border region and questions about where the international border actually was, more than 200 more monuments were built from 1891 to 1894, bringing the total to 258.

One of the original 52 monuments, Border Monument 258, still stands inside Border Field State Park, just a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean. It was the first monument built after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and set the international boundary. Historian Charles W. Hughes is among those who believe that two time capsules are buried under Monument 258—one placed in 1840 when the temporary monument went up and one possibly placed in 1851 when the permanent structure was built.

Made of a block of polished marble, Monument 258 was a hotspot for tourists on their way to or back from Tijuana. Some visitors would even chip off a piece of the marble and take it with them as a souvenir.

“If you came to San Diego between the 1850s up into the early 1900s, it was one of the places to go,” said Hughes, who published an article on the history of the monument in Journal of San Diego History in 2007 and considers it to be one of the oldest and most important historical sites in San Diego. “It was like going out to Cabrillo National Monument.”

Hughes said the U.S. military used Border Field State Park as a training ground and tested drones, or unmanned aircraft, just before World War II, which dramatically decreased visitations to the park. Since then, the park has remained largely underused, except by people separated by immigration status who continue to use the park as a way to meet up with family members and friends on the other side of the border. In 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon dedicated the land surrounding Monument 258 as Friendship Park, a symbol of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico and recognizing the binational use of the land.

Last week on CityBeat’s Canvassed blog, we reported that a replacement fence had gone up at Border Field State Park, completely blocking access to Border Monument 258 from the U.S. side by three feet. The new fence, which was sited by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), replaces the original border fence, which had bisected Monument 258, allowing access from both sides of the border.

Even in 2008, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) erected a double fence at Friendship Park, activists with Friends of Friendship Park made sure access to the monument was maintained, even if limited by a gateway that was locked outside of set hours. Members of Friends of Friendship Park said they were shocked and disappointed when they saw the new location of the fence last week.

“Those in the U.S. have a right to access the monument without having to get in their car, cross the border and drive to Las Playas,” said Nathan Trotter of Friends of Friendship Park. “I think it’s a crime for the IBWC or Border Patrol to deprive us of an object of such historical interest.”

Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, agreed. “First of all, it’s American territory, and it belongs to us,” Coons said. “It’s really asinine to put the monument on the other side of the fence.”

IBWC spokesperson Sally Spener said the commission has yet to receive any complaints about the location of the replacement fence, but if it does, she said IBWC might be willing to relocate the fence.

“In regards to Monument 258, we are certainly willing to work with the community if they have specific concerns because of the unique nature and the unique role that Monument 258 has played in border history,” she said.

Coons and Trotter said they weren’t aware the fence was going to be relocated until construction began last week, so they’ve just begun lodging complaints with IBWC and elected officials.

“No notifications went out, so nobody in the community knew about this,” Trotter said. “So, I guess it’s good to hear [IBWC] might be willing to negotiate with us in moving the fence and allowing access to the monument again.”

James Brown, an architect and Friends of Friendship Park volunteer, said that IBWC isn’t allowed to build anything within three feet of the monument. He said even with that requirement, there’s a design solution.

“I wish I would have known earlier about the decision to relocate the fence,” Brown said. “The solution is simple—they just need to put the posts three feet away, and they can surround the monument with all the mesh they want.”

Border Fence Blocks Bears in Migration, Study Finds

New York Times
December 21, 2011
by Marc Lacey

GILA BEND, Ariz. — The much-ballyhooed border fence has not just made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to slip across from Mexico into the United States. It has also become an obstacle, researchers say, for migrating bears.

A study published in this month’s edition of Biological Conservation warns that the black bear population just north of the border in Arizona may be threatened by the increasingly impermeable barriers at the border. Also fragmenting the bear habitat are the growing urban sprawl in southern Arizona and the expanding highway systems that slice through rugged terrain, the study found.

Researchers used hair snags — pieces of barbed wire set up near bait to catch genetic samples of foraging bears — to track various bear populations in Arizona. They found significant genetic disparities between black bears in the east-central part of the state and the subpopulation just north of the border. The border bears, the study said, were more closely related to bears found in northern Mexico.

The population density of the border bears was substantially lower than the bears living farther north, which had a wider habitat that was less vulnerable to development, the study found. The border is a unique region, from a biological point of view, researchers say, with many North American species reaching the southern limit of their distribution there and many South American species extending not much farther north.

“We want people to be cognizant of the impact of human activities and how they are impacting wildlife populations,” said Dr. Jon P. Beckmann, a bear researcher with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and co-author of the bear study.

The authors, who include Todd C. Atwood and Julie K. Young of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center, intend to share their findings with the Department of Homeland Security and other state and federal agencies along the border. Dr. Beckmann said that the paper could be used to help generate innovative solutions that take bears and other large carnivores into consideration when border security was discussed.

As for the efficacy of border fencing in stymieing illegal immigrants, an issue that has come up in the Republican presidential primary contest, Mr. Beckmann said, “We’re not weighing into that debate.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

US-Mexico immigration: Even oceans have borders

December 16, 2011
By Valeria Perasso

The US government is erecting a fence in the ocean to divide California from Tijuana, Mexico. Immigration and environmental activists say it is a costly, dangerous endeavour that will do little to keep out unauthorised migrants.

On a sunny strip of beach south of San Diego, California, the US government is literally battling the tide of illegal immigration.

Border authorities are building a fence extending 300ft (91m) into the surf, in an effort to prevent would-be migrants from walking over the frontier from Mexico's Tijuana Beach to Imperial Beach, California, during low tide.

The US government's latest King Canute-like effort will make an existing fence longer, higher, tougher to scale and, officials say, more resilient to the tide.
'Operational need'

Border officials note that during November officers caught several undocumented migrants swimming in the Pacific Ocean or landing ashore in small fishing boats.

"There is a clear operational need for this development," says Michael Hance, field operation supervisor with the border patrol in the San Diego sector.

"The southern side of the border is densely populated and in the past many people found an easy way into the US through these beaches. We need physical infrastructure as well as border agents in the area."

But critics say the $4.3m (£2.79m) extension is unnecessary, noting that heavy surveillance near San Diego has driven most of the migrant flow eastward into the Arizona desert. And environmental activists fear the heavy metal barrier sunk into the ocean will harm marine life.

Meeting place

That physical infrastructure has interrupted the sandy landscape of the Tijuana and San Diego beaches since the early 1990s, when the first fence was built to run 22km inland from the Pacific shore.

On the beach, the fence is made of iron bars sunk into the sand, and further inland, the bars are replaced by graffiti-marred corrugated iron sheets, bent and torn by the marine wind.

The sections extending into the surf remain under construction, and today a visitor sees a pier constructed to allow heavy kit to pound support piles into the sand.

On the southern side of the wall, the Playa de Tijuana teems on weekends with families from the poor neighbourhoods along the border.

The beach is also a meeting place for friends and loved ones on either side of the border. Here, people chat and hug through the fence.

The latest $4.3m renovation, just under way, will extend the fence further into the ocean and increase its height to about 18ft (5.4m) from about 13ft, allowing it to protrude above the surface no matter the tide.

The steel poles holding up the wall will be treated with an anti-corrosion coating. The poles will also be given a slick coating to make them harder to climb.

The wall is scheduled to be completed in March and is expected to last 30 years.
'Symbolic move'

For all the expense and effort the government is throwing into fencing off the ocean, statistics show arrests in the area are already at an all-time low.

Border patrol agents detained 68,000 undocumented immigrants in 2010 in the San Diego sector, down from 630,000 in 1986, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency statistics.

Local immigration activists put the decline down to a steady increase in manned patrols and surveillance over the last six years.

"We don't understand why they are spending so much money here: it is just a symbolic move to say that they are actually doing something to prevent undocumented immigration," says Pedro Rios of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.

"The new surf fence is being built in what is probably the area where the rate of border crossings has gone down most dramatically."
Wildlife affected

Furthermore, environmental organisations say the metal barrier in the water is an invasion of the ocean that will most certainly take its toll on the local fauna.

"The wall could block the circulation of species, especially surface marine species," says Matt Clark, spokesman for Defenders of Wildlife.

Dan Millis, borderlands team coordinator at the Sierra Club, says sections of the wall erected in the Arizona desert have had "a major effect on the migration patterns of desert species".

Architect Teddy Cruz of the University of California at San Diego predicts the fence will increase sedimentation and flooding in the Tijuana estuary.

"There are natural canyons in the region that cross the border without following political conventions," Mr Cruz says. "The effect will be worse for those live in settlements on the Mexican side of the border, the waste from these settlements flows towards the estuary blocking water circulation."

The Border Patrol argues the surf fence's environmental impact will be minimal.

"Our experts have done environmental assessments and they did not find any evidence that the habitat will be damaged," says Mr Hance.

"We do what we have to do. And this project, both in terms of design and investment, is appropriate for the safety requirements in the San Diego area."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Survey again finds El Paso has lowest big-city crime rate

El Paso Times
December 9, 2011
by Kayley Kappes

Surprising few in El Paso, the Sun City had the lowest crime rate ranking of cities with populations greater than 500,000 people for the second consecutive year, according to CQ Press.

The publishing company, which released the rankings Thursday in its annual City Crime Rankings reference book, used six categories -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft -- to calculate the crime rate rankings of cities and metropolitan areas.

Data used in the rankings are based on 2010 crime statistics reported to the FBI.

In 2010, El Paso had only five homicides.

El Paso has ranked among the top three cities with populations larger than 500,000 with the lowest crime rates every year since 1997, according to the El Paso Police Department.

Local officials said they had expected the distinction.

"I'm very pleased, and I'm not at all surprised," Mayor John Cook said. "We were pretty sure we had a good opportunity to be number one again because those statistics were for 2010. That was the year we only had five murders."

Detective Mike Baranyay, a Police Department spokesman, said police officials had expected to earn the lowest crime rate ranking for consecutive years because crime rates were lower in 2010 than in 2009, another year El Paso earned the lowest crime rate ranking of similar-size cities by CQ Press.

"Honestly we expect to remain there," Baranyay said.

The distinction will help the city market itself to attract new businesses and shows consistency in having low crime levels from year to year, Cook said.
It also shows that El Paso is a safe place in contrast to its border sister city, Juárez, Cook said.

Since 2008, Juárez has been engulfed in a drug cartel war in which more than 9,000 people have been killed.

A statement on the company's website acknowledged that some law enforcement officials nationwide view the rankings as controversial.

A representative of CQ Press could not be reached Thursday.

"The FBI, police and many criminologists caution against rankings according to crime rates," the statement said. "They correctly point out that crime levels are affected by many different factors. É Accordingly, crime rankings often are deemed simplistic or incomplete. However, this criticism is largely based on the fact that there are reasons for the differences in crime rates, not that the rates are incompatible."

Annual rankings allow for comparisons among states and cities and enable leaders to track their local crime trends from year to year, according to CQ Press.

El Paso police officials have previously said it's hard to pinpoint why violent crimes have remained low in the city.

Baranyay attributed El Paso's low crime rates to the department's community policing approach, which it adopted in the early 1990s.

"Nationwide, and probably worldwide, El Paso is assumed to be dangerous because we border Juárez," Baranyay said. "The reality is crime is low here in El Paso. We think it sheds a positive light on the work of residents and local government, which team with state and federal agencies on a daily basis to fight crime."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Questions emerge as donations to build a border fence trickle

ABC 15
December 8, 2011
by Joe Ducey

There has been a lot of talk about building a border fence and some of it is coming from political candidates vying for your support.

Congresswoman Michele Bachman said, “I will build a double-walled fence.”

Former candidate Herman Cain said he would build an electrified fence, although later he claimed he was only joking.

Arizona Senator Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), is serious when he says he plans to raise enough money from private citizens to build a border fence.

“We will have a real fence,” Smith insists.

Senator Smith sponsored the bill to raise enough money from private sources to build a border fence.

So far Smith has raised roughly $273,000 in about six months from over 4000 donors.

Smith says most donations come in modest amounts, but some are as much as $2500.

The website,, not only allows visitors to donate money with the click of a keystroke but also provides information about border security issues.

The ABC15 Investigators asked Senator Smith about where the money came from to build the website to raise money for a fence, but Smith said he had no idea how the website was built or who paid for it.

The website has lots of information, but does not provide any details about where the fence would be built or how.

Senator Smith admits there is no firm plan, yet, on where or how the fence will be built.

When we pressed for details he said, “I’d rather not say until it happens.”

Smith rejects any suggestions from his critics that the money being raised will never be enough to build a fence.

“Every penny will be put toward a fence,” Smith said.

He is passionate about the need for better border security and this project.

“I like this to Extreme Makeover: Border Security edition,” Smith said.

The young senator says he’s determined to get materials donated and he believes prisoners can be used as workers.

What will the fence look like?

“Whatever we get donated, well frankly, that's what we've got to use…that’s it,” Smith said.

He says he has some verbal agreements and commitments from people but when we pressed him for details, Smith is tight-lipped.

Smith told ABC15, “Right now we’re taking people at their word.”

The senator from Maricopa says he is comfortable with that for now even though he does not have any signed agreements or firm commitments, yet.

“We’d rather it just go up and then talk specifics,” Smith explained. “My intent is to get a border fence built one way or another. It’s that simple.”

But some might argue building a fence along the border is never simple.

Del Caudle is a safety engineer who helped build a border fence three years ago.

He told ABC15 it was anything but simple and there were major obstacles at every turn.

Caudle, a retired firefighter who lives in Casa Grande, worked with the Army Corps of Engineers when they embarked on a Department of Homeland Security project to put up a vehicle barrier fence along the border on tribal territory.

Caudle spent three months working to put in about 15 miles of fence on property owned by the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Caudle said, “We had problems with animals, we had problems with the labor force, we had problems with archeological sites.”

Caudle remembers that one obstacle stopped the project dead in its tracks. The U.S. Government had to negotiate with more than one district governor of the Tohono O’odham Tribe to get the project completed.

Del Caudle says the project cost about $1 million dollars a mile.

He showed ABC15 how smugglers could defeat the fence.

Some estimates by the federal government put the cost of building a border fence at around $3 million dollars a mile.

Whatever the cost, Senator Smith claims they may start building as early as next year south of Tucson, but he won’t say where.

He says he has enlisted the help of a public relations firm to launch a nationwide publicity campaign to get donations, but he won’t identify the firm or when that will start.

Smith is not deterred by his critics and he hopes the citizens of Arizona visit the website and make a donation.

Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) says he has some advice for anybody who donated money to Senator Smith’s fund.

“I’d call and ask to get my money back,” Campbell said.

Campbell says he is just as concerned about border security as Senator Smith, but he wants a reasonable approach and he’s concerned citizens are getting ripped off.

“We're tricking Arizonans to donate their hard-earned money to a plan that's never going to see the light of day,” Campbell said.

He would prefer a plan that includes federal authorities working with the state to do a better job at border security with an intelligent plan.

Campbell raises questions about who will be accountable if Smith’s border fence fund is never sufficient to build any fencing.

Smith insists all the money donated will go toward construction.

The ABC15 Investigators found that his bill allows for members of the border
fence committee to be reimbursed for expenses.

“That’s just language in a bill…no one will be compensated for anything,” Smith said.

ABC15 will continue to follow the efforts to raise private funds to build a border fence and we’ll let you know what we learn.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Report: Feds wasted $69 million on border fence

Orange County Register
December 6, 2011
by Cincy Carcamo

Border officials wasted $69 million of taxpayer money after they bought more steel than they needed to build the fence along United States and Mexico border, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security.

Customs and Border Protection completed nearly 299 miles of fencing at a cost of $1.2 billion after The Secure Fence Act of 2006 required the agency to put up a fence in areas along the southwest border in California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, according to the report released on Monday. The work was done beginning in 2006 and through the time of the federal audit, which ended in April, the report said.

However, the same report states that the agency purchased 27,557 tons – about $44 million worth – of extra steel it didn't need. The agency also incurred millions of dollars in extra storage costs because it failed to move the remaining steel to a government facility for more than two years after the original storage contract expired, the report said.

The agency purchased its steel based on an estimate before legally acquiring land or meeting international treaty obligations, the audit discovered. In March 2008, The agency instructed the prime contractor to purchase approximately 145,000 tons of steel before finalizing fence designs. The agency ended up paying for $9.8 million in additional storage costs.

Customs and Border Protection officials took issue with some of the report's findings, which they say were not supported by the documentation.

The agency was faced with strict time constraints and was urgently trying to get the program started and needed to obtain large quantities of steel, CBP officials said in a rebuttal in the auditor report.

"As a result, the selection of the subcontractor with a proven record to deliver the required large quantities of steel under tight time constraints was made in accordance to the "best value" criterion instead of a "lowest cost." CBP considers that the contractor made a valid management decision," according to the CBP rebuttal.

While the federal auditors said they recognized the constraints placed on the agency by The Secure Fence Act of 2006, they maintained that if the agency had legally acquired the land and met international treaty obligations before it purchased the steel, it would have reduced the cost to purchase and store the steel.

The audit – which took place between October 2010 and April – also details what officials described as the following mistakes:

The agency lacked effective contract oversight during the project and ended up paying invoices late and didn't reconcile invoices to receiving documents
Officials didn't perform a thorough review of the contractor's selection of a higher-priced subcontractor and failed to document the reasons for its approval of the subcontractor.

In September 2009, agency officials purchased 34 tons of steel for $23,000, even though it had significant quantities of the same steel already in storage.
The report stated that the combination of missteps resulted "in additional expenditures of about $69 million that could have been put to better use."

In response to the audit, CBP officials said they issued an alert to all their contractors, letting them know that they need to perform adequate subcontract reviews and provide appropriate data.

CBP ended up moving the remaining steel inventory to a government-owned site in Texas in late March, the audit report stated. The remaining structural steel is now being used for maintenance and some new construction work.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jaguar-cam study along border irks Brewer

Arizona Daily Star
December 5, 2011
By Tony Davis

A study of Southwestern jaguars paid for by the U.S. border protection agency has angered Gov. Jan Brewer and some conservative commentators.

On Brewer's public Facebook page, she called the new study, which will use remote cameras to look for endangered jaguars, a waste of taxpayers' money because it's being financed by the Department of Homeland Security. The department's money should be spent on border security, she wrote.

"Click 'like' if you agree with me and think this is outrageous!" Brewer posted shortly after an Arizona Daily Star article appeared on the study. "We need to secure our border."

But this research is justified because it will carry out an obligation set by Congress for federal agencies to protect endangered species that could be affected by their work, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The service is administering the study and will use information gained from it.

The DHS is paying $771,000 for University of Arizona researchers to put remote cameras in 120 sites - two cameras per site - from the Baboquivari Mountains in South-Central Arizona to the Animas Mountains in southwest New Mexico. The three-year study is to start early next year.

The study is part of a $6.8 million package of environmental projects the U.S. Interior Department will carry out over the next few years using Homeland Security money. The projects are intended to compensate for environmental damage done by illegal immigrants and border protection activities, including the border fence.

The remote camera study will help determine how many jaguars live in Arizona, if a resident jaguar population exists here, and how much of an impact the border fence, illegal immigrants and vehicles used to pursue immigrants have on the animal, UA researchers say.

There have been confirmed sightings of up to five jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico since 1996.

But since Brewer's posting a week ago, more than 19,000 people said they liked it or a follow-up post, and more than 1,700 commented on the two posts, most agreeing with her.

"I wonder what 'Homeland Security' has to do with tracking jaguars. Are jaguars tracking firearms or dope?" asked commenter Katie Koerbling.

"Absolutely ridiculous," commenter Faron Williamson wrote. "They can spend that much to track a cat but can't protect our borders or build proper fences?"

The website of the conservative magazine Town Hall also took aim at the study, with columnist Katie Pavlich saying, "Next time Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano tells us she doesn't have enough resources to secure the entire border, it's not that she doesn't have the resources; it's that she is spending them on extreme environmentalist projects courtesy of the taxpayer."

In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Steve Spangle said it's not uncommon for federal agencies to try to offset their impacts on threatened and endangered species with projects such as this one.

The jaguar has been listed as endangered in this country since 1997, and environmentalists have said this study is a long-overdue alternative to capturing a jaguar for research purposes.

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act says that federal agencies shall use their authority for endangered species conservation, pointed out Spangle, field supervisor for the wildlife service's Arizona office.

"I respect the governor's opinion on the matter, but Congress has directed federal agencies to further conservation of listed species," Spangle said. "We commend the Department of Homeland Security for doing so."

Border arrests see big decline

San Antonio Express News / Washington Post
December 4, 2011
By Nick Miroff and William Booth

MEXICALI, Mexico — Arrests of illegal immigrants trying to cross the southern U.S. border have plummeted to levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to tallies released by the Homeland Security Department last week, a historic shift that could reshape the debate over immigration reform.

The Border Patrol apprehended 327,577 illegal crossers along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2011, which ended in September.

The total is a steep drop from the peak in 2000, when 1.6 million illegal immigrants were caught. More than 90 percent of the immigrants apprehended on the Southwest border are Mexican.

The number of illegal immigrants arrested at the border has been dropping over the past few years, but it appears to be down by more than 25 percent this year.

Coupled with census and labor data from both countries that show far fewer Mexicans coming to the United States and many returning home, it appears that the historic flood of Mexican migration north has slowed to a trickle.

“We have reached the point where the balance between Mexicans moving to the United States and those returning to Mexico is essentially zero,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, whose conclusion was shared by many immigration experts.

Such a drop in illegal crossings gives supporters of immigration reform ammunition to argue that now is a good time to tackle the issue.

Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been sparring over the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the U.S.

Gingrich says it would be heartless to kick out immigrants who have worked and raised families here for years. Romney blasted Gingrich for supporting “amnesty” for illegal residents, but he has not given a clear answer on what he would do.

In Congress, comprehensive immigration reform has been sidelined, stuck between those who would not allow illegal immigrants to remain and others who are pushing, like President Barack Obama, to create a “pathway” to legal status, but not necessarily citizenship.

The lower number of apprehensions supports the Obama administration's contention that the border is more secure than ever.

But those who say the border remains out of control point to the fact that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants still try to make the crossing every year.

At the Casa Betania migrant shelter in a rough section of the sprawling city of Mexicali on the border with California, manager Jorge Verdugo has seen a sharp decline in the number of ragged men who arrive each afternoon looking for a meal, a shower and a safe place to sleep.

When he began five years ago, the shelter's 42 beds were always full, but on a recent afternoon, the place was mostly empty. At the other migrant shelter across town, for women and children, there was only one guest.

“The change has been drastic,” Verdugo said.

Most experts agree that Border Patrol apprehensions along the border are an imprecise but useful marker for estimating the total flow of illegal immigrants because the U.S. government has no idea how many are not caught.

But a number of recent surveys indicated that migration has been altered in the past few years.

Pew Center research shows the number of Mexicans moving to the U.S., both legally and illegally, has fallen steeply. About 150,000 Mexicans moved to the U.S. last year, compared with 750,000 in 2000.

For the first time, according to U.S. census data, the growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. is being fueled more by births than by immigration.

Data from Mexican surveys show that the amount of money sent home from the U.S. has fallen, from a peak of $24 billion in 2007 to $21 billion last year, according to Mexico's Central Bank.

Immigration experts say the No. 1 cause of the drop in the number of illegal immigrants is the U.S. economy, which dipped into a recession in 2008 and continues sluggish growth.

“The arrests on the border are moving like the U.S. economic cycle,” said Juan Luis Ordaz, senior economist for the Bancomer Foundation.

Ordaz and colleagues say Mexican and U.S. data suggest that the number of Mexican migrants arriving each year in the U.S. has been cut in half since 2005 and that poverty rates for Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. have grown to 30 percent from 22 percent in 2007.

“Migration has decreased because employment opportunities in the United States are not good,” said German Vega of the College of the North in Tijuana. “Fewer migrants have full-time jobs. Hours are reduced. Wages are lower. The amount of money they send home is less. And another reason is organized crime.”

Many Mexicans say it has become much more difficult to cross illegally into the U.S.

“Some of these men try three, four or five times to get across, and then they give up,” Verdugo said. “It's much harder now because of all the surveillance.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Republicans Want a Fence on the Border. Big Mistake.

The Daily Beast
December 2, 2011
by Larry Kaplow

It’s become such a frequently voiced note by the Republican candidates for president that it’s almost party orthodoxy: to hold back Mexican drug violence supposedly about to engulf the United States, we should fence off Mexico and guard the line with aggression. Mitt Romney supports building a fence. Michele Bachmann promises a “double” fence. Rick Perry calls for a border “shut down” with sensors and “aviation.” And last month two two retired generals, including Barry McCaffrey, a former drug czar, added to the chorus, testifying before members of the House homeland security committee in a session titled “A Call to Action: Narco-Terrorism’s Threat to the Southern U.S. Border.” They presented the report (PDF) they wrote for Texas’s Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. It states that life in U.S. border counties is already “tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies as well as citizens are under attack around the clock.”

I was curious about this combat zone. I’ve covered conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places, and so I was keen to take stock of America’s war zone. I chose Laredo, Texas. The city sits across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, one of Mexico’s most lawless cities, which is dominated by the vicious Zetas cartel. Zetas covet Laredo’s access to drug-running routes on highways to the east. An A&E reality series about the Laredo police drug squad called it “ground zero in the war on drugs.” It seemed like it might be a hot zone.

I flew into the Mexican side, to Nuevo Laredo, and a Mexican taxi driver with the commonly held border visa took me to the U.S., crossing one of the three bridges between the two cities. The two Laredos are inseparable. Their opposing downtowns resemble one unified city clustered around a hook in the river, with similar vintage brick buildings and drab storefronts.

But they are very different places. In the American Laredo, crime, it turned out, was down. And I saw no signs of battle. The sprawling Mall del Norte was packed with holiday shoppers. Families lingered over dinners at restaurants close to the river. Hotels were full with gas workers on an energy boom and Mexican families; the city has enormous stores where Mexican buses disgorge cross-border consumers. I arranged to meet a judge from the local drug court; he felt safe talking into the night at an outside table at Starbucks. “There’s no comparison,” between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, said a Mexican businessman who moved north after a kidnapping and years of extortion. His big gripe was the cost of Laredo labor.

Most people in Laredo are of Mexican descent (Texas used to be Mexico, after all) and until a few years ago Nuevo Laredo was the place to eat and party. U.S.high schools held proms there. Economically, the city of about 236,000 depends on its Mexican neighbor, population maybe 380,000. At least 4,000 trucks a day roll over a bridge from Mexico, stopping at warehouse complexes to transfer their loads for delivery around the country. Drug-war refugees from Mexico are moving in with money and businesses. Despite high poverty rates, unemployment is lower in Laredo than in the rest of the country.

While McCaffrey’s report is alarmist and selective—local officials say he never consulted them—violence is indeed committed regularly here by cartels in the United States. Laredo police recently arrested a suspected Zeta for arranging three local murders. Houston police say Zeta operatives recently ambushed and killed the driver—secretly working with police—of a truck carrying marijuana to a deal.

There are many other cases but “spillover” violence has long fluctuated, not spiraled. In 2003, Laredo saw 29 murders amid a series of cartel killings. There have been only seven homicides this year, down from nine last year—below the national average. Overemphasizing the border could suck resources from other places they’re needed. Cartels supply Americans’ drug demand through local American gang franchises around the country and sometimes kill on U.S. soil.

But on the other side of the border, in Nuevo Laredo, there is a real war going on. That much was evident during a walk I took in the downtown area. The government removed the local police because of suspicions that they collaborate with the cartels. So instead of cops Mexican soldiers patrolled the plaza in pickup-truck convoys, manning mounted machine guns. Federal police drove tanklike armored cars. People did errands and relaxed in parks but many stores were shuttered, a result of the suffocating extortion rackets and an absence of American tourists. A business owner said you can spot Zeta lookouts by their crewcuts and radio phones. Another said it’s easier than that: “They brag about it.”

I may have walked around in Nuevo Laredo but I did those interviews in the American Laredo. In Nuevo Laredo people are scared to talk to reporters about crime, especially after a woman’s decapitated body was dumped on the Christopher Columbus monument in September. A handwritten sign said she was killed for reporting to a website where locals shared information on Zeta threats and movements. Local papers avoid crime news and are infiltrated by Zeta informants (as previous cartels have done before them). Shootouts between the army and criminals go uncovered, including one recently that, locals say, delayed a school opening while narco bodies were cleared. The government counted 115 murders there in 2010 and the Laredo Morning Times cited a state tally of 109 for the first half of 2011. Surely many others were not reported to authorities.

What prevents that carnage from spreading north is the strength of U.S. institutions compared with those in Mexico, which have been poor and corrupt forever. Laredo has a large and visible presence of local, state, and federal law-enforcement officials focused on the cartels and sharing information. The Zeta behind the three Laredo murders was reportedly detected first in federal wire taps passed to police. Police flagged the suspect to border agents who arrested the ringleader when he tried to cross a legal bridge entry.

With a $4.3 million federal grant last year, Laredo police added 22 officers to the approximately 400 it already had. Unable to afford its own helicopter, the department painted numbers on squad car roofs and shared its radio frequencies so state and federal chopper pilots can speak directly to cops. Chief Carlos R. Maldonado has police move in low-profile ways because Zetas study their tactics. He says he’s strengthened his internal-affairs staff to watch for corruption, an occasional problem among Laredo public officials.

What Maldonado says he does not need is a fence the length of the border. His view reflects the mood in the heavily Democratic, Latino community. “There is no physical barrier that will separate Mexico and the United States,” he says. Families, businesses and, yes, gangs are too intertwined. It reminds me of how some of the 9/11 hijackers were in the U.S. legally. Sure, you need controls. But it’s hard to see how lining the border with troops, fences, or sensors—at a cost of billions—would stop a few, or few dozen, Zetas from infiltrating Laredo or, say, Boston. The question is not whether we can keep them all out but: what do we let them get away with when they arrive?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Newt Gingrich signs border fence pledge during Iowa swing

Los Angeles Times
December 1, 2011
by Paul West

Reporting from Des Moines— Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich, whose plan to give permanent residency to illegal immigrants has angered some conservatives, signed a pledge Thursday to build a double fence along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2013.

The former House speaker is on a two-campaign visit to Iowa, which will open the voting in the 2012 GOP contest next month and where anti-immigrant sentiment is intense.

"We haven't been able to build a fence on the border because we have not been a serious country," said Gingrich, as he prepared to sign the pledge following a morning speech to employees at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines.

Gingrich, who has jumped to the top of the polls here and nationally, said his decision to sign the pledge was in line with his determination to offer "serious leadership doing serious things" as president.

He becomes the second GOP presidential candidate, after Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, to sign the pledge, which is being promoted by a North Carolina group, Americans for Securing the Border.

"For too long, too many politicians have given only lip service to the war on our border," said Van D. Hipp Jr., a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman and Washington defense consultant, who heads the group. He said he did not have a cost estimate for the fence.

The pledge contains a significant loophole: It leaves it up to the U.S. Border Patrol or Department of Homeland Security to determine locations for the fence.,0,253023.story