Thursday, May 30, 2013

Inside Immigration Reform: Securing the U.S.- Mexico Border

PBS News Hour May 29, 2013 Transcript GWEN IFILL: Next, we take a look at the issue of border security, as part of our ongoing series “Inside Immigration Reform.” And to Ray Suarez. RAY SUAREZ: It's critical to the debate over immigration reform: security along the United States' nearly-2,000-mile border with Mexico. Nogales, Ariz., is a case in point. A long stretch of fencing separates the 20,000 residents there from more than 200,000 people just across the border in Nogales, Mexico. It's one of the busiest ports of entry between the two countries, and U.S. Border Patrol agents process millions of legal crossings each year. But more than 124,000 people were caught crossing illegally last year. Millions more have not been caught over the years. And Republicans say they shouldn't be given a path to citizenship until the border is secured. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona helped author the immigration bill now headed to the Senate. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: We have confronted the reality of de facto amnesty for the 11 million or more people who came here illegally by proposing a lengthy path to citizenship that doesn't place lawful immigrants at a disadvantage and it -- and is contingent on doing everything possible to make our border secure and discourage future waves of illegal immigration. RAY SUAREZ: On the other hand, many Democrats argue the border has never been safer. They point to nearly 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling the boundary and to a network of cameras, sensors, drones and some 700 miles of fencing. President Obama made that point on his visit to Mexico earlier this month. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think it's important for everybody to remember that our shared border is more secure than it's been in years. Illegal immigration attempts into the United States are near their lowest level in decades. RAY SUAREZ: Indeed, some 1.6 million people were apprehended on the southwest border back in 2000, while in 2012, the number fell to just over 350,000. So, how secure is the border? For that, we get two different views from law enforcement leaders whose counties sit directly on the U.S. border with Mexico. Tony Estrada is the sheriff of Santa Cruz County, Ariz. And Captain Robert Wilson is a sheriff's deputy in Hudspeth County, Texas. And, gentlemen, a lot of attention's been paid to border security in the dozen years since 9/11. As we're approaching a national debate over immigration reform, can you, Sheriff Estrada, say the say the border is more secure than it used to be? SHERIFF TONY ESTRADA, Santa Cruz County, Ariz.: You know, I can definitely say that, because I have been there 45 years along the border with Mexico, and we have had more resources, more technology, more boots on the ground. It just has improved tremendously. The urban area, we consider Nogales and Santa Cruz County as pretty secure. But it's a challenge. The border with Mexico continues to be a major challenge that we're going to have for a long time. RAY SUAREZ: Capt. Wilson, same question. Is the border more secure? CAPT. ROBERT WILSON, Hudspeth County, Texas, Sheriff's Deputy: Well, I agree with the sheriff that there has been more resources thrown at the border, and maybe in that area. But, in Hudspeth County, Texas, we have 99 miles of river border with Mexico, and the border is not secure in that area. We still have continued cartel activity across the river. We still have folks from our communities being executed, taken from Texas and executed in Mexico. And the immigration problem, the people coming over is the same. It hasn't diminished. RAY SUAREZ: Let me follow up with you, Capt. Wilson. Is it possible -- you mentioned 99 miles of river frontier with another country -- is it possible, is it affordable to seal Mexico off from the United States in those places to control cross-border movements? ROBERT WILSON: I don't believe it's feasible to completely seal the border with Mexico. And I don't believe you would want to. I mean, there's a good relationship with that government. There's commerce and trade, and I think that needs to continue. RAY SUAREZ: So what do you need that you don't have? ROBERT WILSON: I believe that we need more people, more patrols from U.S. Border Patrol. They're doing what they can with what they have. And maybe policies out of Washington concerning the border might need to be looked at. RAY SUAREZ: Sheriff Estrada, you heard Capt. Wilson talking about a mostly rural area. Nogales is one of the major crossings in your part of the country. How are the problems different there? TONY ESTRADA: Well, I guess we have a rugged, remote terrain, you know, valleys, canyons that, obviously, are very attractive for these organizations to move drugs and people. So, we have always had that challenge of having to deal with those remote areas where you actually have very little ways of detecting that type of activity and that type of movement. We're not seeing the violence, obviously, that the sheriff -- or the captain mentioned that he's having in his area. And I think that's very important to recognize that and be mindful that the dynamics change tremendously from border to border. RAY SUAREZ: And when we look at a place like Nogales, would we, if we were to visit the border today, see more in the way of actual physical barriers so that people can't cross on foot as easily any longer? TONY ESTRADA: Oh, definitely. They have more barriers, obviously more walls, more sensors, more floodlights, a lot more technology that has been applied along the border, which makes it more and more difficult. But you still have the major thoroughfare from Sonora that connects to the major highways here in Arizona and the major hubs of Tucson and Phoenix. So, this is a major corridor for drugs and people. It's going to continue. It's going to continue. They're going to find ways. We have had tunnels. Since 1995, about 100 drug tunnels have been discovered. So, people will come through the ports either making false claims, false documents, they have overstayed with their visa, they will go under the fence, over the fence, around the fence. So it just doesn't stop. So, the border is secure in a certain way, but you can't have perfect security. That's not attainable. RAY SUAREZ: Well, you heard Capt. Wilson mention that he just needs more people. What do you need? TONY ESTRADA: Well, definitely. We're a small department with a small budget, with major challenges along the border. Obviously, we need more funding, and we're getting some more funding from the federal government. Department of Homeland Security is providing that Stonegarden funds, which puts extra people out there to hot spots in Santa Cruz County, which is partnering with Border Patrol and very helpful not only to help them out, but to provide more security for the residents and the visitors of Santa Cruz County. RAY SUAREZ: Capt. Wilson, does the immigration bill that is currently working its way through Congress hold any promise to get you closer to your goals in securing the border? ROBERT WILSON: No, I don't believe so. Even if this immigration bill comes -- is passed and comes to light, I believe that they're still going to continue to come across the border in Hudspeth County, and all along Texas and the United States, and the cartels and their activity with drug smuggling and the things that they do, that's not going to stop that. RAY SUAREZ: And how about you, Sheriff Estrada? Does the current proposed immigration bill now in the Senate hold any promise and any help for Santa Cruz County? TONY ESTRADA: I think it will. I think it will make a difference. There are still some triggers obviously that are going to make a difference to make sure that we don't repeat the mistake that we made in the 1980s with the amnesty at that time. But we need to continue to focus and be mindful and understand that it is a border. It's a robust border. It's an active border. It's a dynamic border. And we're going to continue to have those issues. If the United States consumes over 50 percent of the world's drugs, then we have an issue with consumption here. If we also have poverty along the world, there's going to be people that are going to keep coming in. That's the reality of the whole thing. Irregardless of immigration reform, which will be a good step forward, it's not going to eliminate the problem. RAY SUAREZ: Capt. Wilson, are you being asked to do too much? Is the federal government taking enough of the burden for watching such a big chunk of frontier off of your shoulder and your department's shoulders? ROBERT WILSON: Well, Hudspeth County is 5,000 square miles. We have 10 regular deputies to work this problem. They use overtime from the state. We call it “Border Star.” Our guys are out there all the time after their shift. I think the Border Patrol is doing -- doing what they can do with what they're allowed to do. And that basically -- I don't think you could put enough guys in these places to curb all of the drug trafficking and immigration problems. RAY SUAREZ: Sheriff Tony Estrada, Capt. Robert Wilson, gentlemen, thank you both. TONY ESTRADA: Thank you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ted Cruz tried to boost border security in immigration bill

Dallas Morning News
May 9, 2013
by Alexandria Baca

WASHINGTON — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tried to add significant security resources along the U.S.-Mexico border as a Senate committee debated immigration legislation Thursday, but his amendment was rejected.

Cruz proposed tripling the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border and quadrupling equipment, “including cameras, sensors, drones and helicopters,” within three years. He also would have required that 700 miles of border fence called for in a 2006 law be finished.

If the Department of Homeland Security failed to comply, 20 percent of its budget for the next year would be shifted as block grants to border states. But the amendment was voted down, 13-5. Sen. John Cornyn was among those supporting his fellow Texas Republican.

Cruz also clashed with New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who complained that the Texas freshman was falsely accusing the committee of failing to take security seriously.

“Let’s not keep bringing up this false issue,” Schumer said, raising his voice slightly. Border security isn’t the real issue he said, but rather the fact that Cruz won’t support any immigration legislation that offers a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already in the country illegally.

Cornyn came to Cruz’s defense, saying all was going well on the committee before Schumer “impugned people’s motives.”

Cruz and Schumer continued to pick at each other for another few minutes, and Cruz invited all of the members to visit the Texas-Mexico border to see the “broken immigration system” that has motivated his amendments.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Border wall issue divides Starr County leaders

Rio Grande Guardian
May 10, 2013
by Steve Taylor

RIO GRANDE CITY, May 10 - Opinion is divided among elected officials and business leaders in Starr County over plans to build border walls in Roma and Rio Grande City.
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says his opinion on border walls has changed. He used to be strongly opposed to them.

“As you know, I was very negative about the border wall at one time but I have seen how the walls have worked. Even though people find it hard to admit, I will admit I was wrong. I think walls are effective in certain areas,” Vera told the Guardian.

Asked if a border wall in Roma and Rio Grande City would give the wrong impression to potential Mexican tourists, Vera said he did not think so. “Those that are coming here legally are coming over our bridge. At one time I thought it would be a negative thing, that we were telling our neighbors that we were building a fence to keep them out. However, I think a lot of that has smoothed out and they realize we welcome them with open arms,” Vera said.

Vera said Border Patrol makes a good point when it says it is difficult to apprehend someone in a city because it is easy to hide. “I think they have a legitimate argument,” he said. For that reason, he said, border walls may make sense in Roma and Rio Grande City.

Vera made his comments after participating in a stakeholder meeting with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and other local leaders at the Starr-Camargo International Bridge last Monday. In all, Texas’ senior senator spent four hours in Rio Grande City, accompanied by his wife Sandy. He became the first sitting senator to visit the Starr-Camargo International Bridge.

Vera said Cornyn was asked what he thought about border walls for Roma and Rio Grande City and his answer was that he would leave that decision to the experts. “The Senator’s view was, if CBP feels it is good idea he will back it,” Vera said.

Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal said his view is that a border wall is a “stigma” that reduces the attractiveness of a community to potential tourists. However, he said he is resigned to Customs and Border Protection building them, no matter what local opinion says.

“I would say opinion varies (about what to do to stop a border wall being built). Nobody wants to see it happen. Do I think it will happen? Probably, yes. I wish I could stop it. A fence is not going to fix anything,” Villarreal told the Guardian and Action 4 News. “Without a doubt if you have a border fence all of a sudden you have to deal with an added stigma.”

Villarreal said what he wants most of all is good communication with the federal government over the construction of a border wall. “Whatever the government is planning to do… do not catch us off guard. We want to prepare our people. We want to prepare our communities to be able to deal with a border fence. Let us know, keep us in the loop,” Villarreal said.

South Texas leaders can be partners with the federal government, if they are given a chance, Villarreal said. “We understand that perhaps their (CBP) solutions will not be the ones we are happy with but if we inform our people at least you will have the benefit of saying we can work with you towards a solution and not leave us out of the mix,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal said an example of bad communication from a federal agency came last September when the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission called a public meeting on the border wall issue in Rio Grande City. “It was poorly organized. Information was scant, and the people making the presentation were ill-prepared. That is no way to do a meeting for the people. That was our first introduction to the border wall. It was a disappointment,” Villarreal said.

Like Judge Vera, Villarreal participated in the stakeholder meeting with Cornyn. “I was impressed with Senator Cornyn’s willingness to engage on the issues. He said no subject was off bounds. We have 26 million people in Texas. Senator Cornyn came to a region that is a little bit off the map for some but to us it is the entire world,” Villarreal said.

The mayor said that on the subject of immigration reform, Cornyn said nothing has been decided in Washington yet. “Senator Cornyn promised us he would pretty much let us know everything he could to make us as educated as he can. He said it is not about sealing the border it is about finding a solution that is multi-faceted. He is on the right track. It is not just one thing,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal added that Cornyn explained that he sometimes has a hard time conveying to other senators what a dynamic border is all about. “It is hard for one person. He is just one out of 100,” Villarreal said.

The owner of Starr-Camargo International Bridge is businessman Sam Vale, a former chairman of the Border Trade Alliance. The Guardian and Action 4 News asked Vale what he thought about border walls coming to Starr County.

“My view of the border wall is that it is a nice wrought iron fence. It is not as horrible as people said it was. I would not mind having it around my back yard,” Vale said. However, he questioned if it was the most cost effective way of securing the border. He speculated that it could be cheaper to have more Border Patrol agents.

“I do not think it is the horrible thing they say it is. On the other hand I think it is very inconvenient to get to property that is left on the south side of the wall. For those people who are left with significant property on the south side of the wall it is a big economic inconvenience,” Vale said.

Like Vera and Villarreal, Vale was at the stakeholder meeting with Cornyn. He said the point he wanted to get across to the Senator is that if more security personnel are to be deployed at border ports of entry they should be specialists that meet the demand. For example, Vale said, there is a need for more food inspectors because certain Asian vegetables are now being grown in Mexico and exported to the United States. “You have to have different types of inspection protocols. The imports must not be a threat to the U.S. food supply. We need more people trained in the agriculture identification process, more supervisors for cargo facilities, and more inspectors at the primary booths,” Vale said.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Gang of Eight throws GOP a bone

May 9, 2013
By Carrie Budoff Brown and Seung Min Kim

The Senate Gang of Eight made a series of overt attempts Thursday to win over Republicans on immigration reform, using the first day of Judiciary Committee debate to tighten border security measures on the bill.

None of the amendments impose drastic changes on the legislation. The most significant concession involved requiring the government to achieve “effective control” of the entire Southwestern border, not just high-risk areas.

The lead reform proponents don’t expect any single amendment to sway Republicans and guarantee Senate passage, but by accepting eight GOP amendments, Gang of Eight members attempted to send the message that they are sensitive to demands for an open committee process and stricter border security.
But the four members of the Gang of Eight who sit on the committee also held together to turn back amendments that they view as poison pills, effectively controlling the proceedings.

The two Republican Gang members sided with Democrats in rejecting Republican Texas Sen Ted Cruz’s bid to multiply agents and other resources along the border. The same coalition defeated Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s proposal to prohibit undocumented immigrants from gaining provisional legal status until the entire Southern border is deemed secure.

The Judiciary Committee markup could take weeks to complete, and the Gang of Eight will meet the day before every session to hash out strategy on committee amendments, said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

GOP senators not in the Gang weren’t persuaded by the overtures of accepting certain amendments and continued to focus on border security.

“The committee has voted down every serious border security amendment that’s been presented here today,” Cruz said shortly before the committee adjourned for the day. “The current draft represents merely a fig leaf on border security.”

Cruz’s comments set off the most heated exchange of the day as Republican and Democratic members of the Gang of Eight spoke up to defend the bill.

“Sen. Cruz is opposed to the path to citizenship,” Schumer said, adding that no amount of border enforcement would satisfy the Republican. “Let’s not keep bringing up this false issue that we do nothing on border security. Our bill is tough as nails.”

The panel approved by voice vote an amendment from Grassley that would set a higher bar on border security.

“If we pass the bill as is, there will be no pressure on this administration or a future administration or those … in Congress to secure the border,” Grassley said of the underlying bill, calling enforcement mechanisms in the legislation “weak.”

The original version of the Senate bill focused resources on “high-risk” sectors of the border where the Border Patrol captures 30,000 or more people annually.

The Grassley language says that the government must maintain “effective control” of the entire Southwestern border in each of the first five years after the bill is enacted. That means the Border Patrol must catch at least 90 percent of border crossers and maintain “persistent surveillance.”

If the benchmark isn’t met, a Southern Border Security Commission would be established to make recommendations to the president on how to achieve the border security goals. And another $2 billion would be made available to implement the recommendations.

The so-called trigger issue is a core component of the Gang of Eight bill. Under its plan, not one of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States could transition into a legal status until the Department of Homeland Security has laid out a strategy for the Southern border.

And most of those immigrants will not be allowed to apply for green cards until several security benchmarks — such as a mandatory E-Verify and electronic exit systems at ports of entry — are met.
The trigger is one of a myriad of details that Senate negotiators finessed over months of private talks. Schumer has said President Barack Obama had opposed the idea of a trigger, but senators viewed it as a necessary safeguard against a new wave of illegal entries into the country.

Next up is a Tuesday session focused on the path to citizenship, another major flash point in the debate.

It could also take up an amendment that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for green cards. The Gang of Eight is split on this proposal, and Republicans have threatened to oppose the bill if it passes.

Schumer said negotiators still haven’t resolved what to do on the gay partners amendment, formally called the Uniting American Families Act.

“I would like very much to see it in the bill, but we have to have a bill that has support to get UAFA passed,” Schumer said. “That’s the conundrum. Because if there’s no bill, there’s no UAFA either.”
He added the measure is keeping him up at night. “Look, this one is something … I worry about all the time,” Schumer told reporters during a break in the markup. “I’m a good sleeper, but I wake up in the morning thinking of these things, sometimes early in the morning.”

Overall on Thursday, the committee considered 32 amendments and adopted 21, almost all with a bipartisan vote, said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The committee also cleared a plan backed by Leahy and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) intended to give DHS more flexibility in how it uses funds set aside for border fencing.

After the committee adjourned, Cornyn said that senators didn’t accept any substantial changes to the bill — and those accepted won’t win his vote.

“I can’t support a bill that has big holes in the border security component,” Cornyn said.
Grassley said after the markup that the border security measures must go further to win over Republicans who care about the issue.

“I’ve got great hope that — maybe not by the time this gets through the Senate — but by the time it gets ready to go to the president, it will have strong border security,” Grassley said. “Or it isn’t going to go to the president.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Fence Junkies

May 6, 2013
by David Weigel

HEREFORD, Ariz. – Glenn Spencer wakes every day in pitch dark, at 3 a.m., a habit he picked up in the last couple of years. “I do my best thinking in the morning,” he explains. The early morning is also when he usually gets an audio tape intercepting chatter between U.S. border patrol agents, which he edits for public consumption. He always uses this information to plot a map of border crossings. Spencer’s group, American Border Patrol, will release all of this online.

I wake up at 4 a.m. in the “Coronado house” that Spencer opens for visitors to his 104-acre property on the U.S.-Mexico border. The property abuts a border fence that sinks 6 feet into the ground and shoots up 18 feet above it. I got there at sundown the day before, which meant turning off Arizona State Route 92, past a wary border patrol agent, and driving five miles of dirt roads past dozens of ranches.* All of them sport sturdy fences around the dirt and brush. Many of them are for sale.
Years ago Spencer bought this compound from one of those sellers, a retired colonel who couldn’t put up with the drug cartel shootouts. Four years after the construction of that fence, there aren’t any shootouts. It’s a “gated community,” a “little Shangri-La,” says Spencer. The rehabbed guesthouse sits in front of a landscaped pond, and Spencer keeps a sound system and laptop outside, piping jazzy covers of pop-rock hits. At night the only light comes from the stars, the Mexican mining town of Cananea, and from a border patrol floodlight so intense you could sit on your porch and read by the glow.

But this isn’t what wakes me up. Spencer owns seven German Shepherds, and some of them have started howling for attention. At 7 a.m. sharp, Spencer drives from his place to the guesthouse on an ATV. Seventy-five years old, with the cheerful look and vocal rasp of Santa Claus in some Rankin/Bass animation, he speculates that the dogs staying with him were disagreeing with the dog staying with me. The dog that spent the night in my quarters is covered in black-and-white spots and named Migra—as in la migra, immigration police.

“She doesn’t get along with the others,” says Spencer.
Spencer, who has devoted the last 20 years of his life to the immigration wars, kicks his doors wide open for the media. When the Southern Poverty Law Center designates you “anti-immigrant” and a “vitriolic Mexican-basher,” what choice do you have? He’s showed up to legislative hearings in Phoenix and Democrats have walked out. He’s been in touch with the office of his congressman, Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, but apart from that he’s “persona non grata.”
So he talks to the press—and, he says, to defense contractors. Spencer initially invited me to the border to watch a trial run of a new gyroscopic surveillance drone designed by his team. The nucleus of the Spencer operation is actually Border Technology, Inc., headquartered a short walk from the guesthouse (just past a horse stable), and made famous in 2003 and 2004 when it started running homemade Border Hawk planes on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico fence. Two years ago, Spencer buried seismic sensors, the kind that he used to find oil deposits in his private sector days, to test whether they could trace border movements.
“I was a good systems engineering thinker,” he says. “That’s what I’m applying right now. Here I am trying to present technology trying to solve the border problem, and the whole thing is about what a hateful guy I am! What the hell is happening in this country?”
What Spencer thinks is happening is that waves of illegal immigrants from Mexico have weakened America, and could weaken it further. This is specifically why he bothers the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the 1990s, while living in his native California, Spencer worked to pass Proposition 187 (which denied state benefits to the undocumented), and recoiled in horror when it was stymied by politicians and the courts. He started warning of a “Mexican takeover of the southwestern United States,” and in 2001 he delivered a homemade video about this, Immigration: Threatening the Bonds of Our Union, to every member of Congress.* DVDs of Spencer’s videos about “Aztlan” sit around Border Technology’s workrooms, right next to the CubeX 3-D printer the company just bought, to make plastic components for the new drones.

“I moved here because it was clear that California was just gone,” says Spencer. His old state went socialist, thanks to immigrants who grab at benefits, hospital care, and food stamps that we pay for. “Here’s a question. Why are 50 percent of the students at UCLA from Asia? Why are they not 70 percent Latinos? That’s because of a different attitude [toward] education. Instead of being launched into a brave new world of science and technology, we’re going backward. We keep this up, we’re going to be a Third-World country—the only one with nuclear weapons. Nobody’s ever thought of that? Us, turning into a third world country?”

This is rhetorical: Plenty of people have thought about that. That’s why the grand project of closing down the border with technology is such a risk. The senators currently trying to legalize millions of immigrants are in on the plan—not Spencer’s plan, exactly, but an impressive-sounding matrix that borrows from what we’ve learned in foreign wars. If they get their way, we’ll have a secure border and a growing immigrant population.
So Spencer and his team keep the discussion to two main topics: The reality of the border and the technology that could close it. The American Border Patrol’s compound is a short walk from the border itself, separated by rough red desert, bushes, and tufts of brown grass.
They estimate that the Identiseis project, the burying-sensors-in-the-ground plan, would cost $100,000 per mile. Sensors could be buried up to 6-feet deep, run on solar power—a massive green jobs initiative that tracks the footsteps of people trying to walk from Mexico into Texas or Arizona. The total price tag—maybe $200,000,000 to secure the entire border—sounds ludicrous, and apart from the defense contractor that Spencer can’t name (“one of the big five”), no one could verify it, but it’s roughly 5 percent of the cost of the border fence, and less than Boeing was going to ask for its own scheme—known as the Secure Border Initiative—had it actually worked before a disappointed Department of Homeland Security scrapped it in 2011.

Standing on the porch as Migra trots around the yard, I get the full spiel from Mike White, Spencer’s business partner and designer for 10 years, an athletic guy sporting a soul patch and wearing a polo shirt from his side job as a paramedic.

“For what we gave Boeing for that SBI disaster,” says White, “you could run this along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. And the Canada border. And you could take the rest of the money and retire. I don’t know why they’re not banging our doors down.”
“If the people who wanted legalization were thinking straight,” says Spencer, “they’d drive up to American Border Patrol and they’d bring out signs and start chanting. ‘We want this! We need this!’ They’d do that if they wanted to stop the drug trade? Right? Wouldn’t they?”

White laughs. “You wonder if they really want this secured. They land things on Mars, you know? How can they not secure our border?”

“They can find life on Mars, but they can’t find life on our border,” says Spencer.
“If people with water bottles and a backpack with no training can walk into this country without being detected,” White continues, “what would stop people with guns and bombs from doing that?”
Once, to prove how bad the security truly was, American Border Patrol staged a “terrorist” border crossing. White created a faux suitcase nuke, put it in a backpack with a prominent nuclear symbol, and snuck across the border. Twice. Spencer gives me an ATV tour of the area they were able to sneak past, which has changed plenty. He cuts a path between two 18-wheeler-sized plywood signs:
The words are spelled out by miniature American flags. Attached to each flag is a message from one of the group’s donors—“Thank you for what you do” or a quote from some patriotic text. Twenty thousand of these flags are arrayed between the full text of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase. “When we get another 20,000 of these from American citizens, we need to think of a new sign,” he says. “Maybe: Good fences make good neighbors.”
We drive on and park at the fence. Spencer happily takes credit for it: He started filming the action on the border in 2003, and by 2009, presto, contractors were putting up the rust-colored barrier. “You can still see the flags we put on the old barbed wire fence,” says Spencer. The new fence curves west to a low mountain range where Spencer and other watchers used to spot migrants, clambering up old mining paths on ATVs. Going east the fence tapers off, replaced by a “Normandy fence.” It’s a run of X-shaped metal girders, about five feet high, hard but not that hard to clamber over. Grazing cows meander on the other side of the barrier. More of them stroll along the shallow river where the fence stops. A border patrol agent keeps his eye on the river. He waves at us as we take some photos.

When we’re done, Spencer and White set up the dry run of the seismic test. The drone test won’t happen, because they flew it yesterday, and after a few minutes the helicopter banked too hard and plummeted to the ground. The designers speculate that a flawed battery placement brought it down, something that can be easily fixed once they get more material for the 3-D printer.

So we wait for the seismic test, as a stiff wind whips the high desert. “Normally the sensor would work within 600 feet,” says Spencer, “but this might cut to 400. If it’s raining, you’d see it get cut to 300.” Three of Spencer’s some-time employees, including the guy who landscaped the lovely guesthouse pond, stroll out to the border fence past markers denoting every 200 feet. They wait for the signal.
“Go now,” says White.
They walk at a normal pace and barely hit the 600-foot marker before the foghorn sensor goes off.
“That’s great, that’s better than I thought,” says Spencer. “Isn’t that amazing? That seismograph was buried for two years. The manufacturer says it can work for 10 years without maintenance. I’m telling you, when we have this thing ready, in another 30 days, this sensor will work and the chopper will pop up, fly, and take pictures. We will do that. We will do that.”
It’s time to check out of the guesthouse. I add my name to a rundown of foreign journalists, state senators, and Tea Party activists who’d stayed in the house since the renovation, and I drive to the suburbs of Tucson two hours up the road. Sen. John McCain is holding the second of two town halls in mostly-hostile territory. One high schooler asks him why we should let border-crossers become citizens “when one in five has a criminal record.” (McCain points out that this isn’t true.) But he disarms the critics.
“In Iraq, we developed incredible technology, Gen. Petraeus did, because of the IED problem,” says McCain. “They developed a radar which not only surveils the types of people doing things, but believe it or not, this radar tracks them back to where they came from. We need to have this radar all across our border, and the sensors and the drones, so we can assure the people of this country, the people of Arizona, that we have effective control of our border.”
McCain keeps coming back to that point. Mike Wilson, an activist with the Tohono O’odham nation near Tucson, listens politely. He’s “wearing his tribal hat” today, he tells me, but he works with the Border Action Network, one of several groups that tries to assist immigrants crossing from Mexico by leaving supplies for them in the desert. He is about as far away from Glenn Spencer’s worldview as anyone can get. He supports what McCain’s doing—“we need to get the immigration train out of the station.” And although he’s not convinced that the militarization of the border is the answer, his nation is convinced.
“They live in fear of drugs coming across,” says Wilson. “I have to acknowledge that. I have to honor those fears. When I go down there and try to talk to human rights violations, they tell me: You don’t live here. You live comfortably. You don’t have to worry about your kid getting off at a bus stop in the desert and walking half a mile as drug cartels are moving past them.” They don’t have any problem with border drones or militarization? “They want it,” says Wilson.
Spencer wants it, too. He wouldn’t mind if his technology becomes the backbone for the barrier, and he scores a contract. (“You want to know how to make a small fortune on the border?” he says. “Start with a large fortune.”) But he’s most interested in getting illegal border crossings below 20,000 per year, down from the high six figures that try crossing now. There are supporters of pure open borders, sure, but in politics there’s no real disagreement anymore about locking down the border with whatever technology it takes. Either the restrictionists win, and the solution stops there, or the legalizers win, and the immigrants who’ve made it to Spencer’s side of the border get to stay there.
*Correction, May 6, 2013: This article misstated the name of the Arizona highway David Weigel turned off to get to Glenn Spencer's property on the U.S.-Mexico border. It is Arizona Route 92. It also misstated the name of the homemade video Spencer delivered to members of Congress. It is called Immigration: Threatening the Bonds of Our Union, not Bonds of Our Nation.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Feds may acquire more land for new border fence construction, CBP proposal shows

The Monitor
May 1, 2013
by Jacqueline Armendariz

McALLEN — About 100 people in Starr and Hidalgo counties could be impacted under a proposed construction plan regarding the final sections of the border fence, with more than half living at a nursing home, federal documents show.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection draft plan differs from that of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the bi-national agency tasked with regulating the U.S-Mexico border and water releases along the Rio Grande.

The plan also hinges on whether funding is available to finish the job. As recently as March, federal officials said the remaining border fence project was halted due to a lack of funding.

But the border security component of Congress’ comprehensive immigration reform debate opens up the possibility that could change.

The path of the wall likely is not a surprise for residents of the three area communities impacted — Rio Grande City, Roma and Los Ebanos — as federal legislation for the project goes back to 2006.

However, two documents recently released by CBP show a another path for the fence that will likely mean a second round of property condemnations, Scott Nicol, chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team, said.
Nicol warns the fence plan will have serious consequences for humans and wildlife, which roam through the nearby federal refuge, because of the flood plains there.

“It’s an issue of CBP saying the water’s just going to pass right through these walls. The evidence with walls of almost the same design, in the past, shows that’s not the case,” he said. “Basically, if you stick a wall in the middle of a flood plain it’s going to act as a dam.”

He points to examples of the same fence construction in Arizona that, in some instances, have clogged with debris that eventually backed up as high as six feet.

The environmental advocacy group obtained the CBP records through the Freedom of Information Act and released them to The Monitor. One is a proposed fence plan dated November 30, 2012 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The other is a CBP Facilities Management and Engineering department planning document from March 1 titled “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Planning.”

The bi-partisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight rolled out their comprehensive immigration reform bill last month. While the impact of the federal government’s sequestration is felt, the legislation included $1.5 billion for new border wall construction — the final pieces of which were never constructed in the three towns.

When contacted for this story, CBP cited an email exchange with Nicol that had been forwarded to The Monitor. In the email dated March 29, CBP stated it worked closely with the IBWC on the proposed plan to address flooding concerns.

“On February 2012, IBWC’s Principal Engineer issued a letter approving that the referenced fence segments could be built without adversely impacting the floodplain, so long as CBP follows the proposed alignment and design, as well as provides maintenance and provides any future repairs,” the email reads in part.

However, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers plan from November notes areas of deviation, due to various engineering reasons, from the path approved by the IBWC and developed with flood concerns in mind.

Bill Brooks, CBP branch chief of the agency’s southwest border media division, said CBP’s statement in the email confirming fence construction in the three cities has been delayed due to a lack of funding hasn’t changed.

“The so-called ‘Gang of 8’ immigration bill is proposed legislation and we cannot make decisions on or even speculate on the outcome of proposed legislation,” Brooks said in a statement to The Monitor.

This week, an IBWC spokesperson said the agency had not received the border fence plan from November to evaluate it.

CBP notes in one of the documents that the boundary commission agency warns it’s an international treaty violation if flood waters are pushed away from the U.S. into Mexico.

Nicols said that could to happen if the government’s fence path is followed, while gaps in the wall could also flood even more U.S. lands north of the structure during a substantial rain event.

The CBP document titled “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Planning” outlines a timeline indicating that within the next six months the government will notify property owners it wants their land.

The nursing home within the potential condemnation area, according to maps, is likely Retama Manor Nursing Center in Rio Grande City. A staff member who answered the facility’s phone last week said he was not aware the nursing home may need to relocate. A representative for the nursing home’s parent company in Atlanta said no one would be available for comment on the situation until next week.

In an email dated March 29, sent to the Sierra Club and released to The Monitor, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, also said CBP told him fence construction was on hold because of a lack of funding.

Cuellar’s office sent a statement Friday that has no mention of the phrase “border fence” in response to a series of questions from The Monitor on the subject, including whether he is aware of the proposal that might cause nearly 100 residents in his congressional district to relocate.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that our law enforcement officers have the necessary tools and equipment to keep our communities safe,” Cuellar said, in part. “We ought to pass an immigration bill that that enhances border security and ensures a comprehensive guest worker plan to provide opportunities for those hard working individuals and families who have come to our great country.”

Within one of the documents, the government notes 95 percent of cases result in condemnation, meaning property owners are taken to court for their land. Nicol notes most of those who could be affected by the plan won’t likely have the resources to take the government to court to fight for the best price for their land.
“They’re sort of guaranteed to get shafted,’ he said.

The wall, he said, is nothing more than a political prop, particularly when one considers the number of immigrants entering the country illegally has decreased likely due to an economic downturn and increasing cartel drug violence.

“It’s something you can walk in front of a look tough. The fact that it doesn’t do anything doesn’t matter,” he said. “I think it’s kind of despicable to tear up people’s property and wildlife refuges and potentially cause flooding that could ruin homes and drown people.”