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