Monday, August 12, 2013

Rep. Raúl Grijalva: Strict Focus on Secure Border Fences Is 'Naive Thinking'

PBS News Hour
July 11, 2013

RAY SUAREZ: And we continue our look at immigration reform, as GOP leaders repeated for a second day that there's no clear consensus on a path forward for comprehensive legislation.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: We got a broken system that needs to be fixed.

RAY SUAREZ: House Speaker John Boehner insisted today the vast majority of House Republicans do want immigration reform, but on their terms.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Through all the conversations that have occurred from -- with my own members, with Democrat members, it's clear that dealing with this in bite-sized chunks that members can digest and the American people can digest is the smartest way to go.

RAY SUAREZ: In other words, the House will not take up the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate or anything like it.

That bill includes a path to citizenship for some 11 million people already in the country illegally. Democrats insist on including that step. House Republicans have focused instead on border security, but they're under growing pressure to relent on the citizenship question, and after a two-hour meeting yesterday, they displayed a conference divided.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-Calif.: There are three categories that those 11 million people go into, people that we all agree should remain here, people that we all agree should be removed, criminal aliens, people who have committed crimes and so on, and then people who may be in between.

REP. STEVE KING, R-Iowa: I made the point that anything that is legalization ends up in citizenship. And if that's the case, I'm opposed to it, because it destroys the rule of law. You could never reestablish the rule of law in this country, at least with regard to immigration, again.

RAY SUAREZ: This morning, the lead authors of the Senate bill, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican John McCain, talked hopefully, after meeting with President Obama at the White House.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Once you say doing nothing is not an option, you have to move in a direction to be bipartisan. And once you're bipartisan, you're going to get some progress that can get something done. So, again, it's not going to be the same exact thing as we believe, but, at the end of the day, hopefully, it will be close enough that we can come to an agreement.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: We are in no way bigfooting the members of the House of Representatives. We'd like to see legislation along the lines of ours, but we can work with them on different pieces of legislation. We want legislation that we can go to conference on, that we can get a majority vote in both houses.

RAY SUAREZ: House Republicans will now consider four separate bills, with a concentration on border security and enforcement of existing laws. None offers the possibility of citizenship.
But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned today of the consequences of not acting quickly.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: I think delay can create problems, but I'm ever optimistic. So I believe that we will have immigration reform for the simple reason that the American people want us to have it, and that, if it doesn't happen in this year, it's unlikely that it's going to happen in an election year.

RAY SUAREZ: Republicans have talked of voting on immigration before the month-long recess that begins in early August. But Boehner seemed to leave some wiggle room today.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I'm much more concerned about doing it right than I am of meeting some deadline.

RAY SUAREZ: If action on immigration slides to the fall, fiscal battles over the federal budget and debt ceiling could sideline the issue indefinitely.

And to the next in our immigration conversations.

Earlier this week, we talked with House Republicans Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Raul Labrador of Idaho, along with Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez.

Tonight, another Democrat, Arizona's Raul Grijalva. He is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and serves as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I spoke with him yesterday.
Congressman Grijalva, welcome to the program.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA, D-Ariz.: Thank you, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: A lot of attention is being paid to whether Republicans will go for the Senate bill in the House, but I thought, since you're co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, we should ask you whether Democrats in the House are happy with the changes that were made to the bill to get it through the Senate?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Well, I think a great deal of discomfort, some outright opposition to the surge, the Corker amendment that added $30 billion-plus, doubled everything that was already in the bill.

And, for many, for environmentalists and people that care about those public land laws, clean water, clean air, the waiving of all those laws along the border and public lands, people have difficulty with that. The issue of just militarizing the border to an extent that it becomes almost a combat zone will change the texture and the life in that community forever.

I think it's excessive. I think it's overkill. I think we need to define what security is. And I think it includes much more components than boots on the ground and drones and helicopters and sensors and towers and fences. It includes much more.

But the definition is very narrow. We will make an effort to try to expand that definition, but the bottom line, Ray, has been that a lot of the swallowing and bitterness of some of these additions by the Senate and even some of the components that were in the Senate bill before Corker were being swallowed because of the importance of a path to citizenship.

RAY SUAREZ: So, you call it a bitter pill to swallow. Does it still have your vote as written if it came to the House floor?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: If it came to the House floor and there were -- at this point, I have a great deal of discomfort with it.

I feel that I have -- I have been reluctant to state what I would do in that situation, so that we wouldn't marginalize the opportunity to try to improve it.

But a lot will depend on what the Republicans do here. If we start to redefine the path, then the only sole reason for any compromise or swallowing any of this has been the millions of people that we would add comfort and protection to. If that starts to leave, then, quite frankly, there's no compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the path to citizenship, some path to citizenship, a necessary precondition for this bill or a version of it to get your vote?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: My vote and I think a great number of Democrats.

The sentiment I'm giving you, Ray, about we don't like this part, we don't like that part is pretty prevalent, but the golden opportunity to do something about these families -- and I represent 350 miles of border communities, Nogales, San Luis, Somerton, all those communities, and constantly every day dealing with those families, the deportations, the split families, children left in foster care because their parents are gone.

I mean, the human toll sometimes makes you makes you believe that that has to be the ultimate goal. And if that path isn't there, then what are we settling for?

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier in the week, Congressman Trey Gowdy, your Republican colleague from South Carolina, was on this program.


RAY SUAREZ: And he said the path to citizenship is not as important to him as securing the border right now, because unless you secure the border, you end up back in the same problem we're in now, with newly legalized residents and more people coming over the border trying to achieve that status.
How do you reply to that?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: I think that within the Senate bill, there's E-Verify that's going to make a demand of employers that people must have the proper documentation. Otherwise, the penalties on those employers that hire unauthorized people is going to be huge.

Beyond that, you know, people are coming out of the shadows, declaring themselves, starting that process, family unification, much -- 40 percent of the people that are right now in this country overstayed their work visas or overstayed their visas.

And as you seal this border and as you try to feel that the only way you can provide immigration reform is by zero-tolerance, secure border fences, double links, Border Patrol agents shoulder to shoulder, that's naive thinking. That's not the reality of the border.

And the reality of the economy of this nation and this world, the effect of poverty, there's root causes here. And merely building the fences, symbolism, it's pandering and good political rhetoric, but it is not going to fix or accommodate the issue that we're dealing with here, which is the people that are here already and what do you do about them? He doesn't answer that question.

And his idea of -- his idea of keeping people here with a provisional legal status is something that's so un-American, to have a second class of workers and people in this country with no access to citizenship and, more importantly, with a different set of rights and protections than the rest of us have.

I don't think that's American. I don't think -- we have never been about that. And I think he misses the point on that value. But securing the border, from somebody from a state that doesn't have to deal with it on a daily basis, it's not just overreach. I think it's oversimplification.

RAY SUAREZ: So very, very quickly, before we go, Congressman, is there a compromise floating out there that will leave people like Congressman Gowdy satisfied about the border and its security and leave the members of your Progressive Caucus satisfied that you have done well by the people who are here struggling, trying to get legal status?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Yes, I think a path has to be integral, redefining what you mean by security, so that we make it comprehensive, so that the issues that the gentleman from South Carolina is concerned about, we use -- part of security has to be economic development.

Six million jobs in this country depend on direct trade import and export from Mexico, in the country. And so this is about jobs. This is about a vitality that we need in the borderlands in terms of an economy. We need to redefine that.

I think that's the compromise, that you expand the definition of security from the simpleton stuff that we're talking about right now, fences and boots, to the more complex and lasting solutions, which is the economic development, good ports of entries, increased trade, increased visitorship.

It's a win-win for everybody. And if there was an opportunity to sit down and have a rational discussion without posturing, I think that's a potentially good compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, thanks for joining us, sir.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Thank you, Ray. Appreciate it.

U.S. border fence skirts environmental review

Public Radio International - The World
August 12, 2013

It’s a clear, breezy morning on the scrubby hills overlooking the Tijuana River Valley south of San Diego.

Border Patrol jeeps cruise the dirt roads that run up and down the hills along the fence that marks the US-Mexico border. One drags a makeshift rake behind it to comb the road, so agents can later spot fresh footprints.

Mike McCoy, a 71-year-old veterinarian, has spent more than half his life working to protect the estuary formed where this river meets the Pacific Ocean.

He's heading down toward a place called Smuggler’s Gulch.

“This was probably the most difficult cut for them, and the most problematic cut for us,” McCoy said.

By “us” he means the activists and local land managers who fought against a massive earth-moving project that filled in the deep gulch and built a road across it in 2009.

“Before (the road) was going down these switchbacks,” he said. “And that took a long time."
Now, he says, Border Patrol agents just fly right through.

Starting in the 1990s, this place became ground zero in the battle to secure the border.

Back then, hundreds of illegal immigrants swarmed down the hills nightly from Tijuana. The Army Corps of Engineers built a 10-foot high fence, but it wasn’t much of a deterrent. So in 1996, Congress authorized a triple-layer fence to be built along 14 miles of the border.

McCoy and other environmentalists challenged the project based on federal environmental laws.
“The fence, to me, was a real threat to what might occur in the estuary,” he said.

Conservationists worried especially that filling in Smuggler’s Gulch would disrupt the flow of water and change the estuary’s ecology.

And they succeeded in slowing down construction for years.

Then came 9/11, and Congress ordered a massive expansion of the fence project–from 14 miles to 700 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Environmentalists challenged much of that as well, and again slowed construction in many spots.
Paul Ganster, of the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias at San Diego State University, says that put the Department of Homeland Security in a tough spot.

“It was ordered by Congress to build so many miles of fence by a certain amount of time and they weren’t able to proceed to do this,” he said.

So Congress responded by giving DHS the right to waive all laws that could slow construction of the fence.

“And that removed a major tool of environmentalists and others opposed to the construction,” he said. “And it really removed a lot of the requirements for an open process, for public hearings, things that citizens and communities and environmentalists fought for, really from the '70s.”

Since then, DHS has waived dozens of federal and state laws to build new sections of the fence, some of it across protected land and habitat for endangered and threatened animals.

McCoy says deer and jaguar and Sonoran pronghorn are just some of the species being affected as the fences chop up their breeding grounds.

In some places, fencing has also contributed to flooding, erosion and destruction of habitat.
To date, about 650 miles of the nearly 2000-mile U.S.-Mexico border are fenced off.
But legislators concerned with border security say that’s still not enough.

Florida Republican Marco Rubio spoke on the Senate floor earlier this year in support of the border security component of the senate’s immigration bill. The bill called for hundreds of miles of more fencing, and it would give Homeland Security even more power to waive laws to build it.

“We have a sovereign right to protect out border. And we have a crisis on the southern border of the United States,” Rubio said at the time.

A handful of Democrats fought the waiver, led by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Wyden told his colleagues, “Strengthening our immigration system should not come at the cost of throwing our environmental laws aside.”

And Wyden argued that the bill should at least include a sunset clause for the waiver.
But the environmental concerns didn’t get much traction. The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin.

Back in San Diego, Shawn Moran of the Border Patrol agents union says more fencing is a good thing. He says the San Diego fence has slowed illegal traffic here to a trickle. And adding hundreds of miles of new fencing probably would help by funneling illegal traffic into areas agents can control, he added.

“It’s not the answer to border security, but it is a primary tool that the border patrol has to slow down things,” he said.

Walking along the border, activist Mike McCoy admits that the environmental impact of all this fencing through the Tijuana River estuary hasn’t been “all bad.” Illegal crossers used to tromp through sensitive areas in the estuary. And he does understand the need for a secure border.

“I just think that we could’ve done better, biologically and ecologically, than what we did with this approach,” he said.

What really rankles McCoy is the supreme trump card held by one federal agency.

“It’s kind of my way or the highway type thing. And that’s not the way America worked to me. We all had a say in what went forward.”

The fate of the new environmental waiver, and the broader immigration bill that it’s part of, is uncertain. The House of Representatives has said it will write its own immigration reform bill, rather than take up the Senate’s bill.

But whatever happens in the Capitol, it’s likely that as the debate over immigration and border security gets louder, environmental concerns will remain barely a whisper.

Immigration reform deal could mean extending border fence, seizing more land in southern Texas

August 12, 2012
Washington Post / Associated Press

LOS EBANOS, Texas — If Congress agrees on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, it will probably include a requirement to erect fencing that would wrap more of the nation’s nearly 2,000-mile Southwest border in tall steel columns.

But the mandate would essentially double down on a strategy that U.S. Customs and Border Protection isn’t even sure works. And the prospect of the government seizing more land offends many property owners here in the southernmost tip of Texas, where hundreds of people already lost property during the last fence construction spree.

“I’m still totally against it,” said Aleida Garcia, who was among the Los Ebanos residents whose land was taken back in 2008, when this hamlet surrounded on three sides by the Rio Grande was slated to get a U-shaped segment of fencing.

Given the choice, Garcia said, she would rather have more agents patrolling the area. At least that would create some jobs, she added.

The region’s lawmakers appear to agree. Three Democratic congressmen from the Texas border who support immigration reform have announced that they would not support any bill conditioned on the construction of more border fence.

“It doesn’t do what proponents think it does,” said Rep. Filemon Vela, of Brownsville, who resigned from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in protest. “Building more fence makes no sense to me.”

The fence’s backers say it’s a common-sense solution to keeping people from crossing the porous border.

The strip of land bisecting Garcia’s La Paloma Ranch was eventually returned after the bi-national agency that monitors border treaties said the fence couldn’t be built in a flood plain. But those objections were dropped last year, and the U.S. government has resumed planning for that fence.

The government is still in court with Texas landowners over the fencing built here last time. And yet, despite the existing barrier, the area leads the border in illegal-entry arrests.

Now the Senate’s immigration bill calls for at least 700 miles of border fencing — half of which already exists.

But even as Congress debates the issue, Customs and Border Protection has frustrated fence proponents and critics by failing to come up with any measurement of the fence’s effectiveness. The agency told Congress’ investigative arm last year that it needed three to five years to make a “credible assessment.”

Farmers and others who live near the fence report seeing immigrants scale the 18-foot steel columns in seconds. And since the fence stands in segments across miles of open farmland, there’s always the option of just walking around the barrier.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said she supports the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. But when asked about the fence, the agency said the barrier would be installed based on operational needs and that it was premature to discuss details.

David Aguilar, the Border Patrol’s chief until he retired in February, said fencing is not appropriate everywhere or sufficient by itself.

“I’m afraid we do lose sight of last time. Everybody thought that the fence was the sole solution,” Aguilar said.

Fencing, which costs on average of $3.9 million per mile, was part of the solution that helped the Border Patrol gain control of a stretch of border near San Diego.

Masses of people used to rush the border there, counting on agents’ inability to catch everyone. Now the flow has slowed to a trickle.

As current Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher described to a congressional committee in June, there’s a stretch in Southern California that includes two layers of fencing with coils of razor wire on the second and an all-weather road for patrols. Towers provide 24-hour surveillance. Ground sensors alert agents if anyone tries to cross.

While most of the land for the border fence in California, Arizona and New Mexico was already in public hands, the opposite is true in Texas. The existing border fence already left hundreds of acres of farmland between the fence that runs in relatively straight lines and the winding Rio Grande. Condemnation cases filed in 2008 for the fence are still in court.

In June, a government lawyer told a federal judge in Brownsville that he planned to amend the original 2008 condemnation documents for one strip of land in the city to include more than 250 additional parties.

“We’re a little bit behind the curve,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Hu told the judge. “We’ve built the fence on land we actually haven’t finished taking.”

But while the rest of the Southwest border has seen fewer immigrant arrests, authorities in the Rio Grande Valley are busy.

It’s unclear how much of the surge in arrests is what Aguilar termed a “deflection” from a tightened border at points west. More than half of the Border Patrol arrests in this sector are Central Americans, who have historically taken this more direct route into the U.S.

What is certain is that the arrests here are more than 50 percent higher through the first 10 months of the fiscal year than the same period last year. The Border Patrol sector is on pace to surpass longtime leader Tucson.

Still, for perspective, the 365,000 arrests at the border last year were a far cry from the high of 1.2 million in 2005. Most observers attribute the precipitous drop to the U.S. recession.

Los Ebanos, a community of about 300, is best known for having the only hand-pulled ferry on the border. Every day, the ferry carries three vehicles and a few people at a time across the river.

Garcia remembers when the Rio Grande overwhelmed its banks in 2010 and flooded most of her property, stopping just short of her home. She fears the fence would clog with debris, enhancing the flood risk. The U.S. side of the International Boundary and Water Commission shared that concern, but dropped those objections last year after a new round of hydraulic modeling suggested it would not be a significant obstruction.

Just up the street, Julie Garcia — no relation to Aleida Garcia — thinks the fence would run along the back of her father’s property, about 100 feet from the riverbank. On a recent afternoon she traced the route immigrants take across her father’s property and noted the large rusted propane tank they scramble up to clear a fence.

“I think it will be a great thing,” said Garcia, who works in the oil fields. She knows that many of her neighbors don’t want the fence. But, she said, “It’s like the same thing at your house — you build a fence to keep people out.”