Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cardinal, bishops to celebrate Mass at border fence

Nogales International
March 21, 2014

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston will celebrate Mass at the border fence in Nogales on April 1 as part of a three-day visit to the border by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration and several bishops from border dioceses.

The delegation will pray at the fence on West International Street on behalf of the close to 6,000 migrants who have died in the U.S. desert since 1998, said the Diocese of Tucson, which is hosting the event.

The Mass begins at 9 a.m. on West International Street and will be followed by a news conference at 10:30 a.m.

The purpose of the trip is to highlight the human suffering caused by a broken immigration system, the diocese said in a news release.

“What we fail to remember in this debate is the human aspect of immigration – that immigration is primarily about human beings, not economic or social issues,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. “Those who have died – and those deported each day – have the same value and innate God-given dignity as all persons, yet we ignore their suffering and their deaths.”

The trip follows the example of Pope Francis, who, in his first trip outside of Rome, traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa to remember African migrants who died attempting to reach Europe.

“The U.S.-Mexico border is our Lampedusa,” Elizondo said. “Migrants in this hemisphere try to reach it, but often die in the attempt.”

The Migration Committee and bishops will participate in a number of events while in Southern Arizona, such as touring the border with the Border Patrol; visiting the comedor and shelter operated by the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora to assist migrants; and walking symbolically in a desert area to experience the conditions endured by immigrants crossing the desert.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

At Border Security Expo, companies keep eyes on lucrative U.S. market

Los Angeles Times
March 19, 2014
by Cindy Carcamo

PHOENIX — A fake barrel cactus with a camera mounted inside. An unmanned robot hardy enough to explore underground drug tunnels. Software that recognizes faces while tapping into federal databases.

"We give them a tasting here," said Steve Roser, vice president of Elbit Systems of America, who was hawking drones this week at the annual Border Security Expo, a high-tech bazaar aimed at those who police the criminal shadow lands along international frontiers. "We get them a little interested."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year spent more than $300 million for border security, fencing infrastructure and technology, and has requested appropriations totaling nearly $400 million for 2015.

But the border bonanza may only be beginning. An immigration reform plan debated in Congress last year called for raising the ante by several orders of magnitude, spending as much as $46 billion on heightened border security, including $3.2 billion on sophisticated surveillance equipment.

The legislation stalled, but that hasn't stopped the growth of the gadget-heavy industry on display here at what is billed as the largest exhibit of border security equipment in the world.

Attendees from 14 nations surveyed gizmos from nearly 100 manufacturers aimed at "disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations" — and tapping into what is seen as an increasingly lucrative U.S. market.

With worldwide demand rising for security products, "there's more development in this field for devices that help people protect themselves," said Enrique H. Herrera Martinez, chief executive of TPS Global, which develops armored vehicles.

Men and women in suits and law enforcement uniforms milled around a convention hall during the two-day conference that ended Wednesday, ogling hundreds of high-tech instruments designed to detect humans — be they drug smugglers, immigrants or others — making their way into a country.

Gregory Schultz, who co-owns a Tucson-based business that manufactures clothing that stops electricity from penetrating a body, said his product, Thorshield, could help save border agents at risk of having their stun guns seized by assailants and used against them.

Schultz covered his hand in the cotton-like material, took up a stun gun and fired repeatedly.

"It's a highly conductive fabric that actually short-circuits stun guns and Tasers," he said without blinking.

Roser said his company's drones were in use along the Afghan and Israeli borders.

The unmanned aerial vehicle, which has a camera able to move any which way, is compact enough to carry in a backpack. It's light enough to launch by hand and can soar up to 3,000 feet.

Roser said expos such as the one in Phoenix were crucial, giving him the opportunity to meet the movers, shakers and purse-string holders in high levels of the federal government.

Matthew C. Allen, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said government must improve its technological expertise because criminals were doing the same thing. "We have adaptable adversaries," he said.

But this festival of peddling and purchasing comes at a time when President Obama and congressional Republicans are at odds about a budget and already are ordering a $500-billion cut to defense spending over the next decade.

And it's exactly these types of surveillance gadgets that worry people like Chris Rickerd, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, who wonders whether criminals will be the only ones in these high-tech surveillance sights.

"It's creating a warlike setting. There is a real question of fiscal responsibility, but also quality of life in border communities," he said. "There's not enough oversight."

Rickerd said there needs to be a thorough evaluation of whether the technology now in place is working before purchasing more gadgets.

He pointed to the Secure Border Initiative Network, a $1-billion system with a high error rate that ended up covering only a 53-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border with high-tech cameras, radar and vibration sensors.

In 2011, officials replaced it with the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan, a $700-million high-tech effort to boost border security. The Government Accountability Office in a report this month found that the effort had no evaluation system, so there's no way to show whether new camera towers or motion sensors have helped Border Patrol agents.

"Rolling out projects like that is really concerning," Rickerd said. "It's a waste of money."

Still, there was no shortage at this week's expo of opportunities for spending money.
Kurt Ludwigsen held a faux tree stump in one hand and a fake small cactus in the other. These polyurethane concealments, some as tall as 7 feet, can be used for different purposes but mainly are designed to house spy cameras that can be wired to another location or send data to a smartphone.

"Specifically for the border what you're looking to do is … drop these every thousand yards all along the way and have that digital feed come back to you," Ludwigsen said.

Perhaps the most eye-catching exhibit was a bullet-riddled 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee that used to belong to Minerva Bautista Gomez, security chief for the Mexican state of Michoacan. Drug cartel members attacked the SUV in 2010 with guns and grenades.

"It took 14 minutes of nonstop fire," said Patricio Canavati, manager of operations in Texas for TPS Global. There were 2,700 bullet shells found at the scene, Canavati said. "Thank God she walked away with only minor scratches and bruises."

The company, which is headquartered in Mexico, opened its first U.S. office about a year ago, Herrera Martinez said.

He's optimistic about tapping into the American market.,0,536970.story#axzz2wYfshQza

Monday, March 17, 2014

U.S. Ordered to Disclose Border Fence Landowners

Courthouse News Service
March 14, 2014
by Jamie Ross

WASHINGTON (CN) - A professor won her bid for government records revealing the names and addresses of landowners whose properties might be affected by the Texas-Mexico border fence.

     "Revealing the identities of landowners in the wall's planned construction site may shed light on the impact on indigenous communities, the disparate impact on lower-income minority communities, and the practices of private contractors," U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled Friday.

     The information was requested by Denise Gilman, a clinical professor at the University of Texas-Austin School of Law researching the human-rights impact of the border fence.

     A federal law passed in 2006 ordered the construction of a fence or wall along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border. It mandated reinforced fencing along at least 700 miles of the southwest border, but left the specific location up to the Department of Homeland Security.

     In 2009, Gilman filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records detailing where the government planned to build parts of the wall and what information it was using to decide where to build.

     The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released thousands of documents, but redacted certain information, including the names and addresses of landowners.

     Gilman challenged the government's redactions, arguing that the public interest in how the wall would impact landowners outweighed any privacy concerns of private landowners.

     She said the information would help the public understand the size of the wall and the agency's decisions about where to place it, including whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was treating property owners fairly.

     The CBP insisted that disclosure put the landowners' privacy rights at risk, and they faced unwanted contact from "the media, other members of the public, including other landowners involved in a similar process, and potential harassment."

     Howell agreed with Gilman that "the public interest in learning how CBP negotiated with private citizens regarding the planning and construction of the border wall is significant."

     "This public interest outweighs the privacy interest in landowners' names and addresses in CBP emails," she wrote.

     However, she said the agency doesn't have to disclose emails relating to its assessment of the need for fencing, as information in the emails reveals areas that are patrolled by fewer Border Patrol agents due to their difficulty to patrol.
"Such information discloses the CBP's operations and vulnerabilities, which are not readily-accessible public information, the disclosure of which could risk appropriation to circumvent the law," Howell wrote.

     Also, if Gilman seeks email attachments excluded from the records she received, she must file a new Freedom of Information Act request to receive them, the judge concluded.

     "The schedule on which CBP was required to release records to the plaintiff is set out in the second clause and was thus a separate requirement from the scope of the responsive records set out in the first clause," Howell wrote.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Arizona soldiers, US CBP unite to secure border hot spot

Arizona National Guard Public Affairs
March 3, 2014

TUCSON, Ariz. – As overseas contingencies and deployments for U.S. armed forces taper off, Arizona’s citizen soldiers are shifting their focus to domestic missions to gain real-world experience and maintain readiness.

The Arizona Army National Guard’s Tucson-based 2220th Transportation Company found a creative way to hone their skills and help secure the Arizona-Mexico border in the process. Working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the light-medium truck company moved 193 tons of concrete barriers from El Centro, Calif., to Naco, Ariz., over drill weekend March 1 to fortify a porous section of the state’s border.

Army Guard and Customs officials called the convoy operation a success and said it was a model for future inter-agency coordination.

“We’ve been working on a solution for getting that border infrastructure into place in Naco for quite some time,” said Manuel Padila, Jr., the chief patrol agent for the Tucson sector. “When the Guard saw this as a training opportunity it became a win-win situation for everyone. This certainly highlights the long-standing partnership we’ve had with the Guard and it points to new ways we can work together.”

Where once a fence line was the only impediment for vehicles looking to illegally breach the border at Naco, now a robust barricade denies ease of entry.

In all, the Guard delivered 115 cement blocks – 15 more than originally requested by CBP. In a matter of days, 52 Arizona Guardsmen mobilized 26 vehicles to transport the load more than 400 miles.

“We used every section in the company to support the mission,” said Army Capt. Janek Kaslikowski, the company commander. “We have an operations section that planned the mission – estimated fuel, rest stops, and driver changes – and a maintenance section that kept us running. Our soldiers received invaluable experience with securing a load, off loading, vehicle recovery, and the importance of preventive maintenance checks and services.”

According to Kaslikowski, the mission was the perfect vehicle for bridging the gaps in experience between his junior soldiers and his combat-tested senior noncommissioned officers.

“It was interesting to see them work together on this mission because this is exactly what we would do in theater,” he said. “The NCOs led this mission and gave the junior soldiers plenty of opportunity to gain experience that they may not get without deploying.”

“We paired experienced drivers with inexperienced drivers,” said Army 2nd Lt. Sha-raya Harris, first platoon leader on her third drill with the Guard. “I was one of the inexperienced drivers.”

Some of the most junior motor transport operators in the company had only 10 minutes behind the wheel from initial training, said Harris. Now they all have seven-to-eight hours of experience negotiating turns, hills, and stops with 16 tons in tow.

“It was great training, but I think this mission was equally important for building relationships. Everywhere we went people supported us. Border Protection employees, the ranchers in Naco, even other drivers on the Interstate – everyone found this mission interesting and wanted to help us along the way,” said Harris.

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