Friday, May 23, 2014

Indigenous Texans Want UN Support Against Border Fence

Texas Tribune
May 23, 2014
by Julian Aguilar

EL CALABOZ, Texas — Eloisa Tamez remembers the exact day five years ago when she said it took the federal government just 24 hours to seize and plow through a parcel of land that had been in her Lipan Apache family for generations.

Following two years of courtroom battles with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the agency got the go-ahead in 2009 to extend its controversial border fence across her land. Since then, roughly 75 percent of her formerly three-acre lot has been behind a steel barrier, land that's now the property of the federal government.

Tamez isn’t alone in her opposition to the fence, which was erected to stop undocumented immigrants, human smugglers and drug traffickers from breaching the U.S. border. But her family's allegations that the fence discriminates against Native American tribes with land along the border has added a complicated new layer to the debate.

In partnership with the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, Tamez and other Lipan Apaches are seeking relief from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They allege that the fence has “blocked access to sacred sites and deprives the Lipan Apache of their First Amendment right to express their religious freedoms at certain traditional ceremonies," according to a news release issued when the clinic submitted its report to the U.N. in February. (That report is a supplement to earlier reports the Lipan Apaches and the UT law clinic have submitted to federal and U.N. officials.)

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley sector, whose jurisdiction includes El Calaboz in Cameron County, did not respond to a request for comment on the report. The agency would only say that it usually does not comment on pending legal issues.

The federal government has argued that the fence, combined with technology and manpower, is essential to border security. And some border residents have lauded its arrival, saying their land was overrun with trespassers before its construction.

But other border residents, immigrants, environmentalists and human rights groups have not seen the fence in such a positive light. They argue that it sends the wrong message to the U.S.'s southern neighbor and is a waste of resources that hasn’t stopped the flow of illegal migration.

Tamez, who was compensated about $58,000 for her land, said she took the federal money in protest, and used it to fund scholarships for nursing students at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
“I am not going to personally use the money that the government has given me due to this injustice; I want it to live forever in my parents' name,” she said. “They are the ones who worked hard on this land to give us a life.”

Margo Tamez, Eloisa’s daughter and a professor of indigenous studies at the University of British Columbia, said the Lipan Apaches never surrendered their land to the federal government and, under current treaty obligations, still have a right to craft their own cultural, educational and governmental practices. Without access to all of their land, she said, those rights are curtailed, hindering the tribe's ability to maintain its culture.

“The indigenous people such as the Lipan Apaches are vulnerable and threatened,” she said. “They have already been subject to assimilation.”

The latest report filed with U.N. officials argues that seizure of Native American land requires consent, and that there is legal precedent for it.

“Indigenous communities have a right to be previously consulted in deciding any measures that affect their territory,” the report states.

The Tamez family wants the border wall to come down, an unlikely scenario.

But Ariel Dulitzky, the director of UT Law's Human Rights Clinic, said other positive outcomes are possible, including financial compensation for the Lipan Apaches or at least a recommendation for more consultation with affected populations in the future.

“The [U.N.] could recommend that the U.S. adopt a measure to take into consideration the rights of the Lipan Apaches — for instance, how the Border Patrol carries out activities in the Lipan Apache areas,” he said.

Dulitzky said he expects a response this summer. The timing could be crucial as the government considers further expanding the border fence. If the U.S. Congress passes immigration reform, it is likely that border security triggers will be included in the legislation. Several Republican lawmakers have said additional fencing is a key element to heightening security.

“New legislation is expected to double and triple the border wall fencing and presence of border patrol agents,” the report states. “If the [U.S. government] is not held to account for the legacy of colonization and the border wall’s discriminatory effects, critical traditional knowledge will be lost.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Tucson center aims to ID migrants who die on trek north

Los Angeles Times
May 4, 2014
by Cindy Carcamo

Every year thousands of migrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally into Arizona. Some make it to their destination. Others get picked up by authorities.

Hundreds more perish in the Sonoran desert. Some bodies are never identified and families of the missing can languish for years without word of their loved ones.

A new Tucson-based organization is hoping to change that.

On Saturday, the Colibri Center for Human Rights officially launched, hoping to address what its organizers call a “very serious human rights crisis on the border.”  The center, which is supported by the Ford Foundation and others, is an expansion of an earlier effort known as the Missing Migrant Project.

That project had already collected, organized and centralized information for what is regarded as the most comprehensive database in the nation on missing and unidentified migrants.

Since 2006, the group has made 100 matches in collaboration with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office.
Colibri, headed by executive director Robin Reineke, still helps people find their loved ones and track information on the dead and missing, but now also aims to educate people on the high number of deaths and disappearances along the southern border through research and storytelling.
For example, families of the missing will be able to post testimonials, detailing their struggle on the organization’s website. There’s also a section that shows the personal items carried by more than 2,400 migrants who died in the last 14 years during their attempt to cross the US-Mexico border.

Since 2006, about 2,000 people have filed missing person reports for those who have disappeared crossing the southern border. Most were last known to have passed through the Arizona corridor.

“The way we approach the project is the way a forensic scientists have approached mass disasters,” Reineke said. “There is a high number of missing individuals and high number of unidentified individuals. We do everything we can … and try to make a match.”

In Arizona alone, there are at least 900 unidentified remains, according to Pima County Medical Examiner data. Most of the migrants are from Mexico or Central America.

Although illegal immigration along the southern border has decreased in the last couple of years, deaths along the border are still numerous. About 165 people die every year crossing illegally into Arizona.

In places like Brooks County, Texas, deaths have drastically increased in the last couple of years, Reineke said. Colibri is also collaborating with officials there to help them with the issue.

The launch of the new organization coincided with the Tucson premiere of “Who is Dayani Cristal?” The film, a documentary about the journey to identify a man who crossed the border illegally into Arizona from Mexico, features the Pima County Office, Reineke and the work that eventually developed into Colibri.

Border Fence Still Dividing Communities

FOX 29 News
May 5, 2104
by Grace White

It's a controversial part of the border, the section between the fence in America and the Rio Grande bordering Mexico that some call 'No Man's Land.'

"This is home, this is America," said Pamela Taylor, who lives across the fence.

It looks like any other neighborhood.

"We know most of the guys," she said.

There's a sense of pride.

You could call it a gated community, except that this isn't a gate, traffic comes right through.

This isn't the residents' idea of protection, it's the U.S. Government's idea of border security.

"We are the last (house)," said Taylor.

She has lived in her home just outside Brownsville for decades.

"It's been known as no man's land," said Taylor.

There's only a handful of homeowners on the other side of the fence and most have been fighting the government for years.

Some claim they've been cut-off from their country and others say they now have limited access to their homes.

The fence cuts right through Rusty Monsees' property.

"It doesn't work, there's no way it can work," said Monsees, who lives near the fence.

"No matter what happens on this side of the fence we have absolutely no control over it," said Taylor.

Border patrol agents walked us onto the other side to prove they do.

"A lot of people have the misconception that southside of the fence is 'No Man's Land,' but it by no means is that," said Danny Tirado, spokesman for U.S. Border Patrol.

Agents also took us on this ride-a-long to show us why the fence wasn't built on the actual border.

There's simply too many twists and turns on the Rio Grande to justify the cost

Even though the fence in places is a half mile north... "We have detection capabilities out there, between the river and the fence," said Tirado.

"I think they probably see it as the unofficial border," said Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for the Border Patrol Union.

Union representatives say while it does provide protection, the fence also creates challenges.

"In the not to distant past we've had some guys attacked, pretty bad, pretty bloody. Couple of guys reached for guns and tried to disarm our agents," said Cabrera.

The union says there's been talks of requiring agents to work in pairs.

"We have some agents that have been assaulted, it's not uncommon for a border patrol agent to arrest 17-20 people at a time by himself," said Cabrera.

"All this money that they've spent on this could have been better spent to improve and bring more border patrolmen," said Monsees.

Border Patrol is increasing manpower in the Rio Grande Valley because the number of people being caught coming across increased significantly from last year.

"Well they ask, well if it's so dangerous, why don't you move. Well why should I? I haven't done anything wrong," said Taylor.

So, Taylor makes the most of it, leaving sodas and water out for people passing through.

But don't mistake her generosity as an endorsement, she says what's happening on this side of the fence should concern every American.

"Whatever comes over this border they are going up north," said Taylor.

Brownsville Congressman Filemon Vela says, "Simply, I believe the border fence has been a waste of money and needs to be torn down." 

However, some argue the fence works.

The Border Patrol is catching more people as they cross over.

In 2012, the number was around 95,000.

Last year, it was 150,000.Border Fence Still Dividing Communities

Border fence extension remains in Congressional limbo

KSAT San Antonio
May 8, 2014
by Jesse Degollado

MCALLEN, Texas - 
Funded by the Secure Fence Act of 2006, plans to extend the border fence, part of immigration reform, remain in Congressional limbo.

Critics of the fence in south Texas question spending more taxpayer dollars on a barrier that they said has had little effect.
“A border fence is a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Dist. 28).
Cuellar, who serves on the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, said he supports “smart border security,” using technology.
“The wall here was $12 million a mile,” said Scott Nicol, one of its early opponents and founder of “It can be completely defeated by a couple of dollars worth of scrap wood."
Nicol has photographed makeshift ladders left behind by undocumented immigrants. He said most are seized by U.S. Border Patrol.

He also said the fence has done little to slow, much less stop, the current surge of Central Americans into the Rio Grande Valley.

“The walls are up and apprehensions are rising again, so I don’t see the wall doing a lot,” Nicol said.
William Alber, a retired General Motors worker from Michigan and a full-time winter Texan, said he agrees.
Alber said he watched the fence going up from his front yard at a mobile home park near McAllen.
“The wall didn’t do any good. They just come over the top of the wall,” Alber said.
He said they also often run across his driveway, but he’s never been threatened.
“It’s elderly ladies. It’s girls. I’ve seen little kids, 7, 8 years old running with them,” Alber said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they’re desperate.”
Alber said if Border Patrol is not there watching, many others simply go around the fence where it abruptly ends.
According to Customs and Border Protection, only 650 miles of fencing exists along the 2,000-mile southern border.

Daniel Tirado, a spokesman for U.S. Border Patrol, said the 54 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley was strategically placed to give its 5,000-plus agents the tactical advantage.
Tirado said the border fence helps shift illegal activity to less populated areas, “decreasing the smuggler’s ability to exploit easily accessible routes through communities, increasing the possibility of apprehension.”   
However, those living between the fence and the Rio Grande have said they’re in a no-man’s land used by smugglers.
Tirado said that is why agents often patrol those areas, assisted by other means of detection such as cameras and sensors.
He said Border Patrol relies on a combination of technology, infrastructure and personnel to secure the south Texas border.  

Texas lawmaker alleges wasteful spending by DHS at border

Brownsville Herald
May 8, 2014
by Ty Johnson

One Texan on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security questioned border fence construction Wednesday during the committee’s hearing on government waste within the Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, spoke specifically about border security during the hearing, which was held about a week after the Government Account ability Office issued a report concerning DHS, which has been classified at “high risk” for government waste since the department’s creation in 2002.
While the unique missions of the department’s many components, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, make it difficult to create uniformity within the department, lawmakers have filed legislation to encourage DHS to get its house in order.
The agencies where risk was deemed highest include CBP, ICE, Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.O’Rourke noted two projects along t
he border that were receiving heavy capital investment even as complications were revealed.
“Generally, I thinkthat spending withinthe Department of Home-land Security is out of control,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

During the hearing, O’Rourke noted that his assessment is backed up by countless GAO reports that show DHS beginning expensive projects without knowing the full cost or having defined goals for the projects.
O’Rourke said the classic example of a border security boondoggle was SBINet, a part of the Secure Border Initiative that DHS launched in 2006.
The project cost ended up topping $1 billion before it ultimately was scrapped by then-Secretary Janet Napolitano in 2010, he said.
The project had intended to place technologically advanced towers along the border to help with border security, but ultimately the department had nothing to show for it.
“What is very concerning to me is I don’t know how much DHS has learned from that very costly solution,” he said.
O’Rourke said he sees similarities between SBINet and DHS’ current plan to place integrated fixed towers along Arizona’s border with Mexico to provide additional monitoring of activity. The price tag on that project is poised to top $500 million even though O’Rourke said there are no metrics or clear lifecycle costs for the project.O’Rourke also criticized a $5.5 million project to erect a half-mile stretch of border fencing at Hart’s Mill, a historic crossing point near El Paso.
The freshman congressman said crossings at that point have decreased recently and are now a fraction of what statistics indicated four years ago, but the project is still moving forward.
“Why fence a half-mile section when there’s no demonstrable need?” he asked, explaining that he brought that up with former DHS leaders and was told that the projects were too far along to be halted.
O’Rourke said while the El Paso fence project didn’t account for a large percentage of the department’s budget, the number of other projects along the border could end up costing taxpayers a lot to cut off land from the rest of the country.
“$5.5 million may not sound like a lot, but $5.5 million here, $5.5 million there — soon it adds up and becomes real money,” he said.
O’Rourke, like many Democrats in Congress who represent border districts, said fencing in and of itself is not a smart investment for the federal government.
“Whatever you think about a wall, the need is just not there,” he said, explaining that the costs of building and maintaining a fence along the border had little return on investment compared to other expenses.
“That money could go to hire customs officers, which we desperately need along the border,” he said.The full cost for hiring an additional customs officer, he said, is about $144,000, but the Commerce Department has found that single hire can help contribute an additional $2 million into the economy while creating another 33 jobs, many concentrated in border states like Texas.
O’Rourke said DHS should work to redistribute its assets, especially personnel, to meet the needs along the border and stop constructing fixed structures.
He said he thinks contractors are to blame for the runaway border spending, as the GAO report suggested that was the issue with SBINet.
“Ultimately the contractors were writing the scope of the contract,” he said. “The agency itself no longer had control, which is why it turned out to be such a fiasco.”
The DHS Acquisition Accountability and Efficiency Act, which aims to curtail spending within the department, has been placed on the House calendar and will be considered by the full House after its Committee on Homeland Security gave it a favorable recommendation last week.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., D-Brownsville, serves on the committee but was not present for Wednesday morning’s hearing.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Border fence mural finds new home, caring touch

Nogales International
April 22, 2014
by Curt Pendergast

Traffic along a major thoroughfare in Nogales, Sonora slowed to a crawl on Saturday morning as nearly 30 painters spilled out into the street.

Passersby craned their necks to see the volunteer painters touch up a mural that recently found a new home on the Buenos Aires avenue after being rescued from the U.S.-Mexico landing mat border fence when it was dismantled in 2011.

The 60-foot-long mural, titled “Vida y Suenos de la Canada Perla,” or “Life and Dreams of the Perla Ravine,” and commonly referred to as “El Mural de Taniperla” is made out of 34 panels depicting the lives and dreams of Tzetzal Indians living in the town of Ricardo Flores Magon, a Zapatista revolutionary community in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas that struggled for more autonomy from the Mexican government during the 1990s.

“It’s rescuing history,” said Luis Diego Taddei, a member of Taller Yonke, or Junk Studio, who helped lead Saturday’s effort. “The images, together with the material, have an important story for the city and for the country.”

The mural was painted on the border fence in downtown Nogales in 2005 as a sign of solidarity with the residents of Ricardo Flores Magon, who painted the mural on the side of a community center in 1998.

The Mexican Army destroyed the mural the day after it was painted. The mural on the border fence lasted much longer, staying on the fence for about six years until a new barrier was built.

After the original mural in Chiapas was destroyed, the mural took on a life of its own and other replicas were created in San Francisco, Ciudad Juarez, and Barcelona, as well as in Argentina and Brazil.

In 2011, when news of the fence dismantling in Nogales spread, members of Taller Yonke worked with the Sierra Club, Border Patrol, and Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Tucson) to preserve the 34 panels containing the mural.

After three years in storage, the mural was bolted to the wall by the Buenos Aires thoroughfare about a mile south of the border.

Organizers chose the location so the mural would be seen by a large number of people, including people passing through Nogales on their to and from the United States. “We wanted it to be visible to all the people who pass through here,” Taddei said.

Ongoing process

The artists made a call for help from the public in February and Saturday’s effort was the first step in a weeks-long process of reviving the mural.

Among those to answer the call was Marta Dicochea-Morackis, sister of Alberto Morackis, one of the artists who painted the mural in 2005.

Morackis, who died in December 2008 from pneumonia, two days shy of his 50th birthday, founded Taller Yonke with his creative partner Guadalupe Serrano. In addition to conducting workshops and teaching art, Morackis participated in several urban art projects in Nogales, Sonora, including murals and sculptures mounted on or next to the old landing-mat border fence.

“It’s lovely,” Dicochea-Morackis said of the mural. “We need more murals in this city. Especially the children, they should paint, do more art.”

Among the painters was her granddaughter Itzel Vizcarra, 10, a Nogales, Sonora resident who likes to paint butterflies.

Although she didn’t get the chance to paint butterflies on Saturday, she did get to work with green, her favorite color, as she touched up the grass in the mural that surrounded images of community gatherings and armed resistance.

While Taller Yonke led the effort on Saturday, the impetus for reviving the mural came from a group of young people in Nogales, Sonora called the Flores Magon Collective, according to Taddei.

For more information on the mural and Taller Yonke, visit the group’s Facebook page. To learn more about the original mural, visit

Behind border fence, woman deals with rising crime

The Brownsville Herald
May 3, 2014
by Ty Johnson

Among the thick brush on the American bank of the Rio Grande just south of the Santa Rosalia Cemetery, there is a concrete slab clearly visible from the dirt road frequented by U.S. Border Patrol vehicles.

A step toward it is a step toward Mexico.
From that slab, a well-worn path cuts through the tall grass leading to the water’s edge.

The path leads to a dam made of concrete blocks — there is an irrigation pump nearby — and provides an easy, dry crossing over the river and across the U.S. border, which is, in most places in Texas, the midpoint of the river.

The river is narrow and the water level is low, making an illegal crossing either way a short, dry skip from concrete block to concrete block.

“It’s an obvious place to cross,” says Pamela Taylor, whose house is a short walk to the east.

She’s lived at that house, which today stands between the border fence and the river, since 1946 and remembers a time when workers would cross the border freely, some pitching camp and sharing with her their tortillas. However, she said she’s never seen anything close to the types of illegal crossings she has witnessed recently.

“The situation now is so different,” she said. “They used to come in twos and threes. Now they come in 10s and 20s.”

Shortly after returning from an Easter holiday she learned she had “just missed it” from a neighbor.

“They just got 20 or 30 of them on your back patio,” she remembers him telling her of the apprehended immigrants arrested on her property.

Gone are the days of braceros and tortillas, she noted. Someone told her those arrested had also attempted to break into her home.

“It’s getting worse in this specific area, for some reason,” she said.

And it’s not just her who is noticing the influx.


U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley this fiscal year are up nearly two-thirds compared to last year, according to the agency’s RGV Sector spokesman Daniel Tirado.

Tirado said Friday that agents in his sector had made in excess of 125,000 such arrests since October.
Those numbers have not gone unheeded, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection has worked over the past two months to shore up its personnel depth in the area, putting more boots on the ground in the region of the country with the most illegal crossings.

A personnel shift announced a little more than a month ago brought more than 100 Border Patrol agents from Arizona and California, and another 54 agents arrived in McAllen last week to help combat the growing number of people crossing illegally into United States in South Texas.

While Border Patrol sectors farther west have seen declines in the number of apprehensions, the Valley has seen such statistics skyrocket, likely due to an increase in the number of undocumented immigrants from Central and South America who cross in the Valley.

“The Rio Grande Valley is the shortest point of travel from South and Central Mexico to the United States,” Tirado said, volunteering that as one of many factors in the regional spike. “Most of the detainees are from South and Central America.”

As the bulk of illegal crossings has shifted eastward over the past two years, Border Patrol has begun concentrating its agents in the Valley, as well.

But if the higher number of agents leads to even higher levels of apprehensions — as it has appeared to so far — it could signal that immigrants are so intent on crossing in the Valley that they’ll attempt it despite the increased Border Patrol presence.

That new collective resolve may be what makes the situation seem so different for Taylor, but she also has tangible evidence that things have changed.


Taylor had been planting cacti along the dirt road that runs in front of her house when she heard it coming. She gave the path a wide berth and figured it was someone smuggling drugs.

She saw an SUV barreling down the road at a high rate of speed being chased by Border Patrol.
“I thought he was running dope,” she said.

It’s the third high-speed chase she’s seen in the past month.

Before that she had witnessed none in nearly seven decades.

“We had never had a high-speed chase,” she said.

Taylor is sure this new breed of activity is due to the increased number of immigrants trying to cross in the Valley.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of people that come across,” she said.

Taylor wants the fence gone and she wants more agents, but she said government representatives haven’t responded to her letters detailing what it’s like living in the no-man’s land the United States created by putting up the fence.

She continues to advocate for the end of the fence project, but she is clearly skeptical that anyone will listen.

“They have no idea what’s going on down here,” she said of the politicians in Washington.