Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Downed border fence caused city damage

Associated Press
September 23, 2014
by Astrid Galvan

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- A southern Arizona city that spent days cleaning storm-related debris - including parts of trees - from Mexico that knocked down an international border fence is asking the federal government to cover costs.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said the city council has directed its attorneys to work with the federal government in an attempt to regain what it spent cleaning up large tree trunks and branches that made their way from a canyon in Sonora, Mexico, through the border fence and into two trailer home parks and businesses in the Arizona city in late July.

Garino says it was the government's responsibility to open flood gates attached to the tall, steel fence that would have prevented so much debris from making it into the city.

"As a city, you know, we want to make sure that this doesn't happen again. The cause of this was the fence. We have to have some system there that's operational and it's functional," Garino said.

Garino said he couldn't provide an estimate for the cost of the cleanup effort. However, the Nogales International reports that city officials have estimated $23,000 in costs.

Meanwhile, the fence, just west of the Mariposa Port of Entry, remains down because of continuing rainfall, Border Patrol spokeswoman Nicole Ballistrea said. The soil needs to be completely dry before the fence can go back up, she said. The fence stood between 18 and 26 feet high, extended at least 7 feet underground and was reinforced with rebar. The debris knocked down about 60 feet worth of fencing.

"The late hour and sudden onslaught of the storm did not leave adequate lead time for agents to safely release the gates," Ballistrea said. "We'll continue with the repairs once the saturation level has (dropped)."

The storm in Nogales, Sonora, began the weekend of July 25 but largely avoided the American side of the border. Still, debris from a canyon about a mile south of Nogales, Arizona, traveled up to the border and became trapped at the fence. Enough debris piled up that it knocked the fence over. In came tree stumps, pieces of wood, and about three feet of water that flooded businesses on Western Avenue in Nogales and two trailer home parks.

"I remember helping one group pull out a tree that was 12-feet-long, 16 inches in diameter, underneath the trailer," Garino said.

It took the city, county and volunteers three days to clean up the mess.

"That's why we're trying to address the federal government, because if you look at it you would see that if the gates would have opened it would have been a casual flow. The amount of water that fell wasn't enough for it to cause a flood," Garino said.

Friday, September 5, 2014

One month later: gap still in U.S. Mexico border fence from monsoon

Tucson News Now
August 27, 2014
by Maria Hechanova

NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There is still a big gap in the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Arizona just west of the Mariposa Port of Entry.

It has been one month since the monsoon dumped a lot of rain in a small area in a short amount of time. The large amount of rushing water crossed the border and drained from Mexico into the U.S. in this area taking the fence down with it.

Tucson Sector U.S. Border Patrol agents say the reason for the delay is because contractors are waiting to fix the fence when the ground is less saturated.

The estimated repair date is still to be determined, though contractors have already assessed the damage and determined how the repairs need to be made.

Weather-related border fence damage does not happen often. According to officials, the last time something like this took place was back in 2011 in Lukeville, in western Pima County.

Right now, agents are continuing to monitor the section of missing fence in Nogales on the ground and with cameras to make sure there is not a security threat or breach. Though according to one BP agent on the scene there have been people trying to cross over into the U.S. via the hole, on foot.

According to agents, it is an already highly visible spot and no extra resources are necessary to keep it safe. Agents already assigned to the area are just keeping a closer eye on it.

The fence, which agents say can range from 18 to 26 feet tall in the area is made of steel, rebar, and concrete and is set deep in the ground. They say it would not make any sense to put the fence up now, because the foundation would not set correctly or hold up well in the next storm.

It is unclear if any modifications will be made to the original design to make the fence stronger or prevent an event like this from happening again.  There is also no word yet on how much the repairs will cost.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

For some Texans on the border, more walls and patrols won't solve the immigration crisis

Public Radio International
August 13, 2014
by Jason Margolis

Scott Nicol, a college art teacher and sculptor, likes to bring people to walk the border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. On a windy day, we stroll along a path in the shadow of 18-foot-high iron bars. One of Nicol’s favorite pastimes is hunting for homemade wooden ladders.

“That’s how you get over the wall," says Nicol pointing at some ladders lying on the ground. "I mean that’s what they’re for. It takes $2 or $3 worth of hardware and nails to defeat a wall that cost $12 million a mile,” says Nicol.

That’s $12 million a mile for this section of wall — the average cost per mile across the border is closer to $4.5 million.

President Obama is asking for $3.7 billion to deal with the latest border crisis tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children coming to the US border seeking asylum. House Republicans have countered with an offer of $694 million, with contingencies. The big one is that they want more border security.

That makes Nicol apoplectic. During our 30-minute stroll, we counted the Border Patrol jeeps. We found eight, as well as one ATV and a helicopter overhead. Texas Game Wardens also patrol the Rio Grande in speedboats mounted with machine guns.
“That makes me very nervous,” says Nicol. “There’s absolutely no reason or instance where you would be using that kind of artillery unless there’s a military invasion.”

Yet, more reinforcements are on the way. Texas Governor Rick Perry says he’s sending up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the border soon. Perry says they’re needed to stop drugs and criminals.

Nicol, who also does work with the Sierra Club, says the border wall became his issue for a simple reason: it just makes him angry. To him, it's too costly and divides habitat areas like a wildlife bird sanctuary on the river. He understands the need for border security, but thinks much of the wall's design simply doesn’t make sense. For example, as we’re walking along for nearly a mile, the wall stops.

“Obviously anybody that has traveled up from Central America is not going to be stopped by something that’s only 9/10th of a mile wide. They’ll just go around it,” says Nicol.

It works this way up and down the Rio Grande — there's the wall, then a gap for a few miles, then more wall.

But the chief patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley, Kevin Oaks, says the wall isn’t as haphazard as Nicol makes it out to be.

“What it does is it slows the traffic down temporarily, so it gives the agents and whatever technology we employ a little more time to get activated,” says Oaks. The Border Patrol also has unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — that patrol more isolated stretches of the border.

Oaks admits that people can use a ladder to climb over the wall, or even tunnel under. But he says it’s all about striking a balance between what can be funded and what can be achieved.

“If you look at history, there’s no physical way that you can ever possibly, 100 percent secure the border. So you have to come up with a compromise, and that compromise is a low-risk border,” says Oaks. For him, that means safe border communities and a low flow of drugs and criminals coming across.

By many metrics, the investment is paying off — the border is the most secure it’s been in 40 years. The annual tab for immigration and border enforcement nationwide: $18 billion. The budget for just the US Border Patrol alone is closer to $3.5 billion annually.

Community activist Michael Seifert, who lives less than a mile from the border in Brownsville, says there are other costs for border residents, on both sides. Border Patrol agents have killed 19 people, some US citizens, but mostly Mexicans, in a recent two-and-a-half year period.

“And not a single one of those cases has been brought to a fitting conclusion — this is what happened, the agent was justified or not. They’re simply not pursued,” says Seifert.

Kevin Oaks says his agents aren’t acting with impunity. “Every allegation of misconduct is thoroughly investigated and adjudicated appropriately.” 
Oaks says the FBI and the Office of Inspector General oversee corruption and criminal charges lodged against Border Patrol. They also conduct internal investigations.

Scott Nicol says he's never had a problem with any agents directly and understands the vast majority are trained professionals just doing their jobs. Still, he doesn’t want more agents to deal with this latest border crisis. After all, he says, Central American children are turning themselves in, not sneaking into the US.

“The response from certain politicians is, ‘Send in the National Guard, build more walls,’” says Nicol. “They can’t get their heads around immigration, they can only think about it in terms of security.”

Nicol, as well other border residents, agree more resources are needed to deal with this latest border crisis. But they want money to ease the backlog in immigration courts and provide better services for the children, not to build more security.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In South Texas, Few On The Fence Over Divisive Border Wall Issue

National Public Radio
August 18, 2014
by John Burnett

When Congress thinks about border security, it often sees a big, imposing fence.

The federal government has spent $2.3 billion to build the fence — 649 miles of steel fencing, in sections, between the U.S. and Mexico, designed to help control the illegal movement of people and contraband.

It's called tactical infrastructure, and the Border Patrol says it works. But people on the lower Texas border have another name for it: a boondoggle.

If you ask Pamela Taylor about the tall, rust-colored fence that tops the river levee near her house outside of Brownsville, she won't mince words.

"I can't speak for the Border Patrol. For me, it seems like a useless piece of crap. Take a look. They [undocumented immigrants] are walking over. They have boats lined up on the other side of the river to row these people across," Taylor says.

Taylor has lived here beside the sluggish Rio Grande in her unair-conditioned brick home, surrounded by mesquite trees and bougainvillea, for 67 of her 86 years. Like so many residents down here in South Texas — which used to be part of Mexico — she treats the border jumpers like human beings, even if she opposes them. Every day, she puts out water bottles and sodas in ice chests by her mailbox.

"We fill that up every night. For anybody: Border Patrol, illegals, people working in the fields," she says, standing by the two Igloo chests. "They all come, and they're welcome to it."

It's only been in recent years, Taylor says, that immigrants began using her property as a favorite crossing spot. They paddle across the river, walk across the road, hide in the cotton plants and wait for the smuggler's car to show up. Then they pile in, drive through a yawning gap in the border fence, and away they go.

"Now they're insisting we need to go in and build more fence," she says. "Don't they see that the fence is not working?"

A Divisive Line

In spite of fence detractors like Taylor — and there are a lot of them — the Border Patrol steadfastly defends PF (Pedestrian Fence) 225, the official name for the Rio Grande Valley border wall.
It's not actually one continuous wall. It's 54 miles of fencing in 18 individual sections. The idea was to erect the wall mainly where cities and towns touch the border, to force illegal crossers into more rural areas where border agents have a tactical advantage.

"Our objective is to work the area on our terms. Ideally, you want to push the traffic where it's easier for us to work," says Robert Duff, chief of operational programs in the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the Border Patrol. "And that's going to be away from the metro areas, where the vanishing point is very short, to where we've got more of a response time."

Outside the federal agency, the perspective from county and city officials couldn't be more different.
"That has been the biggest waste of money," says Ramon Garcia, county judge of Hidalgo, the most populous county in the region. He refers to the reported cost of pedestrian border fencing: $6.5 million per mile, and to the recent surge of migrant children from Central America.

"It's a joke," Garcia continues. "When you got all these 58,000 unaccompanied minors getting through there, I mean, you tell me that it's worth it, and if it's working."

And it's not just people that the fence is not stopping. Sgt. Rolando Garcia is head of police special investigations in the city of San Juan, which is right on the river.

Here's what he had to say when asked if the border wall has slowed down drug smuggling from Mexico:

"In order to get their product across, they basically measured the gap between the fence and started building their marijuana bundles within that gap so they could just slide through the fence," Garcia says. "[A] border wall isn't really gonna help."

'A Fence Does Not Seal The Border'

The Border Patrol and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ran into all sorts of problems when the fence was under construction from 2008 to 2010. Some residents bitterly opposed it. The vertical steel barrier slices through city parks, college campuses, nature preserves, farmers' fields and residential property.

Most border land in Texas is private property. To build the fence, the Border Patrol had to enter into negotiations or begin condemnation proceedings with landowners, which cost time and money. Some lawsuits are still in court.

What's more, the Rio Grande flows through a broad floodplain where both countries are not supposed to build fences that would obstruct a flooding river. So, in places, the border fence sits on top of a levee that's a half-mile or more distant from the river.

And as Pamela Taylor found out, it's a no man's land on the south side of the fence.

"Fencing is not the end all, be all," says the Border Patrol's Robert Duff. "I started my career in San Diego and saw them construct the initial fence, and then two and three layers of fencing. They'll go over it, they'll go under it, they'll go through it. A fence does not seal the border. It helps, but it's not the solution."

Just as important, Duff says, are agents on the ground, aircraft, boats, lights, cameras and other tactical equipment.

Perhaps expectations were too high. Perhaps people thought the wall was supposed to stop illegal traffic.

"They built an 18-foot wall, and people came with a 19-foot ladder and people just crossed right over the top. So I think a fence can only be so tall," says Chris Cabrera, local spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, the agents' union.

As for PF225, it's done. There were plans to build 16 more miles of wall in the Upper Valley in Starr County, but the agency ran out of money.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Vehicle-sized gap cut in border fence

Nogales International
July 28, 2014
by Curt Prendergast

While Mother Nature was tearing a hole in the border fence west of Nogales, human hands were at work on the other side of town cutting a gap in the barrier the size of a garage door.

Someone cut through eight poles in the border fence approximately 1-1/4 miles east of downtown Nogales, apparently using a precision tool to slice through the six-inch steel tubes filled with concrete and a strand of rebar.

The cuts were made at the bases of the poles and about 10 feet above the ground, creating a gap that appeared large enough to drive a medium-sized vehicle through.

The cuts were discovered on Saturday, according to Border Patrol spokeswoman Nicole Ballistrea, the same day monsoon runoff and debris toppled a section of the border fence west of the Mariposa Port of Entry.

By Monday morning, contractors were using blowtorches and metal clamps to repair the fence. This reporter saw agents in vehicles making their usual patrols along the access road next to the border fence, but there appeared to be no special contingent designated to protect the breach.

No tools were found at the site and the Border Patrol does not yet know who cut the fence, Ballistrea said.

Smugglers often attempt to cut border fences, as well as dig under them and climb over them, she wrote in an emailed statement.

“As the Tucson Sector continues to improve deterrence efforts along the border, smuggling organizations are finding it more difficult to move their illicit goods into the interior of the United States,” she wrote.

“Fencing infrastructure gives Border Patrol agents the time they need to stop illegal cross-border activity,” she wrote.

A contractor with Granite Construction, the company that built the fence in 2011, estimated at the time that someone would need about 15 minutes to cut through the steel tubes. By that math, if the person who cut the fence on Saturday were acting alone, the 16 total cuts would have taken about four hours to complete.

One of the selling points of the fence, which covers 2.8 miles of border and cost a reported $11.8 million to build, was that it would be more difficult to cut through than the landing-mat barrier it replaced.

GOP: Border patrol agents handcuffed by wildlife rules

The Hill
July 28, 2014
By Tinothy Cama

Federal land protections are hampering efforts to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the border, Republicans say.

The Interior Department controls about 800 miles along the dividing line with Mexico, or about 40 percent of the total, with other land in the region owned by the Forest Service.

GOP lawmakers argue federal regulations intended to protect land and wildlife have become an obstacle for Customs and Borders Protection officers because they restrict their ability to drive near the border, build infrastructure or install surveillance technology.

“There is no doubt that the restrictions on accessing land along the border have made it more difficult for the Border Patrol to do their job,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who traveled to McAllen County, Texas, earlier this month to meet with officials about the surge of child migrants into the United States.

Smugglers know where agents cannot patrol or monitor, Cruz said, so they target those areas when moving people across the border.

“It seems a commonsense reform to say that the border patrol should be able to fully access and patrol the border,” he said.

A House Republican working group led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) this week recommended prohibiting the Interior and Forest Service from in any way hampering border patrol.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who accompanied Cruz, wants border security to play a larger role in how federal officials manage land. At a hearing this week in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she said officers sometimes cannot build roads or even trails on federal land.

“We’re not asking for a major highway around there, but … we need to think about national security issues and how we enforce our own laws, when you juxtapose that with other priorities within the federal agencies,” she said.

Murkowski is the top Republican on the energy panel, which oversees Interior.

Democrats aren’t buying the GOP’s argument.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said conservation issues are just one of the policies that are falling victim to the current crisis.

“These kids have become both the excuse and the reason that they can revisit some of these policies,” Grijalva said.

“You see everything from getting rid of [deferred action] because of the kids, we have to have troops on the border because of the kids, now we don’t need environmental regulations on public lands because of the kids.”

Grijalva said the Homeland Security Department has repeatedly told Congress that land protections don’t hamper border operations.

“If they’re talking about the most recent influx, it’s happening in areas that have nothing to do with protected federal lands,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “So I think it’s a specious argument to continue their anti-conservation agenda.”

This is not the first time that land restrictions have been drawn into the debate over border patrol.
Many Republicans criticized President Obama in May for creating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, abutting the border in New Mexico.

The designation, said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), will “place additional burdens on Border Patrol personnel and limit access to high crime areas along the border, making it easier for drug smugglers and human traffickers to move in and out of the country.”

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s subpanel with responsibility over national parks, has made border security a top issue, and introduced the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act in an attempt to ensure that the issue is prioritized over environmental conservation.

The Obama administration and congressional Democrats don’t see the problem.

Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said Interior, the Forest Service and Customs and Border Protection entered an agreement in 2006 to cooperate on the border.

“This [plan] has served to strengthen border security measures while at the same time protecting important natural and cultural resources located in national parks and national wildlife refuges and other public lands,” Kershaw said.

Kirk Emerson, an environmental law professor at the University of Arizona, said conservation and security issues often clashed in the last decade, when large expanses of border fence were being built rapidly.

“What I’m generally finding is that there are very few of those kinds of challenges on the ground now,” she said. “There’s more radio interoperability, some of the protocols that weren’t in place before are now in place for cooperation, and the cooperation works both ways.”

Emerson said federal land managers know how to accommodate border patrol officers, and noted that patrol officers are often the first ones to see environmental problems such as fires and report them.

Dinah Bear, an environmental attorney and consultant who works with border advocacy group Humane Borders, said officers don’t complain about land protections.

“We have a very close working relationship with the border patrol, and I have never heard the border patrol ever complain,” she said. “They are clearly puzzled as to why Congress keeps trying to give them more waivers of things that they don’t need.”

She said conservation has nothing to do with the current crisis, because the children and families aren’t trying to evade officers.

“In fact, the kids and the families are usually running toward the border patrol,” she said. “It’s not a question of border security.”

Rainstorm runoff topples border fence, floods Western Avenue

Nogales International
July 27, 2014
by Jonathan Clark and Manuel C. Coppola

Runoff from a monsoon downpour toppled a section of border fence west of the Mariposa Port of Entry overnight Saturday, sending a torrent of debris-filled floodwater down Ephraim Canyon and into yards and homes along Western Avenue.

Leyva Bridge on Western Avenue, just east of the intersection with Interstate 19, was a particular trouble spot. Tree branches, logs and other detritus clogged two culverts under the bridge, and the muddy floodwaters surged out of the wash and into surrounding properties, including that of Raul Origel, immediately south of the bridge.

Origel’s front yard was covered Sunday morning with mud and stones that had been used to line the nearby wash. The water also entered his elevated trailer, reaching a foot in depth and destroying furniture, he said. He does not have flood insurance.

Standing next to a Ford Taurus embedded in the mud – one of five vehicles he owns that were damaged by the flood – Origel complained that the authorities don’t keep the wash clean, which allows for the culverts to clog during heavy runoff.

“There has to be someone, either at the city or county, to take responsibility,” he said.

The downpour began at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night and was accompanied by intense thunder and lightning. As runoff surged south through the border fence – a structure comprised of interconnected metal tubes with 4-inch gaps that allow water to pass through – debris apparently accumulated behind it, blocking flow creating enough pressure to eventually topple an approximately 60-foot length of the barrier.

From there, the water surged through a pair of culverts and into Ephraim Canyon, combining with more runoff and debris until the wash met Western Avenue at Leyva Bridge.

The segment of border fence that collapsed was built above an existing arroyo, with large gates at its bottom that were meant to be opened to relieve pressure from flooding. The gates did not appear to have been opened. A Border Patrol spokeswoman reached Sunday was not immediately able to provide information on the mishap.

No injuries from the flooding were reported, but a family of five had to be rescued from their car near Leyva Bridge, said Nogales Fire Chief Hector Robles.

When an engine was unable to make it to the car on Western Avenue, NFD sent its Ladder One truck up Interstate 19 to reach the scene from the west. Firefighters then used the bucket at the end of the 101-foot ladder to rescue the family, Robles said.

The Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross said it is assisting 10 people – a family of seven plus an elderly couple and a single elderly person – whose homes were affected by the flooding in Nogales.

"We are providing temporary lodging, food and clothing and will have the families contact us tomorrow to see what other assistance can be made available to them," the organization said in a statement.

A woman at a property on the south side of the bend at Leyva Bridge said her aunt and uncle were evacuated from their home after floodwaters inside the residence reached the level of their midsections.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, allowed the NI access to her relatives’ mud-filled home on Sunday. Ruined furniture was strewn about the interior, including a refrigerator that had toppled over, and marks on the wall suggested the water had reached approximately 3 feet in depth.
Her aunt and uncle do not have flood insurance, the woman said.

Next door at the Cypress Trailer Park, residents were clearing away mud on Sunday morning and crossing their fingers that once-submerged cars would eventually start.

Three vehicles that had been parked outside Alma Alcaraz’s trailer were flooded and non-functioning, but the interior of her home, where she and four family members waited out the storm, remained dry.

“We stayed because we didn’t have any way to leave," Alcaraz said. “We were really nervous because we could feel the trailer moving.”

Those inside the trailer included two children, ages 5 and 7, she said.

Nancy Rodriguez, who rents a trailer at the park, said that once the rain started, she began taking regular peeks out her window at the wash. Once she saw the water breach the banks, she went to her car and tried to leave, but got stuck instead. So she drove it to higher ground at the park and waited out the storm in her trailer.

“It was very scary. I thought it was a dream or something,” she said.

The water never got into Rodriguez's home, but it left piles of debris underneath and a large log in her front lawn.

“I want the city to do something, because this happens every four years or two years,” Rodriguez said. “Every time it rains, this happens.”

She soon had a chance to deliver her complaints directly to Mayor Arturo Garino when he and Councilman Jose “Joe” Diaz arrived at the trailer park to assess the damage.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Garino said. “I look at this, and just by the flow and the way the debris is leaning against the guardrails, it looks like the water was trying to get back into the channels. So I think the street was the channel – that’s the problem.

“The Leyva Bridge has to be addressed,” as does a bridge farther downstream near the Circle K, he said. “We need to be able to channelize the water and keep it inside. This is too much.”

Garino said he would put the issue on the agenda for the Aug. 6 city council meeting, and noted that the county government would need to participate in a solution, since it governs the county flood control district, of which Nogales is a part.

Reached by telephone, Deputy City Manager John E. Kissinger said Western Avenue was the only area in the city affected by overnight flooding, and acknowledged that the problem resulted from clogs at Leyva Bridge.

“We have reached out to the IBWC (International Boundary and Water Commission) and have assessed all the major washes in the area and any critical infrastructure that could affect the IOI (international sewage line) and found no problems,” Kissinger said.

Asked if the Santa Cruz County Flood Control District can do anything to prevent this type of problem on Western Avenue in the future, he said, “Other than clearing out the wash on this side I don’t suspect that there’s not much more you can do. I believe that that most of that debris came from Mexico. I’ve been out there hundreds of times and from the border to the hospital you do not see this type of debris – huge tree trunks, pallets, car doors, plastic bottles.

“It is typical of the first flooding or microburst episode to see these things accumulate," he said. "We don’t anticipate a repeat of flooding to this magnitude (this year) because the wash has essentially been flushed of the type of debris that has been accumulating throughout the year and that would cause the water to jump its banks.”

The flood control district developed a $3-million project to construct a detention or retention pond in the Ephraim Canyon area, but it has yet to come to fruition. Garino lamented the absence of a retention pond, saying: “The water flow was just a direct water flow. There was nothing really to hold the water back and let it come slowly.”

Local officials also need to seek support from Nogales, Sonora, since Ephraim Canyon originates on that side of the border, Garino said.

As for the now-wide-open gap in the border fence, Nicole Ballistrea, spokeswoman for the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, said the agency has procedures for maintaining security during temporary breaches, such as a tunnel or busted fence.

"For any type of breach, or breach with the fence, we do have crews that go out there and repair those," she said. "And we also have agents that work that area to monitor. And we also have cameras that will help us observe that area."

Ballistrea said she would follow up on questions about the extent of the damage and timetable for repair on Monday.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

McAllen couple donates ranchland to help ocelots

The Monitor
July 27, 2014
Paula Ann Solis

The border fence running between Mexico and Texas has inadvertently blocked and damaged the Rio Grande Valley range of ocelots.
Urbanization and political boundaries pose a danger to this endangered cat and the future of wildlife. But a McAllen family has breathed new life into their survival by placing part of their land in the hands of an interested party, the United States government.
Celebrated land stewards Karen and Phil Hunke worked for more than a decade to transform thousands of acres in Hidalgo County, known as Tecolote Ranch, into a sanctuary for endangered plants and animals such as the ocelot.
In the Valley, where 95 percent of original Texas brush land has been cleared in the name of progress, their efforts are uncommon.
“Karen and I are just really committed to helping people learn and educating them about how you can conserve land and not over graze,” Hunke said. “You can aid wildlife at the same time and have cattle and make it work together.”
The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group, took note of their commitment and successful maintenance of critical land during land inventories, Hunke said.
To take their progress one step further, the Hunkes sold 1,119 acres in June to the conservancy at a significantly reduced price, cutting their overall land value. But it was all in the name of nature and charity, Hunke said.
The land is near the intersection of Willacy, Hidalgo and Kenedy counties.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the land for $3 million with funds the Department of Homeland Security reserved to combat the negative impacts of the border fence’s construction.

Dying to flee Mexico for America: Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants

The Independant
July 27, 2014
by Tim Walker

The San Miguel crossing between Arizona and Mexico is a simple iron gate. Stretching away on either side is a border marked by concrete posts, which are driven into the Sonoran Desert scrub and strung with chicken wire that anyone could duck under without difficulty. For an undocumented migrant on foot, the hard part comes after the crossing: the long walk to safety, dodging the Border Patrol without succumbing to the harsh desert conditions.

On Wednesday morning, Mike Wilson crossed into Mexico to refill the water container at the station he maintains a few yards south of the border, and which has likely saved the lives of migrants who can drink before reaching the US. Some 20 gallons had gone since he last visited a month ago. Sometimes, he says, he finds the 50-gallon barrel bone dry. Wilson, who is 65, belongs to a small but passionate community of activists trying to reduce the number of migrant deaths in a state not known for its sympathy to their plight.

"Arizona has a reputation as an anti-immigrant state," says Todd Miller, author of the book Border Patrol Nation. "But there are many people throughout southern Arizona who organise not only to oppose anti-immigrant laws, but also to go into the desert and provide humanitarian aid... Mike is doing important and wonderful work."

Mr Wilson and his partner Susan have also offered food and temporary shelter to some of the more than 52,000 migrant children who have crossed into the US since October 2013, most of them fleeing violence in Central America. On Friday, Mr Obama met with the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and urged them to work with the US to help stem the flow of migrants, stating that many of those who have crossed the border will not be able to stay – with only the potential for some "narrow" circumstances for humanitarian or refugee status.

Mr Wilson, though he lives on the outskirts of Tucson, is a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation, a Native American community of 25,000 on a reservation the size of Connecticut, sliced in half by a 75-mile stretch of the US-Mexico border. The Tohono O'odham (meaning "Desert People") have been on this land for thousands of years and, even after the border was drawn in 1854, could pass back and forth unimpeded, often via the San Miguel gate.

After 9/11, however, crossing anywhere but at official checkpoints became illegal. Those Tohono O'odham who lacked the correct paperwork were trapped on the Mexican side. Meanwhile, the Nation found itself at the frontline of a broader border crisis. As the US increased security in the urban areas where they had traditionally crossed, economic migrants from Central America moved to more isolated routes, such as the Sonoran Desert.

By the mid-2000s, tribal officials estimated that as many as 1,500 undocumented migrants per day crossed the border through the reservation. Having survived the treacherous journey through Mexico, many were killed instead by the desert. Since 2001, the Pima County medical examiner in Tucson has received an average of 164 bodies of border-crossers per year. Around half those deaths occurred in the Tohono O'odham Nation, making it the deadliest migrant trail in the US.

Humanitarian groups sprang up to combat the problem, including the NGO Humane Borders, which maps migrant fatalities to identify the most deadly areas of the desert, and then deposits water, food and medical supplies in those spots. The group's executive director, Juanita Molina, says Humane Borders drops up to 1,200 gallons of water per week during July, the most lethal month of the year. "Many Border Patrol officers and people in the community see us not as preventing deaths, but as aiding and abetting," she says.

To Mr Wilson's dismay, the Tohono O'odham Nation sided against the migrants. "They borrowed whole cloth the Department of Homeland Security's narrative, which describes undocumented migrants as potential terrorists," he says. The Nation's leaders even passed a resolution banning outside humanitarian groups from putting out water on the reservation – so Mr Wilson decided to do it himself. "I'm a one-man organisation, by design," he explains. "I have working relationships with other groups from the social justice community. But when I put out water, I do it as a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation."

Mr Wilson's first career was in the US Special Forces, and in 1988 he was posted to El Salvador during its civil war. "We were supposedly advisers, but our mission soon changed," he recalls. "We were to prevent as much as possible the human rights abuses by the military against the civilian population … after my experience in El Salvador, I really asked myself what side of the table of justice I wanted to sit on."

During the US-sponsored Central American civil wars of the 1980s, Tucson was the centre of the Sanctuary movement, a campaign offering safe haven to refugees. That dormant humanitarian infrastructure provided a foundation for more recent human rights efforts.

2002, Mr Wilson, by then a Presbyterian lay pastor, set up five water stations – one on the far side at the San Miguel gate, and four spread across the US side of the reservation, which he named St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke and St John. He was forced to replenish the water every couple of weeks. "I could barely keep up with the demand."
That was until Tohono O'odham Police confiscated four of the stations, leaving him with just the one on the Mexican side of the border fence. No one from the Nation's executive was available to talk to The Independent on Sunday, but Mr Wilson suspects the reservation's leadership stymied his efforts because it relies on federal funding for infrastructure, education and housing. "The federal appropriations are buying silence from tribal members," he says.

Since June, Mr Wilson has offered shelter to more than 50 women and children. Their latest undocumented visitors were a Salvadoran woman, her 13-year-old daughter and two toddler sons, who crossed the border last Sunday on their way to the woman's mother, who has lived in Maryland for 25 years. Wilson doesn't like to pry into his guests' pasts, but he can make educated guesses. “The mother probably fled to the US as a political refugee during the Sanctuary movement,” he says. “I didn’t tell the woman that I’d been in El Salvador. It might open old wounds.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

Congress discusses border fence, immigration policy

Valley Morning Star
June 25, 2014
by Ty Johnson

One Republican Congressman called for more border fence construction while another suggested suspending foreign aid to Mexico and Central America during a heated House Committee on Homeland Security hearing in Washington, D.C. Tuesday where lawmakers discussed the growing crisis in the Rio Grande Valley posed by an influx of unaccompanied child immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson held fast amidst questioning of his agency’s handling of the situation. Other witnesses included Federal Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Chief Ronald D. Vitiello.

While Republicans blame the immigration policies of President Barack Obama for the influx, the administration says it’s being exacerbated by slow immigration courts and misinformation spread by profit-hungry human smugglers in Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, said it’s a lack of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley that has made it the epicenter of the nation’s undocumented immigrant crisis.

Rogers suggested that fencing like that in San Diego would help keep immigrants from entering the United States illegally, though he seemed unaware of the amount of border fencing already in place in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

“We don’t have a fence down there and that’s why,” he said in his second red-faced address in four days of talks about DHS and its role in combating the crisis.

On June 20, he angrily questioned whether terrorists could take advantage of the situation while Border Patrol agents are “changing diapers and warming formula” — language he again used Tuesday.

Amidst calls for more discussions and aid for the immigrants’ home countries from Democrats, including ranking member Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi and U.S. Rep. Filemon B. Vela, Rogers said he would like for dialogue to center solely on deportation.

“Why aren’t we bussing them back?” he asked. “I think what you ought to do is ask Guatemala where they want these kids dropped off.”

Johnson reminded Rogers of a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush that made special requirements for unaccompanied and undocumented children encountered near the border, but Rogers brushed it off by commenting on how long implementation of the Affordable Care Act was taking.

Speaking later, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan, pushed for a much more stern foreign policy response, calling for aid to be cut off to Mexico and Central America and for the United States to reassess or suspend its trade agreements with the countries.

Miller said Mexico was “complicit” in the smuggling of children across the American border as most immigrants trek across the country’s porous southern border and pay smugglers to reach the United States.

While she attempted to blame Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy for the crisis, others at the hearing noted that order deferred action only for children who were already in the country.

Still, the misinformation along the smuggling routes is stoking rumors that the United States is offering some form of refuge to displaced immigrants and parents continue to send their children on perilous journeys to the north.

Border Patrol agents apprehend them when they cross the border — sometimes easily as immigrants run toward agents believing it is their best shot at amnesty — and children found to be without parents are screened by U.S. Coast Guard medical personnel.

CBP is legally obligated to hand over these unaccompanied children to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of finding they are alone — a benchmark that Johnson said the agency was not meeting.

DHSS sends those children off to live with relatives or others in the country with a notice to appear in immigration court — effectively an indictment requiring their appearance at a hearing sometimes scheduled more than a year away.

Those notices are likely the “permisos” that immigrants send word home about, their legitimacy bolstered by smugglers looking to profit off the false hope of desperate immigrants fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Guatemala to attempt to stem the tide of immigrants at its source on June 20, the same day the Obama administration announced half a dozen new programs in Central America to help those nations repatriate their citizens and enhance policing efforts to reduce crime.

Vela, who last week called for more aid in Mexico and Central America, said he saw the situation at the border as a trifecta of crises in Central America, within the U.S. immigration courts and with immigration reform efforts, which have ground to a halt since the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill nearly a year ago.

Vela noted the sentiments GOP mega-donor and kingmaker Sheldon G. Adelson expressed in a recent op-ed in Politico Magazine where he called for the establishment of paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Vela said those views — not the ones of tea party Republicans like Miller and Rogers — were signs that extremist views concerning border security and immigration reform were wilting.

“There are some tea party extremists in the Republican party who happen to sit on the committee that just have views that are very extreme,” he said. “Those are the voices that you’re hearing calling for more fencing, which we strongly object to, and ... for all practical purposes, eliminating our trading relationship with our nation’s second-largest trading partner.”

Vela was particularly critical of Rogers’ suggestion about fencing, explaining that reports he has heard have shown immigrants “walking straight through the bridge and turning themselves in,” throughout the Valley’s ports of entry.

Vela said while he believes CBP likely needs more manpower at its processing centers — the Fort Brown Border Patrol Station was at double capacity last week — the responses from Vitiello have him convinced that Border Patrol has enough resources to handle the situation.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cuellar: We need to act now to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along border

Rio Grande Guardian
June 2, 2014
by Luis Montoya

LAREDO, June 2 - U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar on Monday called for the establishment of a multi-agency processing center on the border to deal with a recent influx of immigrant apprehensions.
In a letter sent to the chairs and ranking members of various House committees, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Cuellar pointed out that since the beginning of this year over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector. This is more than a 65 percent increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013. If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014, Cuellar wrote, in his letter. Cuellar said the Valley is currently at more than 190 percent of its temporary detention capacity. “We need to do a better job taking care of the children who are crossing the southern border unaccompanied and we must act immediately to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along the border,” Cuellar, D-Laredo, wrote. Cuellar sent a letter on the same day President Obama President Obama held a news conference at the White House to say there is an "urgent humanitarian situation" at the border. Obama referenced a surge of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing into the United States from Mexico. According to Kids in Need of Defense, a group that advocates for immigrant children and provides legal services during deportation proceedings, as many as 150,000 unaccompanied children could cross into the United States next. In fiscal year 2012 that number was 13,625, the group says. It rose to 24,668 in 2013. The government predicts as many as 60,000 children could enter the U.S. unaccompanied in 2014. Border Patrol cannot keep the children form more than 72 hours and so the numbers are overwhelming the agencies charged with catering for the children. Obama said he was placing Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate in charge of a group that will coordinate services among many federal agencies in order to better assist the minors apprehended at the border. The Office of Management and Budget says it will cost $2.28 billion next year to deal with minors caught at the southern border. This is more than the $868 million requested by the Obama Administration in March. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged cooperation between the United States, Mexico and several Central American countries on the issue of migrant children. Cuellar’s letter was sent to U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking member of the same committee. It was also sent to U.S. Rep. John Carter, chairman of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and U.S. Rep. David Price, ranking member of the same committee. Cuellar’s letter was sent also to U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, ranking member of the same committee. It was also sent to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking member of the same committee. Here is Cuellar’s letter in full: June 2, 2014 In recent weeks, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has experienced an unprecedented influx of undocumented immigrant apprehensions and detentions, many of which are unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico. These crossings have created a resource crisis in the Rio Grande Valley that demands immediate attention from the federal government and the Appropriations Committee. Since the beginning of this year, over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector, a more than 65 percent increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013. If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014. On average, over 70 percent of apprehensions are Other Than Mexicans (OTM) and a large percentage of them are Unaccompanied Children (UAC). Currently, the Rio Grande Valley is apprehending approximately 300 UACs on a daily basis. I represent much of this area in the 28th District of Texas, which stretches from San Antonio in the north to Laredo and the much of the upper Rio Grande Valley. I have had extensive personal conversations with the men and women of Border Patrol in the past few weeks about this ongoing issue and they have laid out the issues straining the resources and personnel of Border Patrol. Every undocumented immigrant that is apprehended while attempting to cross the border must be processed by Border Patrol. With this unprecedented surge in crossings, the Rio Grande Valley is currently at more than 190 percent of its temporary detention capacity. Those that are detained are then transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many others are released with a notice to appear before an immigration judge at a future date. This resource crisis requires a multi-agency response involving the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice. Because of the massive influx of immigrants being apprehended at the border, it is necessary to create a central location in which all elements of the adjudication process can be completed. We need to do a better job taking care of the children who are crossing the southern border unaccompanied and we must act immediately to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along the border. I am committed to working with Chairwoman Kay Granger, Ranking Member David Price, and the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee to work with our partners in Mexico and other Central American countries. Thank you for your consideration. If you require further information, do not hesitate to contact me, my legislative director Megan Swearingen, or my legislative assistant Wendell White at 225-1640. Sincerely, Henry Cuellar, PhD U.S. Congressman Texas District 28

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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hidalgo County approves qualifications of attorney to examine drainage contract

The Monitor
April 16, 2014
by Jacob Fisher

EDINBURG — The Hidalgo County drainage board on Tuesday sidestepped an obstacle to investigating an 8-year-old contract with the county drainage director’s corporation, circumventing the District Attorney’s Office and outlining the board’s preferred qualifications for a private attorney to work on the case.

Board members spent almost 15 minutes of a 30-minute meeting debating whether the move was necessary or prudent. In the end, after a closed-door session, they elected to approve an outline of qualifications. The move stopped short of committing the board to actually hire an attorney.
“We just want to make sure that everything was done with respect to what was agreed upon,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios said in a Wednesday interview.
Last month, the board assigned civil attorneys in the DA’s Office looked into the matter, but reported late last week to County Judge Ramon Garcia that they saw a potential conflict of interest if they continued to investigate and asked to be taken off the case.
“Initially, we wanted to use in-house counsel,” Palacios said. But both the DA’s office and the Atlas and Hall law firm — the firm that advises the county and signed off on the 2006 contract — had potential conflicts of interest.
“So the only option based on the water code that we have is to go through a bidding process,” Palacios added.
Garcia shone a spotlight on the contract early this year after the contract between the drainage board and Integ Corp. came up for renewal. Garcia objected to Integ receiving a 1.5 percent commission from a hybrid border wall and Rio Grande levee system project that was not originally part of the county’s master drainage plan and was largely paid for with federal dollars.
“At that time, when they gave them that contract, nobody was even thinking about border wall, nobody was even thinking about levees,” Garcia said.
Drainage District Manager Godfrey Garza is the president of Integ.
“Integ did not just sit there and just go out there and get a check for no reason,” he said. “This project cost 200 and some-odd million dollars. There was zero overruns on this project, and that has a lot to do with the team effort of everybody working on the project getting it done.”
Integ earned $3.73 million in commission from the project.
Some members of the board raised concerns that litigating the 8-year-old and already-paid contract would be more trouble than it’s worth.
“How much is it going to cost us?” Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores asked at one point during Tuesday’s meeting, referring to the hiring of an attorney.
“I’m not sure how much, but we’ve already spent $3,700,000 that I don’t think we should have spent,” Garcia replied. “But that’s something for somebody else to determine.”
The board is asking an attorney:
>> Be licensed in the State of Texas.
>> Have 20 or more years of experience with extensive knowledge in contract law/litigation.
>> Provide an estimate of time they’d need to work on the case.
>> Provide a more detailed report to board of directors within 30 days after engagement.