Texans protest Homeland Security “open house” on border wall

Hundreds of people protested the planned border fence in McAllen, TX, Dec. 11, as a federally sponsored “open house” for public comment on a draft study of the project opened. The meeting was the first of three to hear public input on the Environmental Impact Statement for proposed fencing that would span 70 miles of the Rio Grande Valley. Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said city leaders were to meet with Homeland Security officials to discuss his alternative plan for a “virtual fence.” Angry citizens heckled Homeland Security presenters at the town meeting. “I’m making my comment,” yelled Ruben Solis, who held a “No Border Wall” sign, after being shut up by facilitators. (AP, Dec. 12)

Some senators are questioning a decision by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to conduct an EIS for Texas—but skip one for Arizona, where the fence will traverse the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. In October, Chertoff invoked power given to him by Congress to waive 19 environmental laws after a court blocked construction across two miles of the conservation area. Homeland Security conducted only an “environmental assessment” for Arizona, with looser standards and less public input. In a Dec. 10 letter to Chertoff, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote: “By what criteria did DHS decide to conduct an EIS on a regional scale in Texas, but decide it was not appropriate in Arizona or other southern border states?” (AP, Dec. 10)

See our last posts on the struggle for the border.

  1. “Virtual” border fence questioned
    Plans for a “virtual fence” are already in the works along some stretches of the border, with the contract going to Boeing Co. under the government’s $2.5 billion Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet). The project envisions a necklace of 1,800 towers equipped with cameras and sensors along the borders with both Mexico and Canada. Boeing has suggested flying a camera-equipped, truck-mounted, 10-pound drone called the Skylark that Israeli forces have already used to track suspects. The company also proposes a variety of ground-based sensors, including underground seismic sensors and tower-mounted motion and heat detectors that have been used against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. (WP, Sept. 21)

    But some federal lawmakers are skeptical, arguing that before the Homeland Security Department pays for a the program, it needs to assure that it works. They’ve particularly raised questions about SBINet’s flagship “Project 28″—meant to secure a 28-mile section of the border near Sasabe, AZ. But Project 28 has been hampered by delays.

    At an Oct. 24 hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee, testimony from Homeland Security indicated that the hyper-sensitive sensors were being activated by rain drops.

    Wrote Committe chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Bennie Thompson (D-MS) in a Dec. 6 letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff: “Around the time of the aforementioned October hearing, we began to hear suggestions that Project 28 was just a ‘demonstration project’ or a ‘test bed’ for future technologies. If, as it appears now, the technological problems encountered are such that Project 28 has become more of a technology ‘test bed’ than a new operational tool for the Border Patrol, the department needs to direct this directly.” (Federal Computer Week, Dec. 6)

  2. Enviros lose border-fence fight
    US Judge Ellen Huvelle tossed out efforts by environmental groups to void a provision of federal law that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff invoked to build a stretch of border fence in Cochise County, AZ. Judge Huvelle upheld a 2005 law that lets Chertoff unilaterally decide that Homeland Security need not comply with environmental protection laws in building the fence.

    In October, Chertoff declared the stretch of the fence along the southern edge of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area exempt from the Endangered Species Act and 19 other federal laws.

    Huvelle’s decision is a defeat for Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club, who had persuaded the judge to temporarily halt construction work in and around the San Pedro River, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management had not conducted the mandated studies. Chertoff, rather than waiting for the case to be heard, instead used the power Congress gave him in the 2005 Real ID Act to waive the requirements—clearing the way for construction to begin.

    This marks the third time Chertoff has used his waiver authority. In 2005 he approved construction of fencing near San Diego without environmental studies; and in January 2006 he issued a waiver for a stretch along the edge of the Barry M. Goldwater Range in southwestern Arizona. (Arizona Star, Dec. 20)

  3. US attacks Mexico
    From AP, Dec. 17:

    SAN DIEGO — Border Patrol agents are firing tear gas and powerful pepper-spray weapons across the border into Mexico to repel what the agency says are an increasing number of attacks by assailants hurling stones, bottles and bricks.

    The counteroffensive has drawn complaints that innocent families are being caught in the cross-fire.

    Esther Arias Medina, 41, fled her shanty in Tijuana with her 3-week-old grandson last week in the midst of an attack. The boy had begun coughing, Ms. Arias said, after smoke seeped through the walls of the three-room home, which she shares with six others.

    “We don’t deserve this,” she said. “The people who live here don’t throw rocks. Those are people who come from the outside. But we’re paying the price.”

    Witnesses in Ms. Arias’s neighborhood described eight attacks since August that involved tear gas or pepper spray, some that forced residents to evacuate.

    The Border Patrol said its agents had been attacked nearly 1,000 times during a one-year period. The agency’s top official in San Diego, Mike Fisher, said agents were taking action because the Mexican authorities had been slow to respond. When an attack occurs, Mr. Fisher said, the agents often wait hours for Mexican officers, who, he said, usually never arrive.

    “We have been taking steps to ensure that our agents are safe,” he said.

    In October, agents in California and Arizona received compressed-air guns that shoot pepper-spray canisters more than 200 feet. (Agents already had less powerful launchers, which lose their punch after about 30 feet.) Border Patrol SWAT teams along the 1,952-mile border are also equipped with tear gas, “flash bombs” that emit blinding light and “sting ball” grenades that disperse hundreds of tiny rubber pellets.

    United States officials say the new tactics may spare lives. In March, an agent shot and killed a 20-year-old Mexican man whose arm was cocked; that fatality occurred in Calexico, Calif., where attacks with stones have soared. And two years ago, an agent fatally shot a stone thrower at the San Diego-Tijuana border.

    Mexico’s acting consul general in San Diego, Ricardo Pineda Albarrán, has insisted that United States authorities stop firing onto Mexican soil. Mr. Pineda met with Border Patrol officials last month after the agency fired tear gas into Mexico. The agency defended that action, saying agents were being hit with a hail of ball bearings from slingshots in Mexico.

    United States officials say the violence indicates that smugglers are growing more desperate as increased security makes it harder to sneak across the border. The assailants try to distract agents long enough to let people dash into the United States.

    The leader of a union representing Border Patrol employees said the violence also resulted from a decision to put agents right up against the border, a departure from the early 1990s, when they waited farther back to make arrests.

    “When you get that close to the fence, your agents are sitting ducks,” said T. J. Bonner, president of the union, the National Border Patrol Council.

    Border Patrol agents were attacked 987 times along the border during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, the agency said. That was up 31 percent over the previous year and was the highest number since the agency began recording attacks in the late 1990s.

    Agent Joseph Ralph estimates that he has been struck by stones 20 times since joining the Border Patrol in 1987, once fracturing a shoulder blade. “You find yourself trying to take cover,” he said.

    About four months ago, a large stone struck the hood of Agent Ellery Taylor’s vehicle. “The only thing you can think is, ‘I’m glad that that wasn’t my head,'” Agent Taylor said. “There’s no way to see it coming.”

    On the Mexican side, Benito Arias said his 19-year-old sister-in-law fainted during an apparent tear gas attack about two weeks ago. The woman, five months pregnant, was given oxygen at the hospital.

    Mr. Arias’s father, JosĂ© Arias, said he sympathized with the Border Patrol because the Mexican authorities did nothing to prevent people from hurling stones over the fence at agents.

    “This is a matter between government and government,” the elder Mr. Arias said. “They have to work out an agreement. We are innocent. What can we do about it?”

  4. Texas Land Grab
    In regard to Homeland Security’s land grab in Texas. The border of Texas and Mexico is the center of the Rio Grande….NOT well into the US, on the land of US Citizens. This is not acceptable!

    This will be the short version:

    Lets look at what each Citizen is dealing with. Being photographed when driving the family car through the 202 Central Avenue underpass in Phoenix Az. (I would think in other places.) I always flip them off when I go through. Its not very adult but it makes me feel better.

    We have an agecny that is named after a term used in Nazi Germany… “Homeland” Security.

    The agency is headed by a person named Michael Chernoff, St Michael the Arch Angel, more than likely NOT. As for Chernoff….a little too East European for me.

    What are we doing? Taking the property of AMERICANS to realign the border of Mexico. Without precident and totaly UNACCEPTABLE!

    I am an American, but I am not sure about the little Nazi Michael Chernoff.

    I have a feeling that since I called homeland security’s comment line and voiced my displeasure it will be HELL the next time I fly!

    Mike Hanson