Border Wall: bidness per usual?

Sunrise over Redford: Site of last fatal experiment in hosting U.S. Marines on border. Texas Governor Perry is game to give it another go.

Greg Harman

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Granted its only been a month and a week since President Obama was sworn in, but for those living on la frontera under an expanding border wall, little appears to have changed.

Arizona's former governor and current Homeland Security taskmaster Janet Napolitano is said to be deep in study over the agency's past practices and policies, as created under zombie-look-alike Miguel Chertoff.

As Napolitano gets caught up on her reading, the concept of a physical barrier running between the United States and it's third largest trading partner is already showing cracks.

In Arizona, rampant tunneling has forced crews to start building the wall down rather than up.

Customs and Border Protection says smuggles have become desperate and more underground tunnels are popping up. Construction crews have just finished an underground wall about 100 yards long along the west side of the DeConcini Port of Entry. The concrete-and-steel headwall is an average of 12 feet below ground.

Border Patrol agents say in this fiscal year, which began in October, they have found 9 tunnels. They found 13 in the last fiscal year.

Concessions made in order to blaze a wall through the small community of Granjeno in Hidalgo County have converted the wall into an elevated levy that the blogging community's best friends at the Associated Press is reporting has had little to no impact on illegal foot traffic.

Homeland seems to be having a hard time keeping the few promises they have made and creating headaches for municipal water system managers along the international boundary.

Earlier this month, Henry Cuellar, Silvestre Reyes, and Ciro Rodriguez joined five other members of Congress to urge Obama to suspend wall construction until Napolitano's reassessment is complete.

Under Bush, the plan was as “ill conceived as it was void of any meaningful input from the local communities or the Border Patrol Sector Chiefs who are most familiar with the challenges of securing our border," the group wrote.

“In an era of advanced technologies, the border fence is an antiquated structure that has torn our communities apart and damaged our cross border relationships.”

Here's the full text:

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

February 10,2009

Dear President Obama:

As Members of Congress who represent border communities, we welcome your decision to evaluate border security operations before considering whether to finish construction of the border fence. However, we write to ask that you suspend, at least temporarily, construction of the border fence until your evaluation is complete.

We, along with our constituents, understand the importance of protecting our borders. Though there are places where a fence is the most feasible option, we strongly believe the Bush Administration's approach of constructing a fence along much of the Southwest Border was ill conceived as it was void of any meaningful input from the local communities or the Border Patrol Sector Chiefs who are most familiar with the challenges of securing our border. In an era of advanced technologies, the border fence is an antiquated structure that has torn our communities apart and damaged our cross border relationships.

As you may be aware, the previous administration undertook controversial measures to expedite the construction of border fencing, such as the waiver of more than thirty environmental laws. However, despite continually missing deadlines and, at times, forgoing the proper completion of land acquisition transactions, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has moved forward with much haste. In Cameron County, for example, the DHS issued a commence work order on December 30, 2008, for eight fence segments, none of which had completed the acquisition of the land required.

Furthermore, we would also like to bring to your attention the impact the Bush Administration's approach to the fence had on Indian Country. There are several tribal nations on the US-Mexico Border, during the pushing of the fence these nations were not consulted and in many instances their sovereignty was undermined. Basic protections and rights under the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act were violated. One example was the destruction of 69 Tohono O'odham graves south of Tucson in 2007.

Additionally, the costs associated with construction of border fencing have rapidly escalated. In August 2008 the Government Accountability Office testified that fencing costs averaged $7.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $2.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing, up from estimates in February of $4 million and $2 million, respectively. Furthermore, a Corps of Engineers study predicted the 25-year life cycle cost of maintaining border fencing would range from $16.4 million to $70 million.

Once again, we respectfully request that you suspend construction of border fencing until your Administration has had time to properly review its merits as well as consult with those on the ground most familiar with the situation. We look forward to working with you and Secretary Janet Napolitano to find a balanced and cost-effective approach to ensuring our nation's borders are secure.


Raul Grijalva, Member of Congress

Solomon P. Ortiz, Member of Congress

Silvestre Reyes, Member of Congress

Ruben Hinojosa, Member of Congress

Bob Filner, Member of Congress

Henry Cuellar, Member of Congress

Susan Davis, Member of Congress

Ciro D. Rodriguez, Member of Congress

Days after Obama's inauguration, Homeland started trying to make nice with some of its fiercest critics by offering up $50 million to compensate for the environmental damages wrought by the border wall and disturbance to “cultural areas like American Indian religious sites.”

Quoth the NY Times:

That compensation could include modifying the fence to curb flooding and to accommodate threatened and endangered species or restoring their habitats, but officials have not worked out those details and it will vary depending on the area.

The Interior Department will draft a list of priorities by June.

The agreement between the two departments has been in the works since April, when the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to the dismay of environmentalists and some scientists in the Interior Department, used his Congressionally authorized power to waive environmental laws to speed access to broad swaths of land.

Another one of the issues that I heard about while traveling the border almost a year ago, was the harassment of tribal leaders at border checkpoints, where eagle feathers and other sacred items were disturbed.

Brenda Norrell updates that side of the story on Narcophere:

As requested by Yaqui elders to maintain ceremonies, for 30 years Matus has brought Yaqui ceremonial leaders across the border from Sonora, Mexico, to Arizona, for temporary visits to conduct annual ceremonies.

Since 9/11, the harassment and detainments of traditional Indian people and ceremonial leaders have increased.

The Indigenous Alliance without Borders/Indigena Alianza sin Fronteras supports Indigenous Peoples struggling to maintain their traditional ceremonies and mobility in ancestral territories, including the Lipan Apache in Texas, facing the seizure of their land by Homeland Security for the US/Mexico border wall.

Now, the failures of prohibition have Mexico on fire and Perry calling for federal troops back on the border.

The guy's memory seems to have an unfortunate auto-delete function. It's been more than 10 years that the military was declared unfit for policing the border. Shooting dead Texas high school students has a funny way of changing policy.

No earthly reason I see we need to relearn that lesson.


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