Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Impact Statement’

Brownsville in Washington

November 7, 2008

Despite legislation like the 2006 Secure Fence Act, the Rio Grande Valley might now have a voice in Washington.  Dr. Juliet Garcia, the first Latino president of a four-year university, was just tapped as one of the key members in Obama’s Presidential transition team. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/garcia_91496___article.html/obama_president.html)

Prior to November 5, University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) President Garcia had been in the headlines for resisting the federal government. For months, Juliet Garcia had refused to compromise with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who wanted to survey and conduct pre-construction practices for a border wall on UTB property.  Reports from the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stated that the wall could be 18-feet high and consist of two thick concrete barriers. Unlike public institutions like Hidalgo County, which compromised with a levee-wall arrangement with DHS this past spring, (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/border_85925___article.html/fence_security.html) Garcia refused even to allow government agents entrance to the university property.  By July 31, 2008, Garcia and DHS agreed to a compromise, wherein UTB would repair a chain-link fence on its property while DHS would bypass UTB property along the Rio Grande.  Garcia envisioned the fence with, “bougainvillea and vine growing all over it” (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/utb_88804___article.html/fence_tsc.html). Either way, it was a partial victory for the entire border region in that at least one party successfully resisted the U.S. government’s efforts to forcefully acquire land and construct a border wall along the Rio Grande.

Obama’s choice of Garcia could suggest a host of possible reasonings. It could have been his successful visit to Brownsville February 29, when he participated in the annual Sombrero Fest during the international twin-sister celebration of Charro Days. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/articles/obama_84848___article.html/president_festival.html) Perhaps he got a good taste of the Rio Grande Valley, of this borderland he and McCain and Clinton all voted to build a wall through in 2006.  Perhaps he saw the community, the people, the Tejano music, rancheros, corridos, tamales, elotes, the friendly smiles across the transnational bridges, the grapefruit hanging heavy in the orchards, the happiness and the peaceful coexistence of two countries in a place traditionally framed as a point of friction but in reality is a land of cohesion.  Perhaps he plans to cease the Secure Fence Act of 2006 when he takes office in January, in exchange for true immigration reform which can yield lasting results.  The Valley, the US, and the entire world watching the construction of a border wall between two countries at peace can celebrate Garcia’s appointment to Obama’s transistion team.

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The Legal Outlook on the Border Wall

March 19, 2008

    The Rendon family owns a small house in the tiny border community of Granjeno. The matriarch of the family remembers the 30 years her husband worked on the levees just behind their house. She motions with her hand, pointing over the head of her daughter. “But they haven’t done anything on the levees since he died. The real thing we’re scared about is flooding, not immigrants.”

    The families grouped around the Los Ebanos ferry have no idea when or where the government surveyors might becoming. This community, formed around the only hand-pulled ferry on any international border of the U.S., is pulling together in hopes of legally opposing a wall which would cut through the land of families like Daniel Garza, a retired migrant worker who would see his home cut in half. As the Texas Observer article “Holes in the Wall” stated on February 22, 2008, “I don’t see why they have to destroy my home, my land, and let the wall end there.” He points across the street to Hunt’s land. “How will that stop illegal immigration?” (http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2688)

    These same questions are being asked all over the Rio Grande Valley “sector” of the proposed implementation of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Landowner 72-year-old UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez started the fight against the federal government with her 2-month court case argued by the famous lawyer Peter Shey. While not a complete victory, Judge Hanen’s ruling on her case did stipulate that further “land grabs” would have to be adequately negotiated with residents. (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080324/story)

    This past Monday, several more concerned parties from Hidalgo and Starr Counties went to court, including the Rio Grande City school district and Hidalgo Economic Development Corp. The way their court cases are settled could prove a turning point in the public’s opposition to a patchy 370-mile border wall proposal in southern Texas. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/hidalgo_85227___article.html/border_fence.html)

    Brought to light by the Texas Observer and personal conversations with landowners, the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 seems to grow by the day. Clearly, lawmakers cannot believe that this $49 billion dollar wall will stop immigration, drug smuggling, or terrorism, since they are not campaigning for a complete wall. In every single public statement, their aim has been to deter these three issues; however, $49 billion could be spent on much more positive deterrents.

        The injustice of this legislation is compounded when one walks from Ranchito to Brownsville past the Riverbend Resort, only to discover that this golf-course community has no wall planned in its future. The injustice becomes obscene when one goes to the official Environmental Impact Statement release event to find that the English version is the size of a 600-page phone book while the Spanish version, the native language of most border residents of the Rio Grande Valley, is under 100 pages and without any pull-out maps. Further injustice can be seen in the government “waivers” which have proliferated in the past weeks. Some residents of El Calaboz were given blank documents to sign which gave complete government access to their land. Additionally, groups like the Mennonite Brethren Church, which was on the docket to be sued this past January 31, did not go through the proper chain of command when some concerned parishioners met with government agents and “fixed the problem” by granting unconditional access to their land.

    Our nation’s conscience must wake to the fact that injustice is being done on our very nation’s borderlands. Our dispute is not with the Riverbend Resorts or the Hunt family’s Sharyland Plantations which curiously escape the Secure Fence Act – no, our case must be with a government which would cease the homes of the poor, take advantage of the disenfranchised, irrevocably mar the environmental lands it has spent millions of dollars preserving, and consign the poorest counties and poorest cities in these United States to the bleak economic future of a wall. Please meet this system of injustice with the full force of love – please write your senator and congressman about working toward a moratorium on or an end to the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Here in Texas, both Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for the border wall, and Representative Henry Bonilla. For a complete listing to see how your elected officials voted on this act, please visit the Washington Post at: http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/109/house/2/votes/446/ Do not wait for this next batch of court cases to be decided – do something now. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 or the Day of Reflection

March 13, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 at Santa Anna Refuge

    I was confronted with our reasons for the No Border Wall Walk yesterday when Javier asked me to ride his pride-and-joy bicycle for him. It was a gorgeous day on the tranquil Rio Grande, and for a minute, I couldn’t imagine why he would ask me to ride his prized possession. His simple answer – La migra.”

    Whether Javier was illegal or not was not the question; the simple fact remains that our U.S. immigration policies would pounce on a Mexican-American man riding his bike on the levee, while the U.S. Border Patrol and the legislation they represent smiled at me as I ride recklessly with my Canadian tie flapping and Hecho en Mexico belt buckle tapping on my Border Ambassador button.

    Today was a long Thursday. March 13 was the day which made us reflect and ask ourselves why. Our walk was the smallest it has ever been today, but it was also more focused and more determined than ever. Leaving the beautiful Saint Francis Cabrini Church and heading out on Highway 281, the wind was full in our faces and the going was hard and long. We walked 17 miles, far and away our longest day. En route to Progreso, we passed fertile Valley farmlands which would be dissected with Hidalgo County’s border-levee wall compromise. Rows and rows of onions cresting the tilled soil, walls and walls of sugar cane bordering this byway, patches and patches of cabbage – a border wall would mean that produce on this side of the levee would be American, the rest would be hecho en Mexico. This is the land we are campaigning to save; today reminded us once more of this beautiful borderland.

    People once again showed that they are looking for ways to utilize their potential for positive actions. At our nadir of the afternoon, just as we had ceased singing carefree songs and our spirits were sagging, a car pulled over on the side of the road. All 6 women got out of the tiny car. Their green shirts said they were from Father Albert; their gifts of water and kind words proved they were angels. Apparently Father Albert and his parishioners are not content to house us only on Friday night and Saturday night, but also felt compelled to meet us along the way and inspire our sore soles.

 No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 with Father Albert’s Angels from Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias

    The high point of the day came right after this water break. Marching on to Progreso, we soon passed an onion field in harvest. Mexican men and women were working the rows, bringing the white bulbs to light with a hoe before bending tired backs to lift them into a crate. We sang as we walked by, singing “No al muro, la frontera cuenta! NO Border wall, the border matters!” The field-hands were quizzical at first, stopping their work to see what we were about. The small group, already energized by this point, began dancing and singing “Ven con nosotros, ven con nosotros, a la Progreso a las seis! Come with us now, come with us now, to Progreso at 6:00” to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” Now they were listening. My heart leaped to see an older woman in a red workshirt begin dancing despite the oppressive heat and her back-breaking work. This is our why…

    Walking alongside my idealistic brothers and sisters who are testing their ideals in the fire of nonviolent direct action, I am struck by their tricky situation and exploited work. Our country needs more than a wall; it needs immigration laws which gets rid of quota systems, rework the current rubric for refugee status , the DREAM Act which could give students the opportunity to follow their educational dreams, and gives the 12 million or so extralegal residents some way to move toward legal citizenship.

    Our country does not illegal immigrants. These men and women in the fields should definitely be working – but they should be given real means to acquiring citizenship. We do not want illegal immigrants who are without rights, without hope, without help – we do need more legal immigrants who can participate fully in society. Immigration, which is the primary basis of our opposition to the borer wall, is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our country has 12 million extralegal workers living and contributing to our GDP, and at least twice as many people who depend on their working power and hope to keep the extralegal residents “illegal.” We must come to a point as a nation that we see people as assets and not liabilities – that will be the day we finally take the necessary bold step forward and begin to seriously diminish the amount of “illegals” in our country while increasing the number of legal immigrants.

    The night ended at Smokin’ Joe’s Barbeque, a tasty little bbq shack on 281. This establishment had Border Ambassador buttons and posters all over, and they treated us to juicy brisket, delumptuous ribs, and rich turkey legs. Beneath their awning live oak trees, we spoke once more about why we were walking along the proposed trajectory of such a wall. The levee-wall compromise intended for this section of Hidalgo County is less a levee and more an 18-foot concrete wall with sloping earth on the American side and sheer cliff on the Mexican side. The marchers on this walk take issue with the nomenclature of such a “compromise.”

    “They call it a levee because it ‘sheds water,’” Elizabeth Stephens said. “Walls shed water too, and so do raincoats.” The only real difference between a levee-wall compromise and a full-scale border wall is that it will look more aesthetic to American passersby. It would still send the same message of distrust, the same message of flippancy for environmental refuges, We were reminded that it is the express point of this march to counter this message of violence with a positive message. By walking along the border and having seen the connectedness of each town with its neighbor cities stateside and in Mexico, we must be continuously involved in re-educating the people en la frontera and in the rest of the world.

    After a long day of walking in the brutal Texas sun, I remember that I am walking to show my students the difference between Pancho Villa and Cesar Chavez. I remember that I am walking because this is the way adults civilly disagree. I remember I am walking because I love the glimmer of river that would be outsourced to Mexico, the refuges which have taken 20 years to conserve and protect but only months to override. I am marching because bills like the Grijalva Bill could begin to restore some sense and morality to the proceedings here on the border. I remember I am here to be “voice for the voiceless;” I am here because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Border Wall was close to 600 pages in English and under 100 pages in Spanish. I remember we are walking to unite communities, educate individuals, and highlight humanity. I remember now – Javier, George, Michael, Jay, John, Kiel, Roberto – we are all assets.