Monday, May 12, 2008

Judge JD Salinas Buys into the Border Wall

By Scott Nicol

On February 8 Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff held a press conference at the Border Patrol station in Hidalgo County, Texas, to announce that a deal had been struck with Hidalgo County Judge JD Salinas to build the border wall. Rather than the 22 miles of “pedestrian fence” that DHS had planned to build along side the flood control levees in the county, which would destroy homes, bisect farms, and ruin wildlife refuges, the wall would be inserted into the levees. The existing levees that parallel the Rio Grande would have their sides torn off and replaced with 18-foot tall slabs of concrete. This was a configuration that had been rejected without study in the Draft Environmental Impact Study for the Rio Grande Valley, but suddenly it was rebranded as the perfect solution for both stopping the flow of immigrants into the United States and holding back floodwaters in a hurricane zone. Judge Salinas and Secretary Chertoff both characterized the border wall/levee combo as a “win-win.”

This week Hidalgo County Judge JD Salinas told residents of Hidalgo County that we will be paying $48 million to stuff the border wall into our flood control levees. Since brokering the deal for the border wall/levee combo, Judge Salinas has claimed that the border wall is not a wall at all, and that rather than destroying homes, farms, and wildlife refuges it will be a boon to our economy. When Secretary Chertoff announced that he would waive federal laws meant to protect Hidalgo County residents and our environment, Judge Salinas issued a press release stating that, “As it relates to Hidalgo County, the DHS waiver is responsive to the needs of our diverse border community.” Rather than fight for the rights of his constituents, Judge Salinas is paving the way for the border wall.

Salinas has repeatedly claimed that the county will be reimbursed. Relying on Senator Cornyn’s promise of federal funds, he says that the border wall/levee combo will actually bring money into the county rather than draining our funds. However, in order to secure these funds, Senator Cornyn must get a law passed, and his bill repaying Hidalgo County’s contribution to the border wall has no cosponsors and may not go forward. Hidalgo County will then be left with the bill for a wall that the overwhelming majority of its residents do not want.

Salinas claims that the new design is not really a border wall, it is a levee, but for the Department of Homeland Security this is not about flood control. If it were, Chertoff could not issue a waiver. The waiver authority contained in section 102 of the Real ID Act only applies to border wall construction. No wall = no waiver.
In response to criticism of his applause for Chertoff’s waiver, Salinas issued a statement saying,
"I agree with you that environmental laws are enacted to protect the environment for humans and that persons are guaranteed by the Constitution equal protection under the law. However, South Texas is hardly as equally protected as the rest of our country and the rest of the border. We live in a unique geographic setting — a flat Delta area prone to intense tropical weather."

We were equally protected by the law before Secretary Chertoff issued the waiver. Now we are not. Laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, which continue to be in effect for the rest of the nation, no longer ensure that the water that we drink is safe or clean. The Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act no longer protect the ocelots and migratory birds that attract $125 million worth of ecotourism to the area. The suspension of our legal protections has nothing to do with “a unique geographic setting.” The fact that we live in a flood prone area does not mean that we should live without protective laws; instead, it makes those laws even more important.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans it was not because there were too many pesky laws. New Orleans drowned because the federal government shirked its duty to maintain the levees. The federal government has also been negligent regarding south Texas’ levees. Now Secretary Chertoff, who oversaw the disaster there, is going to implement a rushed insertion of border walls into our already weak levees. The waiver was issued to speed this up. Now the Final Environmental Impact Statement will not be released, and DHS does not have to carry out the engineering studies and hydrological modeling that would assure us that the wall is structurally sound. They will just build it and hope for the best.

In Arizona border walls constructed just last summer are already leaning over. With construction rushed to meet an artificial deadline, there is no reason to think that similar problems will not plague Hidalgo County. But here the stakes are higher, as the new border wall is also supposed to protect us from floods. The laws that Chertoff waived, and whose suspension Salinas has publicly supported, were there for a reason.

The fact that Judge Salinas is working so hard to sell not only the wall but the waiver, ignoring the threat to the safety of Hidalgo County residents and the suspension of our Constitutional right to equal protection under the law, is extremely disturbing. Judge Salinas has gone from opponent of the border wall to border wall booster, and his words will help Chertoff to build it.

The 2007 Omnibus Spending Bill says that to get border wall funds Secretary Chertoff must go before the Appropriations Committees and prove that he has worked with local stakeholders. Texas Border Coalition President Chad Foster has repeatedly said that Chertoff’s claims of meaningful consultation are false. Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada and numerous other border leaders have said the same. But when Secretary Chertoff goes before those committees he will ignore his critics and instead trot out Judge Salinas. He can say, “Judge Salinas thinks the wall is ‘a win-win’; Judge Salinas says, ‘the DHS waiver is responsive to the needs of our diverse border community.’” Salinas’ statements will help Secretary Chertoff get the funds that he needs to build the border wall.

Maybe Hidalgo County will be reimbursed for the $48 million, or maybe we will be forced to pay for a wall that we do not want, that will in no way protect us, and that may actually increase the liklihood of a levee breach. One thing is certain; Judge JD Salinas has become Chertoff’s best ally when it comes to building the border wall.


Ron K. said...

Thank you for all these updates. The border wall defies all logic, reason, and horse sense. I am strongly against illegal immigration and I am for strict penalties to stop the influx of illegal trespassers. However, the government fools in control are quickly becoming the real problem.

Anonymous said...

Where can one find the latest and most detailed official plans for the wall, as being discussed now?

Anonymous said...

Build the wall, deport illegal aliens.

jose said...

poder inmigrante,

nunca nos pararan,

this is our planet, this is our land,


people power,

we are the people of the earth, the people of corn,

your economic way of life destroys ours, now we come here,

one struggle,

we shall overcome