by Adrienne Evans
On Tuesday, May 20, after input from citizens and discussion among the mayor and council, the Presidio City Council voted to join the Texas Border Coalition (TBC), a coalition of Texas border cities, counties, chambers of commerce, and economic development corporations, representing over two million border residents from El Paso to Brownsville. Presidio is scheduled by DHS for levee-wall construction this year, along with Cameron and Hidalgo Counties.
On February 19, the Presidio City Council passed a resolution that stated that they opposed “the building of a wall along the Texas/Mexico border that extends over 135 miles of border,” as well as “a wall specifically in the Big Bend Area of Texas,” in that “the building of the border wall will impact our region, through trade, tourism, and unfriendly relations within border alliances”. The Presidio County Commissioners, the City of Marfa, the City of Alpine, and the City of El Paso passed similar resolutions.
At the Border Wall Conference in Alpine on May 17, U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Carry Huffman stated in reference to a border wall in Presidio, “As I mentioned earlier, Presidio is not a place that is out of control. Apprehensions in Presidio are relatively low.” After delineating examples of the existing problems in the Marfa Sector, Huffman said, “We anticipate that traffic will be moving through the Ojinaga area,” as the rationale for the border wall.
During a presentation at the Tuesday City Council meeting, Redford resident and border activist April Cotte stated, “I have spoken with five landowners who are very against this, whose land will be affected.”
Mayor Lorenzo Hernandez said, “The thing that really bothers me is those big, old lines that we have to wait in [at the port of entry]. Two Sundays ago, people were complaining about waiting three hours to pass. So if this coalition could help us out that and help the businesses in Presidio, I don’t see why we shouldn’t join. … About the relationship between Presidio and Ojinaga … how is [the border wall] going to affect the relationship with those people? And they know they need Presidio just as much as we need them. And I don’t think this wall is going to help that relationship.”
Before the council voted to join the TBC, there was a discussion about alternatives to the border wall, such as restoring the Rio Grande to its historical levels. The vote was unanimous.
During the city council meeting, Presidio City Attorney Steve Spurgin indicated that he would be in contact with the attorneys involved regarding legal action.
The TBC has recently filed a class action lawsuit against the government asserting, among other issues, that there was a lack of consultation with property owners and border communities about the construction of a border wall. The lawsuit is being brought pro bono by a team that includes lead attorney Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles.
In the legal complaint filed on May 16, 2008, it states that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has "failed to comply with the consultation requirement of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 … which requires consultation with private property owners and cities and other stake-holders to minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life for the communities and residents located near the sites at which activities relating to border fencing may occur.”
The chair of the TBC is Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass. In the complaint filed last week, which names as the plaintiff, TBC, and as defendants, Secretary Chertoff as well as Robert F. Janson of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mayor Foster is quoted about never receiving “any logical answers from defendants as to why certain areas in his city have been targeted for fencing over other areas: ‘I puzzled a while over why the fence would bypass the industrial park and go through the city park.’”
After the Presidio city council's vote, lifelong Redford resident Enrique Madrid, who attended the meeting with his wife Ruby, said, “Today, May 20, is the eleventh anniversary of the killing of Esequiel Hernandez Jr. Instead of a human form of militarization like the Marines killing Esequiel, this border wall is an engineering form of militarization, which is just as inhumane and brutal as deploying the Marines on U.S. soil in Redford was, eleven years ago."
On May 20, 1997, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., an 18-year-old high school student, was killed by U.S. Marines near his home in Redford, Texas, which is 12 miles from Presidio. He was the first U.S. citizen to be killed by members of the U.S. Armed Forces since an incident where student demonstrators were massacred at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard in 1970. The documentary, The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez, will air on PBS on July 8. It is narrated by Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Kieran Fitzgerald.
Mr. Madrid went on to say that “it was appropriate that the City of Presidio, in its own way, commemorated the death of Esequiel Hernandez by rejecting this new manifestation of militarization on this day. It’s like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that there is hope, that justice will be permitted, finally. Justice is a natural right that should be freely flowing, and the City of Presidio is supporting that.”
Adrienne Evans is a mother, health practitioner and community volunteer who lives in Terlingua, Texas. She is the co-founder of No Wall – Big Bend coalition. For more info, visit www.NoWallBigBend.blogspot.com.
This op-ed first appeared in the Big Bend Sentinel, the Presidio International, and the Rio Grande Guardian.