Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Texas Calls Upon DHS Secretary Napolitano to Bring an End to the Border Wall

Secretary Janet Napolitano
United States Department of Homeland SecurityWashington, D.C. 20528

January 20, 2009

Dear Secretary Napolitano,

At the same time as Barak Obama is taking the oath of office, workers are pouring concrete and welding steel to build the border wall. Today, walls slice through more than 500 miles of our borderlands. As Governor of Arizona, you are certainly aware of both the inefficacy of the wall and its tremendous financial costs. Surely you are aware of the thousands of undocumented migrants who have died in Arizona’s deserts, and the species being driven to extinction by Arizona’s border wall. Those of us who live in Texas hope that you will also take into account the wall’s tremendous toll along our border, and that you will reverse your predecessor’s policies and bring an immediate end to border wall construction.

The overwhelming majority of Texas border residents oppose the border wall, because we can see firsthand the destruction that it is causing without bringing the slightest benefit. If its impacts on the border and the nation as a whole were as positive as outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has claimed, there would be overwhelming support for the wall. If the southern border was in fact being overrun by terrorists and smugglers who were causing us to live in a state of constant fear, and the wall was a viable solution to such a dire situation, there would be no need to pursue hundreds of land condemnation lawsuits. We would gather at the riverside with trowels and welding torches in hand to help build it.

But we know that the border wall will not save us from threats dreamed up by politicians in Washington, DC who have never seen the Rio Grande. The wall does not even stop those who enter the U.S. to find work. Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Chief Randy Hill said, “We're going to see steel barriers erected on the borders where U.S. and Mexican cities adjoin. These will slow down illegal crossers by minutes.” He said nothing about stopping crossers, only slowing crossers down by “minutes.” We are not willing to sacrifice homes, farms, and wildlife refuges for a speed bump.

Instead, a broad cross-section of border residents has come together in opposition to the border wall. The Texas Border Coalition, made up of mayors, judges, and elected officials all along Texas’ border with Mexico has been outspoken in its rejection of walls, and has fought in court to defend the Texas border from further construction. Numerous municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the border wall. The Lone Star Sierra Club Chapter has passed a resolution opposing the border wall, and has worked to draw attention to its tremendous environmental costs. Bishop Peña of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville spoke at a No Border Wall rally, as have a number of mayors and Texas State Representatives.

The Cameron County Commissioners Court passed a resolution which sums up much of the sentiment along Texas’ southern border, saying in part,

"Proponents of the fence, who are not residents of the border region, have wrongly used the construction of a fence as a rhetorical device to transform the issue of immigration from an economic concern to a matter of international relations and national security, and to transfer responsibility for alleged defects in United States immigration policy and enforcement from the United States government to the government of Mexico."

Those of us who live along the border are not willing to see our land condemned, our communities divided, and our parks and wildlife refuges destroyed, for a rhetorical device.

The No Border Wall coalition has circulated a petition that reads,

We oppose the construction of a solid wall along more than 700 miles of the United States / Mexico border. A wall that tears through border communities will cause terrible economic damage, impacting agriculture, ecotourism, retail sales, and private property. It will cause grave social harm, separating families and sending a terrible message to our neighbors. The route specified by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will take it through National Wildlife Refuges, other parks, and riparian habitat critical for the survival of migrating birds as well as threatened and endangered species. The border wall will cost billions of dollars and even the Department of Homeland Security has said that it will only slow down, not stop, people who cross the border illegally.

To date, 6,501 people have signed this petition. Most are residents of Texas border communities who will be directly impacted by the border wall. This is not an abstraction, a symbol, or a rhetorical device to us. This is our lives. Our families, our children, and our grandchildren will be forced to live in the shadow of a wall that we abhor so that politicians who will never visit our communities can give their voters a false sense of security.

Thanks to last year’s Omnibus spending bill, you will have the authority to either double the current length of the border wall or immediately halt construction. Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff used these powers to condemn private property, decimate wildlife corridors, and build mile upon mile of useless border wall. His retirement was celebrated from Brownsville, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona.

Secretary Napolitano, Texas border communities call upon you to embody the “change” that Barak Obama campaigned on. You must have the courage to speak truthfully to the American people, to admit that we are not safer for having built hundreds of miles of border wall, and our national security will not be enhanced by building another mile or one hundred miles or even one thousand miles. You should restore the rule of law along the border by rescinding the waivers of 36 federal laws that Michael Chertoff issued in order to build border walls. We ask you to shift the Department of Homeland Security’s funds and priorities away from empty gestures and political grandstanding, and bring an end to the border wall.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Texas Border Coalition Members Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Border Wall Waiver Case

The Texas Border Coalition has written an amicus brief in support of a constitutional challenge to section 102 of the Real ID Act, which gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the unprecedened power to brush aside any law that might slow down construcion of the border wall. Section 102 said, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.” The Texas Border Coalition issued the following press release regarding their support of the constitutional challenge:

EAGLE PASS, Texas (Jan. 14, 2009) – Members of the Texas Border Coalition (TBC) are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal by El Paso County, the city of El Paso and others challenging the constitutionality of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s waivers of 37 federal laws and all state, local and tribal laws. Chertoff exercised these waivers in connection with the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

In an amicus curiae brief filed today, TBC members ask the Court to address for the first time whether the waiver authority granted to Chertoff by Congress is permissible under the U.S. Constitution.

The brief noted that no appellate court has ever upheld such a broad a delegation of legislative power to the executive branch without judicial review, arguing that the waivers “bulldoze wide swaths of unidentified state and local laws” in a fashion contrary to what the framers of the Constitution intended.

Eagle Pass Mayor and TBC Chairman Foster said, “I hope the justices will seize this opportunity to restore the balance of sovereignty among federal, state and local governments that our nation’s founders guaranteed to the people and eloquently expressed in the Constitution and in the writings of James Madison.”

On April 3, 2008, Chertoff issued two waivers covering almost 500 miles of territory along the Mexican border from California to Texas in an effort to expedite construction of the 670-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.Invoking his authority under Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), the Secretary waived 37 federal laws and all related regulations, including environmental laws, historic preservation acts, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Federal Grant and Cooperation Act, acts protecting the exercise of religious freedom, and the entire Administrative Procedures Act.

Perhaps most troubling is that Chertoff has purported to waive all state and local laws relating to the subject matter of these federal laws, but has not specified which state and local laws have been waived, for how long, or against whom.

TBC members argue that such unrestricted power granted to Chertoff raises profound, unanswered questions about sovereignty – including the local police powers – of the state of Texas and other cities and counties along the U.S.-Mexico border. They assert that the secretary has encroached on the most fundamental aspect of state and local sovereignty, and that is the power to govern by their own duly enacted laws.

“Should the Supreme Court allow these waivers to stand without so much as an argument in defense of liberty, the justices will effectively confer upon an unelected agency chief limitless and unbridled power never dreamed possible by the authors of the Constitution,” Foster said.

The justices are expected to decide this spring or summer whether to hear the case.

For a copy of the brief, please click here.

The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) is a collective voice of border mayors, county judges, economic development commissions focused on issues that affect more than 6 million people along the Texas-Mexico border region and economically disadvantaged counties from El Paso to Brownsville. TBC is working closely with the state and federal government to educate, advocate, and secure funding for transportation, immigration and ports of entry, workforce and education and health care. For more information, visit the TBC Web site at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Friendship Park: A Place of Communion or a Zone of Enforcement?

By John Fanestil

We arrived Sunday as planned at 2:30 pm at the entrance to Border Field State Park . We hiked out the horse trail as we did last week and headed south on the beach. It was a stunningly beautiful day – the hike is about a mile and a half.

No two days are alike at Friendship Park , and two things stood out. First, there were a lot of people at the park – far more than usual for a winter weekend. Clearly, the word was out about this past Tuesday’s meeting – the one at which Customs and Border Patrol announced that the designs for Friendship Park had been finalized and that these designs would allow no public access of any kind to either Monument Mesa or to the border wall on the beach.

Second, the tide was extraordinarily low, and from a distance we could see that hundreds of people had gathered on the beach at Playas de Tijuana. Of these at least a hundred were standing down by the water’s edge, beyond the reach of the border wall (see photo).

As we approached, a Border Patrol officer checked in with us. It was clear that he had been briefed about our presence and was courteous and professional. He asked that we gather at the fence on the beach, but not congregate with the crowds down at the water’s edge as that would make it difficult for them to monitor border crossings. We sent some of our group ahead to talk with the folks on the beach, not wanting our celebration of communion to be confused for an event that invited crossings.

We also told the agent that we intended to serve communion on Monument Mesa, and this clearly surprised him. The mesa was closed, he told us, because it was a construction zone and was unsafe. We told him we were aware of this and that we intended to go to the top of the mesa anyway, as our people had been gathering there for years, in fact for generations. He told us that he would have to check in with his supervisor about this and we agreed that this would be good for him to do. We kept walking.

After waiting a while for the supervisor to weigh in, we decided to begin our celebrations on the beach. Many hundreds of people gathered on the Tijuana side of the fence. I shared with the crowd my belief that what is happening at Friendship Park is of historic proportions. Just as in 1849 the members of the first US-Mexico boundary commission gathered at this site to create the border out of nothing, we are once again at this location trying to decide exactly what the border will be.

At present the US Government is trying to impose a vision of the border that is characterized by fear and hostility and mistrust. They envision a “zone of enforcement” that will run the entire length of the border, and to which no one will be allowed access, from either the south or the north. This is why they have chosen to declare that all public access at Friendship Park will soon be eliminated – because they are trying to set a precedent that they hope someday to enforce along the entire length of the border.

We, by contrast, had gathered to celebrate a different vision of the future. We had gathered to celebrate the border we have come to know and love – a place of profound human encounter, a place of friendship, a place of communion.

After consecrating the elements and serving the crowd on both sides of the wall, a small number of us prepared to climb the slope of Monument Mesa. We had been warned that we would be cited for trespassing by officers from CA Fish & Wildlife, but we had prepared for there to be some consequence and we were committed to make it to the monument. We climbed up on to the mesa, stepped over the plastic meshing that now surrounds the plaza, and began to prepare to share communion. Another Border Patrol agent approached us, told us the Mesa was closed, again citing reasons of safety in a construction zone as the reason for its closure. We told him we understood that, but that we were going to stay and serve communion. He returned to his vehicle, and we shared communion with a small group of people who greeted us on the Mexican side of the monument.

When we returned to the beach below, one of our friends told us he heard a Border Patrol agent call in on his radio, “There are about eight of them (who went up on to Monument Mesa) and I’m not going to detain anybody with all these cameras around.”

We look forward to celebrating communion at Friendship Park next Sunday, January 18. We will meet at the entrance to the park at 2:30 p.m.

John Fanestil is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Change.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Border Wall in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area Will Be an Environmental Disaster

Four prominent national environmental organizations - the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Wilderness Society, and Wildlands Network - issued the following press release in response to recently announced plans to punch the border wall and its associated roads through the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area. The Secure Fence Act itself states that if the elevation grade of an area exceeds 10%, walls do not need to be constructed there. Otay Mountain is so steep and rugged that the goal of blasting is to achieve an elevation grade of 15%, greater than the 10% limit in the Secure Fence Act. When the Environmental Protection Agency reviewed the plan to build this section of border wall, they expressed concern that plans to fill in canyons and waterways that feed into the Tijuana River would violate the Clean Water Act. The Department of the Interior expressed concern for 6 endangered species that would be impacted by the wall. Secretary Chertoff's response was to waive the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, the Otay Mountain Wildeerness Act, and 32 other federal laws, and now their contractor, Sukut, is quite literally breaking ground.

Conservation Groups call for Halt to
Road-Building in Borderlands Wilderness Area

Project is first use of Real ID Act waiver allowing
construction in designated wilderness

Otay Mesa, CA –With little advance notice, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun bulldozing a road inside a federally-designated wilderness area on the U.S.-Mexico border. Apparently not wishing to attract national attention to the controversial project, DHS made the construction start-up announcement through its contractor on Christmas Eve. According to DHS, the road-building project is necessary to build a border wall within and immediately to the south of the 18,500-acre Otay Mountain Wilderness Area on the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Diego.

The rugged terrain of the wilderness area will require blasting and removal of 530,000 cubic yards of rock, and extensive grading and leveling in order to build the wall and the accompanying road, says Sukut Construction, the contractor doing the work. Plans for the project note that much of the five-mile patrol road and approximately 1,300 feet of the primary pedestrian fence would extend into the Otay Mountain Wilderness.

Because motorized equipment, new roads and permanent human structures are not permitted within a federally-designated wilderness area, the Wilderness Act was among the 36 laws waived by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff in April 2008 in order to expedite border wall construction. The controversial waiver was authorized under the Real ID Act, which allows the Secretary to exempt DHS from any and all laws that might interfere with construction of the border wall and associated access roads.

“Wilderness areas are designated by Congress specifically to protect sensitive places from projects like this road construction,” said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “This road sets terrible precedent and clearly demonstrates the dangers of granting the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to waive any law in order to build walls along our international borders.”

The project now moves forward despite DHS documentation that “Construction of the fence, staging areas, and patrol road…will result in a barrier to movement for large non-flying animals and general loss of wildlife habitat.” According to Matt Clark, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, “Such harmful impacts to wilderness characteristics and values are clearly inconsistent with the Congressional intent of the law that established the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area in 1999. The waiver and the wall are an affront to our nation’s laws and natural heritage.”

When Congress passed the Secure Fence Act (SFA) in 2006, mandating that 670 miles of border fence be constructed by the end of 2008, San Diego Sector Border Patrol spokesman, Richard Kite, said, "…at the (Otay) mountain range, you simply don't need a fence. It's such harsh terrain it's difficult to walk, let alone drive. There's no reason to disrupt the land when the land itself is a physical barrier." Kite’s experience and reasoning, along with the language of the SFA itself, which does not require walls on slopes with more than a 10% grade (such as most of those in the project area), has apparently been ignored by DHS as it now attempts to speed up border wall construction.

“The frantic pace of wall building along the U.S.-Mexico border completely ignores the project’s serious environmental consequences to wildlife, wildlands and the general ecology of the borderlands region,” says Kim Vacariu, Western Director for the Wildlands Network, a conservation group working to protect cross-border wildlife corridors. “The waiving of the bedrock environmental laws that protect our nation’s natural resources is unconscionable. Construction in the Otay Mountain Wilderness should cease pending immediate and thorough environmental review,” he notes.

William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, agreed. “We are very concerned about the impacts this wall will cause to wilderness values at Otay,” Meadows said. “Wilderness areas are among the last places in the United States that are untrammeled by humans, and we believe they should stay that way.”

Contacts: Kim Vacariu, Wildlands Network 575-557-0155
Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife 520-623-9653
Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club 512-477-2152
Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society 202-429-2672

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Communion through the border wall at Friendship Park

By Jason Evans

Every Sunday afternoon, I head down I-5 towards the San Ysidro border crossing. I get off the freeway and head towards Border Field State Park. Within the park, at the most southwest point of San Diego county is Friendship Park, a monument to the friendly relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. When I come up to the monument I am met by familiar faces on both sides of the fence. Mexican men, deported from the U.S., women selling their handmade goods, and families separated from each other by the border, using this unique space as a place to meet, squeezing their fingers through the fence to touch each other; wipe away tears from each others faces. And there are clergy and activists too. We are gathered to celebrate communion. We are gathered to celebrate our unity through the work of Jesus Christ that surpasses fences and walls built by the State.

The Department of Homeland Security has elected to build a new border fence that will run through this special place. 35 laws and regulations have been waived in order to do this. Millions of dollars will go into this project. Several months ago, I went to the meeting with the Army Corps. of Engineers to see how San Diego contractors could get a piece of this work. I may disagree with most of the contractors present on this fence, but they aren’t dumb. Everyone quickly realized that the meeting was a simply a “dog and pony show.” There wasn’t any real work for San Diego contractors. No significant amount of that large amount of money was going back into our economy.

So, as I walk towards that fence every week, looking to the east and seeing the new fence encroaching on this peacable place, I am aware of the undemocratic manner in which it has been erected. I am aware of how unhelpful this is to our local economy. I am aware of the irreprable ecological damage it reeks on God’s creation in this place. I am aware that it will give coyote’s reason to raise prices for human smuggling, making a violent, inhumane industry even more so. I am aware that this means even more people will die in the eastern rural segment of our county, trying to cross in areas manned by fewer Border Patrol agents. I am saddened by this but I feel that our symbolic work every Sunday helps us imagine another world, a world that we continue to work towards establishing even in the face of this large challenge.

During winter months, the park is closed to vehicles. The roads often flood. Instead, my colleagues and I park outside the park gate and hike through the sticky mud, down to the beach and then south towards the monument. Altogether about a mile and a half walk in sand and mud. Not a big ordeal when considering the celebratory moment we are about to participate in. The Friendship Park monument segment in Mexico is part of urban Tijuana. People easily walk up to the Mexican side to meet us, eating cob corn on a stick as they meet with their loved one’s that have not been deported.

A plastic mesh fence was put around the monument the week before Christmas this year. The park was still open to pedestrians and no one has prohibited us from serving communion. So, this week we continued with our usual plan. We turned off the muddy horse path and on to the beach beginning our southward walk. About halfway from the horse path to the monument we were met by two Border Patrol jeeps. We were told that we would be given a citation by State Parks if we went any further. We asked why this wasn’t on their website. The agent did not have a helpful response. This was also curious as the Department of Homeland Security has declared this federal property. Why would the Parks give us a citation and not Border Patrol? We told the young agent that we had people waiting for us at the fence. We needed to get there. He told us he would have to “intervene” if we did that. He would not clarify what this meant. We asked to speak to a supervisor.

About this time, a Border Patrol helicopter flew over us a couple times. A curious show of force. A photo journalist from the LA Times was with us this Sunday. He decided to risk driving up to the monument and was stopped by the State Parks and cited. About the time that it was realized that he was a photo journalist, we were told we could approach the fence near the ocean to do communion, and the “man from the LA Times” would be driven out to meet us if we agreed to stay away from the monument. It seemed clear that they were willing to compromise with us as long as it didn’t mean a scene would be made for the photo journalist to report.

Communion was beautiful this week. It was cold enough to keep the orders of rotting fish, trash and kelp at our feet at bay. At the water, the fence has wider openings. The chalice was able to fit through the fence so that people did not have to squeeze their small bit of tortilla through the opening. I was able to fully grasp my friend Martin’s hand as we prayed. An honor to do with a man who–along with his family–has been through so much. The initial behavior of the Border Patrol ignited a fervor in my fellow clergy, Rev. John Fanestil who brought tears to eyes during his introduction to communion, smoothly moving between Spanish and English.

After saying goodbye to our friends, cleaning up and getting ready to start our walk back, we noticed a couple that had met us at the fence from the San Diego side walking back north. Around 10 people had started the walk back before them, several yards north of them. Two Border Patrol jeeps stormed down the beach cutting off these 2 specific pedestrians. The couple and their young son were brown-skinned Hispanic Americans. No one else had been stopped who had begun walking home. None of the rest of us were brown-skinned as they were… But the Border Patrol will say they do not conduct racial profiling.

It has become even more important for the tight-lipped posture of the agencies in charge of this project and area to be more transparent. At a minimum, it seems realistic to ask for plans for the park to be made public. To date, their has been nearly zero consistency between information released by State Parks and Border Patrol. It’s disconcerting and unlike the democratic society this country claims to be to not involve the public and it’s elected officials in the process of something that so drastically impacts part of the place we call home. We are a long way from Washington D.C. We should be allowed to have a voice in this project.

Even more deeply important to me, is that as a follower of the Great Liberator, Jesus Christ, I do not feel I can stand idly by while powers do not listen to their people, act inhumanely to people based on the color of their skin or place of origin, recklessly destroy God’s creation and line the pockets of corporations who have no intent on benefiting the people who live in the region effected by their work–further gouging the divide between the have’s and have-not’s in a variety of ways. Last night, I asked my faith community to pray for discernment, courage and wisdom as I work with my colleagues in determining how we will continue to respond to this situation. I ask those of you that pray to do the same. I also invite those physically able to join me next Sunday for communion at the border. It is uncertain how much longer we will be able to do this. You may even want to spend the day in Tijuana and meet us on Mexican side. We meet at the fence on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. It would be really great to see a large turn out. It would make a great statement to the people and powers of Tijuana and San Diego. Feel free to contact us for information.

Jason Evans is a co-founder of the Ecclesia Collective and a member of the Hawthorn House.

His essay was originally posted at the Ecclesia Collective's website:

To see the results from the LA Times photojournalist who accompanied him, go to:,0,2887120.column