Last March, Hidalgo County Judge JD Salinas cut a deal with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to build part of the border wall. Rather than build the wall to the north of the levee, DHS would insert it into the levees in Hidalgo County. It was estimated that this would raise the per-mile cost from $3 million to $5 million, so the county agreed to pay $44 million. When the bids came in, the low bids were $12 million per mile. As a result of Judge Salinas' capitulation Hidalgo County's border walls are nearly finished, while neighboring Starr County's wall construction has not begun, and Cameron County's is just beginning. They still have the chance to fight to halt construction, while for Hidalgo County the fight moves from stopping the wall entirely to preventing pro-wall zealots from filling in the spaces between levee-walls.
In his recent State of the County address, Judge JD Salinas made statements regarding the levee-border wall that were, to put it charitably, less than honest.
Judge Salinas said,
"The levee-barrier, which was the alternative reached by the Hidalgo County Drainage District and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is now 95 percent complete. This solution has saved residents and businesses from purchasing $150 million per year in mandatory flood insurance. It has prevented private land from being taken by the federal government, and the flood control structure is more environmentally-sensitive than the proposed border fence."
As to his first point regarding the money saved by residents who will not need to purchase flood insurance, the levee-border wall did not replace all of the levee sections in Hidalgo County that were deemed inadequate. In a number of instances, portions of our levees that were not in need of repair were ripped apart to insert border walls. Other sections that are still in bad shape were not touched by the levee-border wall scheme. This is because the locations of levee-border walls had nothing to do with
As for the idea that the levee-border wall is better for the environment than Homeland Security’s original border wall designs, Judge Salinas knows full well that the opposite is true. Last March the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in response to the plan to build levee-border walls in
“This combined project would eliminate wildlife passage by replacing CBP’s original “wildlife friendly” fence design with an impermeable 16 to 18 foot high wall built into a flood control levee. This new project design would effectively eliminate the wildlife passage component of the earlier design and would impair the ability of the wildlife corridor to fulfill its function. […] We would like to document that any proposed fence and/or levee segment that bisects lands within the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge cannot be found compatible with the purposes for which the Refuge was established.”
Today the levee-border walls in
In contrast to Judge Salinas’ claims of environmental benefit, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff knew that the levee-border wall would violate numerous environmental laws. Last April he used the Real ID Act to issue 2 waivers of federal laws, one of which was specifically for the
A visit to the
Tourists are also unlikely to visit a place that they think is a war zone. In the past few weeks the national press has been filled with sensationalistic headlines about the possibility that
The headlines screaming about “spillover” violence are already being used to call for a further militarization of the border. When the first walls built in
While on the surface his State of the County address is the run-of-the-mill self-congratulation that we expect from a politician, in fact his words have real consequences. Following his capitulation to former Secretary Chertoff, Judge Salinas went from being an opponent of the wall to the Department of Homeland Security’s poster boy. In press releases and Congressional testimony they use him to show that they are working with local stakeholders, rather than ignoring local concerns, condemning private and municipal property, and irreparably damaging border communities, economies, and ecosystems. Judge Salinas’ words provide DHS with cover as they continue to strong arm our next-door neighbors in
Of course it is naïve to expect a politician to own up to his mistakes, to admit to being suckered into a bad deal that has cost his constituents millions of dollars. It is unrealistic to expect a mea culpa from Judge Salinas. But if he truly cares about the residents of