window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || []; function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);} gtag('js', new Date()); gtag('config', 'UA-29484371-30');
Friday , October 19 2018
Home | Tag Archives: border wall

Tag Archives: border wall

Video+Story: Construction of $22 Million Border Wall Set to Begin Saturday

The construction of a $22 million Border Wall in Downtown El Paso will begin on Saturday, according to Border Patrol officials.

“This new wall will be far more durable and far more effective in deterring would-be illegal entrants,” El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Aaron Hull said.

Funding for the project was earmarked in the 2017 Appropriations Bill as part of the President’s Executive Order 13767

Construction on the 18-foot steel bollard wall will replace current chain-link fencing that is currently in place. One mile of the steel structure will be built west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry and the remaining three miles will be east of the PDN Bridge and will join with an existing 12-foot steel fence that begins on near Fonseca Road along the Border Highway.

The contract for the wall’s construction was awarded to West Point Contractors of Tucson, Arizona on June 1, 2018 but was not announced to the public until September 18.

Border Patrol maintains that the area is a hotspot for illegal entry into the U.S. When asked to provide specific numbers of illegal crossings in the area, officials with the Border Patrol were unable to give specifics. Instead, they say that their experience working in the area is all the evidence needed to show the four mile stretch is at a higher susceptibility for illegal border crossings.

The construction project came as a surprise to many in the Chihuahuita community, city leaders and immigration advocates.

Border Network for Human Rights called the announcement of the construction at the last minute “unacceptable.”

Fernando Garcia with BNHR organizes a bi-annual event called “Hugs Not Walls” which unites families separated by the Border in the arroyo near the PDN Bridge. On Monday, officials with the Border Patrol contacted Garcia to inform him that a previously approved permit for October 6, was being rescinded due to the wall’s construction.

Hull said the Border Patrol will continue to work with community stakeholders in the future, but said border security is their top priority. He declined to state whether Hugs Not Walls would be able to continue at the conclusion of the wall’s construction.

The El Paso Sector Border says apprehensions in the 2018 Fiscal Year were up 61% over 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April, which was enacted in May. The policy resulted in controversial family separation and the creation of ‘tent cities’ which housed children separated from their parents.

In response to the wall’s construction, the Border Network for Human Rights and a number of community activists and elected officials joined together to announce a community action demonstration for Saturday, September 22 at 10 a.m. at Cleveland Square to protest the construction project.

The demonstration is expected to move toward the Paso Del Norte Bridge.

U.S. House Eyes $5 Billion for Border Wall, Setting up Showdown with Senate

House Republicans are aiming to meet President Trump’s latest request for his border wall — $5 billion for 2019 — setting up a potential showdown with the Senate.

The $5 billion would be included in a House homeland-security spending bill expected to be released Wednesday. The Senate included only $1.6 billion for the wall in its version of the bill last month, a figure that displeased Trump, who told senators he might shut down the government this fall if he does not get more.

Administration officials and House Republicans are holding discussions about the precise figure and what the money would be spent on. Trump never formally requested $5 billion for the wall, instead communicating the number privately to lawmakers in recent weeks.

Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said he anticipated $5 billion that would be allocated for “wall plus” — meaning physical barriers in some spots, as well as other security mechanisms in places along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border where a wall might not be practical.

He and other Republicans acknowledged it might be a struggle to get their number through the Senate. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have been writing their spending bills on a bipartisan basis this year, while House Republicans are proceeding on their own, without Democrats.

“It’s got to start somewhere, and if we start in the House and get that out there it gives us a starting point,” Fleischmann said. “You’ll at least have the House and the White House lined up.”

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the $5 billion figure was a non-starter given numerous other needs in areas such as education and health care.

“That number is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable,” Lowey said.

Republican lawmakers hope to avoid a government shutdown. Current funding bills are set to expire Sept. 30, just ahead of the November midterm elections in which the GOP will try to keep control of Congress.

Thorny issues such as wall funding and an unrelated fight over spending on veterans may remain unresolved at that point, and lawmakers widely expect that Congress will have to pass a short-term funding extension to keep the government running through Election Day.

The remaining issues could then be hashed out in a lame-duck session.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for a wall along the border, but thus far that has not happened.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ERICA WERNER, THE WASHINGTON POST

3 Central Americans Separated from Their Children at US-Mexico Border Suing Federal Government

Three Central Americans detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum are suing the federal government over its now-reversed policy of separating them from their young children.

The lawsuit, filed by lawyers with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid on Wednesday, argues the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant youth from their parents — which the president pulled back on Wednesday under intense national pressure — was “designed, intended and administered as a means of deterring all immigration, even legal immigration by those with a right to seek asylum.” The parents are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reunite them with their children and rule that the U.S. government violated their constitutional rights.

“This is punishment, it interferes with family integrity, and it interferes with access to courts, all of which our Constitution’s Fifth Amendment does not allow,” the lawsuit states. “Families naturally experience forced separation as torture and they urge this Court to stop it.”

The parents suing the federal government are from Guatemala and Honduras and are housed in three different immigration detention centers throughout Texas — the El Paso Processing Center, the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos and the South Texas Family Residential Center near Dilley. The three parents had a total of five children separated from them after crossing the border; the kids range in age from 2 to 13.

It’s unclear whether or how the children will be united with their parents in light of Trump’s Wednesday announcement.

Early in the afternoon, the president signed an executive order reversing procedures that have sent more than 2,000 immigrant children to facilities separate from their parents. His “zero tolerance” immigration policy — which asserts that all adult immigrants caught crossing the border will be prosecuted — will remain in place, and it’s still unclear how families will be kept intact without sending kids to jail alongside their parents.

We hope that the children are reunited with their parents at the soonest possible time,” said Jerome Wesevich, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Every minute that passes is intense anguish for these parents and their kids.” 

The U.S. Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. officials previously determined that one of the families in the lawsuit — a Guatemalan mother with three children, including a 2-year-old — had a credible fear of returning to their home country. Though the family sought asylum at a port of entry — the way the system is designed to work — the children were sent to New York while the mother stayed detained in Texas, according to the lawsuit.

The mother has not seen her children for more than a month. While she is occasionally allowed to talk to them on the phone, she has only heard her 2-year-old’s voice through cries, the lawsuit states.

The other two parents in the lawsuit do not know where their children are, how to contact them or how they will be reunited.

One of those parents, a Honduran man, was separated from his 12-year-old daughter after crossing the southern Texas border in Cameron County earlier this month, according to the complaint. He approached officials and said he was seeking asylum and had left Honduras after being shot in the shoulder and receiving death threats.

Shortly after arriving at the processing center in Brownsville, his daughter was taken to another room, and he was later informed they would be separated indefinitely, according to the complaint.

Another Guatemalan woman who’d been threatened in her home country had her 9-year-old son taken away from her after crossing the border near Presidio and approaching immigration officials at a nearby port of entry, the lawsuit states. The two were separated the next day, without being told why.

Those two parents were criminally convicted for entering the country illegally — i.e. not at the port of entry. They’re the type of border-crossers targeted by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, and they continue to be detained as they pursue asylum claims.

The Guatemalan mother of three who sought asylum at the port of entry should not have been separated from her children under the policy, according to Department of Homeland Security rules. Families that bring asylum claims legally at ports of entry can only separated if officials believe they aren’t actually related, if they worry the children are unsafe with the parents or if the adult is referred for criminal prosecution. It’s unclear if any of those conditions applied in this case.

When the mother’s children were sent to a facility in New York, immigration officials told her she would be detained in Texas because a judge needed to talk to her. She was told they would only be apart for a week at most. That was a month ago.

The woman said she has yet to be seen by a judge.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Authors:  PAUL COBLER AND JOLIE MCCULLOUGH – The Texas Tribune

El Paso Border Patrol Sector Kicks Off Construction of Trump’s Wall on Border

SANTA TERESA, N.M. — A groundbreaking Monday for a new border barrier in New Mexico signals the beginning of the fulfillment of President Donald Trump’s best-known campaign promise, federal officials said.

“The president has started his project,” Agent Aaron A. Hull, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, said as he stood a few feet from the existing fence that will be replaced by the new barrier. “This is the beginning, in this sector, of the president’s border wall – very much so.”

The project will include 20 miles of new bollard-style wall up to 30 feet tall, including five feet of climb-resistant material, Hull said. The new barrier will extend west from Santa Teresa, New Mexico — a town located about 13 miles northwest of El Paso — and will replace shorter vehicle barriers, which agents said are not effective to deter illegal crossers or drug smuggling.

Agents in the sector, which includes El Paso and Hudpseth counties in Texas and all of New Mexico, said new construction will also begin soon in parts of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Arizona and San Diego.

Hull said the new construction was mandated by the president’s January 2017 executive order on immigration and will take about a year to complete. The 20 miles of barrier will cost more than $73 million, which will come from 2017 Department of Homeland Security funding.

Hull said the Santa Teresa area was chosen for the initial groundbreaking because it’s one of the busiest crossing points in the sector. In fiscal year 2017, agents apprehended more than 25,000 undocumented immigrants and seized more than 34,000 pounds of marijuana and 140 pounds of cocaine throughout the sector. Agents also reported being assaulted 54 times during that fiscal year.

“The president has set the standard for us. And the standard is operational control,” Hull said. “Operational control means our ability to detect, deter and deny illegal entry, maintain situational awareness and provide the appropriate law enforcement response.”

Hull also told reporters that he and his agents met with units of the National Guard that will be deployed to the border. Trump ordered National Guard units to reinforce the Border Patrol last week.

“We’re nowhere near deploying yet but we have conducted initial outreach with both the New Mexico National Guard and the Texas National Guard,” he said.

Monday’s press event came the same day that an environmental group announced they are appealing a federal district court’s ruling that allowed the administration to move forward with border wall construction. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the administration last year, alleging the Department of Homeland Security illegally waived several environmental laws in order to fast-track the wall’s construction.

“Converting existing vehicle barriers to border wall is wasteful, unnecessary, and just as damaging as building a new border wall,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center. “This newest section of border wall is an insult to people living on both sides of the border and a serious threat to Mexican wolves and other wildlife that need to move across the landscape to survive.”

Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled in favor of the administration in March.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Donald Trump is Deploying Troops to the Border, But Border Crossings are Lower Than They Have Been

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said a recent surge of apprehensions at the southern border justifies President Donald Trump’s decision to deploy National Guard units to the southern border, and released statistics the same day showing a double-digit spike in activity in March.

But critics of the plan argue that despite the increase, overall crossings are at historic lows. They add that it’s too soon to tell if the latest surge is indicative of a larger trend that will be similar to the heightened level of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley during 2013 and 2014, when a record number of Central Americans entered Texas illegally through Mexico.

Border crossings typically exhibit seasonal variations and tend to increase in the spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March 2018 statistic also represents a 37 percent increase in people who were either apprehended between the ports of entry or deemed inadmissible to enter by federal customs and Border Patrol agents from a month earlier, from about 50,300 to February’s 36,700. Those figures include 1,099 unaccompanied minors and 5,127 families in March, increases from February’s 610 and 3,941, respectively.

Trump and DHS officials said the increase signaled a “crisis” at the border and argued that last year’s initial drop in apprehensions and attempted crossings after the president took office — the so-called Trump effect — was no longer in play.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s own statistics indicate that despite the uptick in March, the total number of people apprehended or turned away since October, when the federal government’s fiscal year began, was lower than during the same six-month time frame in the previous fiscal year. This year, there have been about 237,000 apprehensions, compared to 2017’s 271,000.

Trump is not the first president to send national guard troops to the border. President George W. Bush sent about 6,000 national guard troops there in 2006. And President Barack Obama sent 1,200 guard troops to the border in 2010.

Talking to reporters on Air Force One late Thursday, Trump said he wants to send between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard members to the US-Mexico border, according to the Associated Press.

But many details of Trump’s border plan remain unclear, including exactly how many units will be deployed and where they will be stationed. Administration officials said Wednesday that the discussions with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other border governors are ongoing but stressed the move would happen quickly.

But opponents wasted no time in predicting the deployment would be a waste of money and calling it nothing more than a reaction to Congress failing to fully fund complete construction of a border wall in last month’s $1.3 trillion spending bill.

“There’s nothing surprising about Trump’s plan to falsely increase fear about our border with Mexico; it’s part of his political origin story,” said Tom Jawetz, the vice president of Immigration Policy at the progressive Center for American Progress. “It is also now clear that Congress will not give him the money to begin construction of his ‘big, beautiful wall.’”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Authors:  JULIÁN AGUILAR AND DARLA CAMERON – The Texas Tribune

How Donald Trump’s Border Wall Fared in the $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill he Signed

After flirting with the prospect of vetoing an omnibus spending bill because it fell short of funding for his proposed border wall, President Donald Trump on Friday eventually gave the go-ahead to the $1.3 trillion measure just hours before a possible government shutdown.

Though far short of the billions initially sought for the president’s “big, beautiful” wall on the country’s southern border, Trump’s signature on the bill means that some work will commence soon on one of his best-known campaign promises.

The money allotted for a barrier on the state’s southern border, more than $1 billion total, includes funding for construction of a barrier in Hidalgo and Starr counties, according to the McAllen Monitor.

During a press briefing Friday afternoon, Trump characterized the funding as a down payment on the project.

“We have a lot money coming to the border, and it will be coming over a period of time,” he said. “We funded the initial down payment of $1.6 billion. We’re going to be starting work – literally – on Monday on not only some new wall … but also fixing existing walls.”

The bill will also fund levee walls in the Rio Grande Valley to the tune of $445 million, according to Washington-based environmental group Earthjustice, and $196 million for bollard fencing in the same area. More than $400 million will go toward repairing or replacing the existing border fence that was constructed after the 2006 Secure Fence Act. Several miles of fence already exists along the Texas-Mexico border, including in Hidalgo, Cameron, Hudspeth and El Paso counties.

But the omnibus bill signed Friday also includes language that blocks construction of a barrier in the Rio Grande Valley’s Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, which U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, called a hard-fought victory.

“Keeping the border wall out of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was a top priority and the barring of border wall funds at the refuge will ensure that Texans and Texas wildlife can enjoy this habitat for years to come,” he said in a statement.

No DACA solution

The funding bill also leaves out a permanent solution for Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants whose future status in this country is uncertain after Trump eliminated an Obama-era program that granted them protection from deportation. The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program affords certain undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit and protection from deportation.

In his news conference Friday, Trump didn’t mention that his administration nixed the program, which included 1240,000 Texans, last year. He instead called out Democrats for what he said was their failure to move forward on the issue.

“DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by the Democrats. We wanted to include DACA, we wanted to have them in this bill,” he said. “The Democrats would not do it.”

Two separate federal courts have ruled that the federal government must continue accepting renewals, though new applications can’t be submitted. But U.S. House Democrats said Dreamers shouldn’t have to rely on two temporary court orders to feel confident they won’t be deported once their current status expires.

“By not including a permanent fix for Dreamers in the omnibus, the President and Republicans have prolonged this self-inflicted crisis and have left Dreamers in limbo and at the mercy of a temporary court injunction,” U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico, said in a statement. “We must find a permanent solution to protect hundreds of thousands of young people who contribute billions to our nation’s economy from the threat of deportation.”

During the press conference, the president made clear he wasn’t happy with Congress forcing his hand, and asked lawmakers to pass legislation that gives him line-item veto power in the future.

“I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it,” he said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

With Border Arrests Down, Some Question Trump Administration’s Push for More Agents

The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement this week that its border enforcement strategy had resulted in a sharp decline in illegal crossings has renewed questions as to why the Trump administration wants even more agents on the southwest border.

U.S. Border Patrol agents made 310,531 apprehensions of people trying to cross into the country illegally between ports of entry during the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. And Customs and Border Protection officers recorded 216,370 “inadmissible” cases, which are defined as a person who tries to enter the country at a port of entry but is rejected, or a person seeking humanitarian protection under current laws.

Combined, the numbers represent a 24 percent drop from 2016, according to year-end statistics.

That has Democrats and immigrant rights groups asking whether or not President Trump’s order to hire thousands of more agents should be reconsidered.

“These numbers show that Border Patrol agents are stopping, on average, one or two people per month along the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research and human rights watchdog organization. “Where’s the urgent need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on further expanding this agency?”

Through 2016, the Border Patrol had about 19,830 agents working for the agency across the country, including about 17,000 on the southern border, according to federal statistics. Both figures represent the smallest  amounts for the agency since the 2008 fiscal year, when there were about 17,500 and 15,440 respectively.

Just weeks after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order calling on DHS to bolster its ranks by 15,000 agents and spread out the new hires between Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As of May, not one of the Border Patrol sectors in Texas had staffing levels up to par with what its headquarters authorized, according to a Government Accountability Report. The Rio Grande Valley had the most agents, with 3,143. But that was short of the 3,201 recommended authorized positions. The El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, had 2,193 agents while 2,415 were recommended. And the Laredo and Del Rio sectors had 1,584 and 1,398 agents, which were also short of the sector recommendations of 1,852 and 1,642 agents, respectively.

But a July assessment by DHS’s Office of the Inspector General said CBP and ICE could not justify the need for the additional agents.

“Neither CBP nor ICE could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 agents and officers they were directed to hire,” the reports states. “CBP officials explained they had been working for 3 to 4 years already, but are still 3 to 4 more years away from implementing a process to obtain and analyze accurate operational needs and deployment data.”

On Tuesday however, the Border Patrol’s top brass said the agency was moving forward with the president’s request despite 2017’s apparent success.

“We had some challenges with the infrastructure here at CBP, we weren’t prepared to hire as many of the [positions lost to attrition] that we had going into the administration,” Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello told reporters. “We’ve now been handed another mandate to hire 5,000 more agents and we need to stabilize the workforce in the office of field operations.”

The federal government’s success comes as the state of Texas has recently allotted another $800 million for state-based border enforcement, despite Trump’s promise to make border security a federal priority.

The Texas Legislature approved an initial massive boost in border-security spending by the same amount in 2015. Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican colleagues said then it was necessary for the state to act because the Obama administration was abdicating its responsibility to secure the border. They cited a recent surge of undocumented women and children from Central America as proof.

They opted to maintain that record funding level in May, months before DHS’s report came out. Lawmakers said during the 2017 legislative session that they couldn’t predict how the Trump White House would approach border security, which they said justified another $800 million in spending.

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Tuesday’s report from DHS means that taxpayers should demand that state lawmakers be more transparent with how the monies are being spent.

Blanco has for years accused the Texas Department of Public Safety of being less than forthcoming about how the agency, which receives the bulk of the state monies tied to border security, is using that funding. But he said he doubted the state would roll back its spending even when lawmakers return to Austin for their next scheduled legislative session in 2019.

“I think there’s a rush to spend money,” he said. “I think it does well during elections. As a border lawmaker who lives literally, a few feet from the border wall and who has been questioning what we’re doing with the money, I think we need to put some metrics and some numbers in [place] in order to be smart about our state dollars and not rush to conclusions.”

Other Democrats have added that DHS’ near-record enforcement should prompt federal lawmakers to rethink efforts to appropriate billions of  dollars for Trump’s promised border wall.

“The Administration can try to twist these numbers into whatever they please, but the fact remains that after unprecedented investments in border security over the last decade, the border has become harder to cross and fewer people are trying,” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said in a statement. “Focusing massive, new government resources on a campaign promise would be a foolish and irresponsible exercise.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday that recent achievement’s by DHS reflect a stronger emphasis on interior enforcement and sends a message to would-be illegal crossers that the Trump administration is tough on illegal migration. He told reporters during a conference call the results mean the administration should stay the course, and said legislation he filed earlier this year would address some of the staffing concerns as well as facilitate legitimate trade and commerce at the ports of entry. The Building America’s Trust Act would punish “sanctuary” jurisdictions that don’t enforce federal immigration laws and fund more agents.

But he reiterated that a physical barrier isn’t a reasonable solution along the entire border despite the Trump administration’s support for such a barrier.

“I think it’s like looking through a soda straw. This is a bigger issue  than just physical infrastructure,” he said. “It’s not a complete answer. We need technology, we need personnel and the right combination depends on where you are along the border.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his office would start accepting sworn complaints against “sanctuary” jurisdictions that prohibit local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. [Full story]
  • In August, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn unveiled a $15 billion border-security bill. The Building America’s Trust Act would fund parts of a wall or fence, add Border Patrol and ICE agents to current ranks, and punish “sanctuary” jurisdictions. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Federal Government Rolls Out Eight Border Wall Prototypes

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Thursday that it has completed a major step toward construction of the Trump administration’s planned wall on the southern border with Mexico.

In a statement, the federal agency said that it has completed construction of eight wall prototypes, which will undergo a series of tests over the next 30 to 60 days. The prototype construction was done in San Diego.

“Border security contributes to our overall national security and relies on a combination of border infrastructure, technology, personnel, and partnerships,” Ron Vitiello, CBP’s acting deputy commissioner said in a statement. “Border walls have proven to be an extremely effective part of our multi-pronged security strategy to prevent the illegal migration of people and drugs over the years.”

In all, six companies, including Houston-based Texas Sterling Construction, built eight prototypes. The company has existed for more than 60 years, according to its website. A call seeking additional details about the border wall project was not immediately returned.

Construction of the controversial barrier was a hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he moved forward with the process shortly after taking office. In a Jan. 25 executive order, he mandated that agencies “take all appropriate steps to immediately” plan and design the wall. His promise that Mexico would pay for it, however, hasn’t panned out. The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected that notion. The total price tag for the project isn’t clear, though some reports state the figure could exceed $20 billion.

This month, the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee passed the Border Security for America Act, introduced by Austin Republican and committee chairman Michael McCaul. The legislation would authorize $10 billion for wall construction and an additional $5 billion for upgrades to the country’s ports of entry.

But other lawmakers, including some Republicans, have rejected the notion of such a wall, and have argued instead for a “smart” or “virtual” wall that uses technology, including sensors, drones and other efforts, instead of a physical barrier.

According to Thursday’s news release, CBP will test the San Diego prototypes in several areas, including anti-digging, climbing or breaching strengths, whether they are safe for U.S. Border Patrol agents and whether they impede traffic.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A congressional committee voted Wednesday to send to the full U.S. House a bill appropriating $10 billion toward building a border wall, but not before some Texas Democrats found ways to mock the proposal. [Full story]
  • Federal officials plan to start construction this fall on 3 miles of border barrier through a South Texas wildlife refuge. [Full story]
  • A legislative measure that will fund part of a border wall passed the U.S. House on Thursday, but its prospects in the U.S. Senate look grim. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Hurd Introduces 21st Century SMART Wall Legislation

Thursday, U.S. Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) introduced the Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology (SMART) Act with Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX), David G. Valadao (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Keith Rothfus (R-PA) to ensure that the United States implements the most effective and fiscally-responsible strategy to achieve operational control of our southern border.

“Violent drug cartels are using more modern technology to breach our border than what we are using to secure it. We can’t double down on a Third Century approach to solve 21st Century problems if we want a viable long-term solution,” said Hurd, who represents over 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, more than any other Member of Congress.

“We need a Smart Wall that uses high-tech resources like sensors, radar, LIDAR, fiber optics, drones and cameras to detect and then track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol to perform the most difficult task — interdiction. With a Smart Wall, we can have a more secure border at a fraction of the cost – that can be implemented and fully operational within a year. It’s time to harness American innovation on this most important National Security challenge and I look forward to working with my colleagues to make this a reality.”

Under the SMART ACT, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be mandated to deploy the most practical and effective border security technologies available to achieve situational awareness and operational control of our border.

The Secretary would also be required to submit a comprehensive border security strategy to Congress that lists all known physical barriers, technologies, tools, and other devices that can be utilized along the southern border, including a detailed accounting of the aforementioned measures selected for each linear mile of the border and a cost justification for each such measure.

Additionally, the SMART Act authorizes $110 million to increase coordination and collaboration between Customs and Border Patrol and State, county, tribal, and other governmental law enforcement entities that support border security operations.

Lastly, in response to the dire need to upgrade communication technology along the border, the bill creates a two-year grant program to improve emergency communications in the southern border region, including multi-band radios and upgrades from outdated or poorly functioning communication networks.

The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), the exclusive representative of approximately 18,000 Border Patrol Agents supports the SMART Act. President of NBPC Brandon Judd stated, “To secure the border and keep America, we need technology, infrastructure, and manpower.” He added, “The Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology Act will help our agents counter the sophisticated international drug cartels that poison our communities with meth, heroin, and other dangerous drugs. We thank Representative Hurd for his leadership on this issue and encourage Congress to pass this important piece legislation without delay.”

“This bill provides a pragmatic approach to secure our borders,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28). “It calls on DHS to deploy the most effective security technology – such as sensors, aerostats, and cameras – and rather than building walls to meet campaign promises, it takes a measured approach by directing DHS, in conjunction with state and local agencies, to conduct a comprehensive study and analysis of the different tools and solutions available to provide security on our borders. I live on the border and know personally the needs of our U.S. Border Patrol and our Homeland Security agents. A giant wall is nothing more than a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century problem. Further, this bill calls on DHS to take a greater role in controlling the invasive Carrizo cane along our river which presents a huge security risk for our border agents, as well as presenting grave environmental impacts. I thank my colleagues for working with me on these issues.”

“Enhanced border security is an issue fundamental to our national security. We need to know who, and what, is coming across our border. Improving border security is vital to preventing drugs, diseased crops, and weapons from being smuggled into the United States illegally. It is also essential in keeping known criminals and suspected terrorists from entering the United States. The SMART Act will ensure we utilize the most innovated technology to secure and protect our nation,” said Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21).

Texans Greet Plans for Trump’s Wall with Tears, Fears or Open Arms

VAL VERDE COUNTY — On this stretch of riverfront near Del Rio, Maria Villarreal has an aging but attentive guard dog named Ace who barks in the shade of a fig tree, just feet away from a memorial to her nephew Elias Torres, who died at 21 during a combat mission in Iraq. Nearby is a sign warning that trespassers will be shot on sight and that any survivors will be “shot again.”

It’s a backyard that could be anywhere in Texas, with one exception: The back fence is the only thing separating her yard from the Rio Grande — and beyond it, Mexico.

The land and her modest house are the result of decades of hard work in San Angelo where, as a single mother, she raised three children while working for the local hospital.

“I saved for this all my life, to retire and come here,” she said. “And this is where I wanted to be, and slowly, I managed it.”

Then as she described waiting for the mail each day – and the anxiety of potentially receiving a letter from the federal government informing her that land isn’t hers anymore — her smile disappeared and tears welled in her eyes.

“For someone to just come and rip our dream away this way, it’s sad,” she said. “This is ours, this is our life, this is our land, the people’s land.”

The Trump Administration has been unpredictable on issues like trade and health care, but it has kept its focus on the border wall that President Trump promised at every campaign stop as a candidate. Trump didn’t get money for the wall in last month’s budget fight to keep the federal government running until the end of September, but he vowed that it will be funded this fall.

The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, is already taking proposals for constructing the wall and announced it will begin construction of a prototype in California after winning bids are announced in June.

The Texas Tribune interviewed Texans in four counties along the Rio Grande who are potentially facing government seizure of their land for the wall — or have been living in the shadow of the border fence constructed under President George W. Bush’s administration. Their reactions to the specter of more government land seizures — and to the overall growth of border security measures — were as different as the landscape from Brownsville to El Paso.

Maverick County: a symbiotic relationship for rancher

About an hour downriver from Villarreal’s simple 150-by-200-foot lot, Salvador Salinas is also concerned about the federal government running a wall through his 500 acres along the Rio Grande.

“I hear they just say, ‘This is how much we’re going to pay,’” he said, referring to rumors the government gives simple, lump-sum offers when it comes to seize property. “Is it for certain acreage or space for the wall? They don’t buy the whole ranch, right?”

Salinas and his friend and business partner, state Rep. Alfonso Nevarez, bought the land in 2016, before Trump was elected.

Salvador Salinas in his 500-acre property in Maverick County. The private property ends where the banks of the Rio Grande begin. | Photo by Robin Jerstad
Salvador Salinas in his 500-acre property in Maverick County. The private property ends where the banks of the Rio Grande begin. | Photo by Robin Jerstad

“I didn’t know this was going to be an issue,” he said as he wound his 4×4 pickup through caliche roads flanked by thorn bushes and lazy-eyed steer. The river here is hidden in places by salt cedar or carrizo cane, which can hide smugglers and drug mules waiting for the right time to move.

But Salinas said despite its size, he isn’t concerned about cartels or other smugglers using his land as a staging ground. He sees the occasional clumps of discarded clothing and downed branches that signal illegal crossings, but he said the U.S. Border Patrol does a decent job patrolling the area.

Like other border landowners, he shares a symbiotic relationship with the federal agents: He allows them access to his land — they have copies of the gate keys — and agents keep him and his family relatively safe.

A wall, he said, is not only offensive but impractical. When asked what he thought was a more practical solution, he repeated what many border landowners have repeated for years: “More Border Patrol, more cameras and more boats in the water.”

But not everyone in this remote stretch of Maverick County feels as comfortable as Salinas. A neighbor who only wanted to be identified by her middle name, Delia, said she regrets moving so far away from the heart of Eagle Pass. From her backyard, the river is clearly visible, and so is a nearby gazebo where residents of the Eagle Point subdivision have picnics, meetings and even weddings.

Even so, Delia said she doesn’t leave her house after 9 p.m. because she fears people crossing the river illegally.

Twice, she said, she’s sent her kids to check the mail, only to have them run into Border Patrol agents on the hunt. “They asked, ‘Have you seen three guys running around.’ I don’t know why they would say that” to children, she said.

For her, making room for a wall is a no-brainer, even if it means selling her land.

“I would be more than happy. I would sell it today,” she said. “When we bought it, I thought this was what I wanted, but it’s very lonely out here.”

Eagle Pass was one of the last cities to get a piece of the border fence under the 2006 Secure Fence Act signed by President George W. Bush. The rusty barrier near the banks of the river has blended into the city’s landscape since it was finished.

The fence looms near a municipal park where Jesus Daniel Gonzalez, 25, recently practiced for the upcoming championship soccer match for his semi-pro league. His team, the Twin Cities FC, comprises players from Texas and the Mexican state of Coahuila.

“These are the only soccer fields in the area, so if [Trump] builds it here, we won’t have a place to practice,” he said. “And, a wall isn’t going to stop anyone. People are going to find ways to cross.”

Cameron County: comfort from the fence

Members of the Twin Cities FC practice at twilight on an Eagle Pass soccer field between the Rio Grande and the current border fence. Piedras Negras, Mexico, is in the background. | Photo by  Robin Jerstad
Members of the Twin Cities FC practice at twilight on an Eagle Pass soccer field between the Rio Grande and the current border fence. Piedras Negras, Mexico, is in the background. | Photo by Robin Jerstad

Six counties southeast of Eagle Pass, Pat Faltersack doesn’t mind the fence, which he said has helped make his area safer.

Faltersack is originally from Minnesota but owns and operates the Anglers Nest R.V. Park in Los Indios, a tiny municipality in Cameron County, during the mild Texas summers. His business is just across the highway from a field where the border fence blocks the view of the Rio Grande. And that’s fine with him, he said.

“I’ve been here 14 years and never had an issue,” he said. “As a matter of fact, things have gotten better.” He said an influx of local, state and federal law enforcement has helped as much as the fence. But Faltersack said he’d be fine if the government wanted to build a taller, thicker barrier, too.

“I think the wall is a good thing if they patrol it,” he said. “It wouldn’t bother me one bit.”

Hudspeth County: where the barrier ends

More than 800 miles and a time zone away, Jim Ed Miller drove his dusty pickup through his 3,000-acre cotton farm in Fort Hancock, about 55 miles downriver from El Paso.

Miller’s had a federal border fence just south of his property line for nearly 10 years. But the barrier stops in the middle of a caliche road just north of the Rio Grande. Where the fence ends, a camera sits fixed to its edge. Miller pulled up to the device, rolled down the window and waved.

“They know me here,” he said, laughing. Then he spun his truck around and stared at the fence’s edge.

“Do you feel safe?” he asked.

Here, the Rio Grande is little more than a muddy trench where even the slowest rattlesnake can go from Mexico to Texas in seconds.

Like many landowners here, Miller can regale visitors with stories about catching undocumented immigrants on his property. He’s always armed — three rifles in the back seat and his revolver at the ready in the front — but he prefers not to use his guns. He said he and his family will call Border Patrol and usually offer the migrants some food and water while they wait. Sometimes, Miller said, he even drives the migrants over to the Border Patrol station himself.

“This is ‘Almost America,’” he explained. “There are five checkpoints between here and real America.”

He’s more pragmatic than some of his neighbors about the prospect of a new wall that could replace the existing fence — and potentially claim more of his land.

“If they want it, they’re going to take it,” he said as he took out the letter from U.S. Homeland Security that he’d tucked into his copy of the U.S. Constitution. He pointed his large, bony finger to a paragraph he’d highlighted that quotes a federal law.

“… Any officer shall have the power to access private lands for the purposes of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States, within a distance of twenty-five miles from any external boundary,” it reads.

The letter was in response to a claim he filed three years ago after Miller said a Border Patrol agent wrecked a portion of his freshly planted cotton field by crossing it to aid an immigrant who had crossed illegally. His claim was denied.

The letter is a reminder of the place he lives and the power of the federal government.

“It’s Almost America,” he repeats.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • At the U.S.-Mexico border, scientists say existing fencing is hurting endangered wildlife and warn that a continuous wall could devastate many species.
  • The Trump administration may not be able to move mountains — literally — in its quest to build a coast-to-coast wall along the nation’s southern border. But that doesn’t mean the White House won’t review some longstanding treaties that have stymied past administrations
  • As the Trump administration sets its sights on building a barrier on the country’s southern border, a group of Texas attorneys aims to help border residents ensure they are properly compensated for whatever land the government seizes.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR –  The Texas Tribune

Video – Cornyn: Funding Bill Beefs Up Border Security, Defense

WASHINGTON  –  Tuesday on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed the bipartisan legislation to fund the government, which includes additional funding for border security and defense, and the importance of free trade agreements to Texas.  Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below:

“Over the weekend, an agreement was finally reached on a funding bill to keep the U.S. government open and to provide much-needed long-term funding to our federal agencies.”

‘This agreed bill consists of the 11 remaining appropriation bills, with additional funding set aside for our military, disaster relief, and border security. I, for one, have been encouraged to hear folks from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats alike, make clear we actually agree on more than we disagree on, particularly when it comes to securing our border.”

“I have been glad to read press reports and hear the Minority Leader, Senator Schumer, among others, talk about how providing more resources to secure the border is necessary to keep us safe.”

“Last month during the state work period, I had the chance to speak to hundreds of my constituents all across the state, ten cities in all. Part of that time was spent visiting the folks who live and work along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“It goes without saying that free trade has been a cornerstone of the economy in Texas, adding billions to our economy annually and bolstering our relationship with our partner to the south. In other words, free trade agreements, particularly NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, are critically important to many of my state’s leading industries, such as agriculture and energy.”

“As we consider this omnibus appropriation bill and specifically, more resources to enhance security along the border, I think we can all agree that our approach should be twofold. We must devote resources not only to enhance border security but also fix our aging infrastructure at our ports of entry. Fortunately, this bill does exactly that.”

“I’m glad we found a way to fund the government and to actually govern while doing more for our national defense and security, particularly security along the border.”

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

Border Wall Plans Spur Effort to help Texas Landowners with Eminent Domain

As the Trump administration sets its sights on building a barrier on the country’s southern border, a group of Texas attorneys aims to help border residents ensure they are properly compensated for whatever land the government seizes.

A group of Texas attorneys launched a campaign Wednesday to help ensure that property owners on the state’s southern border are properly compensated should the Trump administration seize their lands for a border wall.

The Texas Civil Rights Project says it will focus its efforts on lower-income residents who don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to fight through the complicated eminent domain process that’s looming as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moves ahead with plans for the wall’s construction.

“Under the rules governing federal condemnation actions, a landowner who disagrees with the amount offered by the government has the right to request a jury trial,” Efrén Olivares, the Civil Rights Project’s racial and economic justice director, said in a prepared statement. “Our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project is ready to represent landowners, as well as train and deploy legal volunteers to ensure that all landowners have the representation and respect they deserve.”

In his Jan. 25 executive order on border security and immigration, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin planning a physical barrier on the country’s border with Mexico.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has since conceded that a coast-to-coast barrier isn’t likely to happen and that efforts would instead focus on a combination of technology and a physical wall. But a draft Homeland Security Department memo leaked last week stated that the Texas’ Rio Grande Valley area would probably be home to nearly three dozen miles of new construction once the building phase begins.

Facing off with the federal government won’t be a new challenge for the area. In 2006, the federal Secure Fence Act mandated that the government build about 700 miles of a steel barrier on the border. In response, hundreds of lawsuits were filed as Rio Grande Valley property owners sought proper compensation for pieces of land that varied in size from less than once acre to several hundred, according to documents provided by the Texas Civil Rights Project. Several dozen of those suits remain pending. The plaintiffs include private landowners, estate managers and local irrigation districts.

Read related Tribune coverage: 

  • The Trump administration may not be able to move mountains — literally — in its quest to build a coast-to-coast wall along the nation’s southern border. But that doesn’t mean the White House won’t review some longstanding treaties that have stymied past administrations.
  • At the U.S.-Mexico border, scientists say existing fencing is hurting endangered wildlife and warn that a continuous wall could devastate many species.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Reps McSally, Hurd Send Letter Seeking Specific Details on Proposed Border Wall

On Tuesday, U.S. Representatives Martha McSally (AZ-02) and Will Hurd (TX-23), Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, sent an oversight letter asking for specific details of the Administration’s request for $999 million to plan, design, and construct the first installment of a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, the letter lays out a series of detailed questions to DHS in order to provide the lawmakers with further clarity regarding the President’s recent supplemental appropriations request, which was sent to Congress on March 16, 2017.

“As Representatives of the communities that make up our southern border, we recognize the need for robust border security and infrastructure to ensure public safety and increase cross border commerce,” the lawmakers write. “We also have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and as such have a number of questions.”

“While we have both publicly stated in the past that we believe physical barriers to be one of many tools required to gain operational control of the border,” continued the lawmakers, “we also believe that an expenditure this large, and submitted with limited details, deserves additional scrutiny to ensure funds are being used effectively in pursuit of our shared goal of securing the southwest border.”

The two lawmakers, whose districts collectively represent 880 miles— nearly half— of the U.S-Mexico border, seek specific details of the location of the proposed wall, definitions of adequate natural barriers,  and a breakdown of the investments in supplemental technology, infrastructure, and alleviating personnel backlogs.

O’Rourke on Cruz challenge in 2018: “I really want to do this”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is sailing toward a 2018 Senate campaign, an uphill battle that would pit the little-known congressman against one of the state’s most prominent Republicans in the unpredictable era of President Donald Trump.

“I really want to do this,” O’Rourke said in an interview Saturday in which he also promised to run a positive campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — no matter how much animus the incumbent inspires among Texas Democrats.

“Being against Ted Cruz is not a strategy,” O’Rourke said. “It might motivate some folks and might make the election of a Democrat for the first time in 30 years more likely, but it in itself is not a strategy, and so I’m really putting my time and my efforts and my thinking into what makes Texas a better place and what makes the lives of the people who live in this state better, and so I’m just going to stay focused on that.”

O’Rourke has said for weeks that he is likely to take on Cruz but has not set a timeline for an official announcement. He said Saturday he wants to make sure he is mindful of his current constituents and that “I’m thoughtful in how I make this decision and keep El Paso, my family, foremost in mind.”

“I don’t want to run unless we’re going to win, and I’m confident we can,” O’Rourke said. “I just want to make sure the way we do this, we set ourselves up for victory.”

O’Rourke’s case for the Senate seat is two-pronged. He said he believes it is more important than ever for the Senate to serve as a check on the president, and he also believes he brings a unique perspective to the immigration debate as a Democrat from El Paso — “the Ellis Island of the western hemisphere.”

O’Rourke may have Democratic company in his campaign to unseat Cruz. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is also weighing a bid and plans to announce his decision in early April, a timeline that O’Rourke said has no bearing on his own.

“I have the greatest respect for him, consider him a good friend and have told him I think he’d make an outstanding candidate and a terrific senator for the state of Texas, but his decision-making process is outside of my control, so I can only focus on what I can do,” O’Rourke said.

If it came to it, O’Rourke said he would be open to a contested primary against Castro, again noting that is beyond his control.

If O’Rourke runs for Senate, fundraising would likely be one of his biggest challenges. While he was the underdog in his 2012 Senate campaign, Cruz has since built a national fundraising network, partly through his 2016 presidential bid.

O’Rourke has already made clear he plans not to accept PAC money in a potential Senate campaign. Asked Saturday if that would apply to money from national Democratic groups who may want to help him out, O’Rourke held firm that he “won’t take money from political action committees — and that’s across the spectrum.”

“I think folks just need to know that, clean and simple,” O’Rourke said. “When you start picking and choosing then, you know, it becomes a slippery slope and you just start doing what everyone else is doing, what everyone is so sick of and what has made Washington so dysfunctional and corporate.”

O’Rourke was visiting Austin on Saturday to speak at a rally at the Texas Capitol against some of Trump’s early actions as president, including his proposed border wall. Castro was also scheduled to address the rally. O’Rourke told the crowd that it is a “time for us take back our communities, our state, the United States Senate and the United States of America.”

Castro also spoke at the rally, invoking Cruz twice as he denounced Trump’s policies. “I hope today that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz can hear us from Washington, D.C,” Castro said shortly after taking the stage to loud cheers.

Working the crowd afterward, Castro encountered some supporters who encouraged him to run for Senate — including a man who said he had never donated the maximum amount to a campaign before but said he would do so for Castro.

Speaking with the Tribune after the rally, Castro said he is looking to announce his 2018 decision “by the end of April” and took a pass on responding to recent jabs from Cruz. The incumbent had suggested in a radio interview that Castro would be “retired from public service” if he got into the 2018 race.

“Everything that’s going on now is bigger than Ted Cruz,” Castro said, “and it’s bigger than me, honestly.”

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Immigrants Do Not Increase Crime, Research Shows

DENVER – As President Donald Trump continues to make good on promises to deport undocumented immigrants – with some seeking protection in sanctuary churches – a new study shows U.S. cities with large immigrant populations experience lower rates of crime.

Contrary to the president’s statements, four decades of evidence shows no link between immigration and increased crime, according to Robert Adelman, the study’s lead author at the State University of New York.

“For crimes like murder, robbery, burglary and larceny – as immigration increases, crime decreases on average in American metropolitan areas,” he points out. “We found no effect of immigration on aggravated assault.”

Researchers studied census and FBI crime data in 200 metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2010.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly maintained immigrants increased crime. Since taking office, he has signed executive orders restricting entry into the U.S., prioritizing deportation, authorizing construction of a wall on the Mexico border, and withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities.

Adelman says facts are critical in the current political environment, and points to research showing foreign-born individuals are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

In his view, the benefits brought by immigrant populations to U.S. cities outweigh any perceived risks.

“When we think about the benefits of immigration, you can think of economic revitalization, population growth, contributing to lower rates of vacant and abandoned buildings, cultural enrichment and – with our findings, in many cases – lower levels of crime,” Adelman stresses.

Adelman adds he hopes the research will help policymakers make decisions based on scientific evidence, not ideologies and claims that demonize particular segments of the U.S. population without facts to back them up.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service – CO
MARCHFEST 728X90