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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

Bishop Seitz: ‘We will Continue to Walk with Migrants and Refugees’

The Church, like Jesus, cares for people, and in a special way we care for the poor and the marginalized. We will continue to walk with migrants and refugees and raise our voices in their defense.

As we know from our experience serving those who have been crossing in recent years those who are coming are not leaving their homes purely for economic reasons; they are fleeing deadly violence and threats against them and their families.

Although some are fleeing from parts of Mexico, the majority are coming from the Northern Triangle of Central America: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

As displaced refugees according to International law, which the United States helped to write, it is not illegal to enter another country when one is seeking asylum. It would not only be unChristian, it would be unAmerican to deny these refugees an opportunity to prove they qualify for protection.

Regarding the wall the Church in the United States has long held that it would be a much more efficient use of our taxpayer dollars if we would:

1) put in place a comprehensive immigration reform which addresses this country’s need for workers and

2) assist sending countries in their need for assistance to overcome the gang and drug violence that is forcing the departure of so many and creating such desperation.

We would also like to remind our immigrant brothers and sisters that we live in a democratic republic. No one person will have free reign to enforce his decisions. We will support legislative and court actions if the fundamental human rights of anyone is threatened.

To all these actions we will add our prayers that our new President will be open to these Gospel principles and that God will continue to provide for His beloved poor.

Author: Bp. Mark J. Seitz

Borderland Immigration Council: Trump’s Executive Orders ‘Devastating Assault’

Via a news release and a Thursday morning news conference, the Borderland Immigration Council expressed their concern and outrage over President Donald Trump’s executive orders dealing with border security, immigrants and his fabled border wall.

Below is the Borderland Immigration Council’s complete statement:

The Borderland Immigration Council, a coalition of immigration attorneys, non-profit organizations, advocates and community members, denounces President Trump’s executive orders; asks for immediate action from Congressional, county and city officials; and demands transparency from ICE in the implementation of these new policies.

President Trump’s executive orders, signed 25 January 2017, on building a border wall, targeting asylum seekers and immigrants, and threatening the safety of our communities, are a devastating assault on our Borderplex home of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

As advocates for immigrants and refugees, we vow to protect the fundamental rights of all people, including asylum seekers and our undocumented neighbors. The executive order announced today seeks to expedite the asylum process to a pace that threatens to undermine asylum seekers’ rights.

Expediting the process and increasing detention measures directly impact a person’s ability to have meaningful access to counsel and is in violation of due process. These fundamental principles of our democracy are now under attack. Additionally, this violates international conventions that protect the asylum seeker by fast tracking people back to countries that often fail to protect their lives.

In effect, the executive order issued today will result in the unnecessary deaths of asylum seekers who present themselves at our southern border asking for our help.

Mandatory detention criminalizes people seeking asylum and threatens family unity without regard to individualized circumstances.  There are ongoing reports of inadequate treatment and inhumane conditions in immigrant detention centers in our community; increasing the use of detention not only undermines our commitment to liberty, put places more people at risk.

Finally, building a wall and pouring money into a border that is already highly militarized is an insult to us as Americans, taxpayers, and global citizens.  Building a larger wall will not make America safer. It represents a scandalous misuse of resources under the guise of national security — when we know that border communities like El Paso, and those with large immigrant populations, are among the safest places to live.

We demand that our Congressional representatives, county and city elected officials and community leaders challenge the breadth and reach of these executive orders. We invite them to join us in publicly committing to fight this administration’s efforts to demonize and threaten the safety of immigrants within our communities and those seeking assistance on our borders. We ask that they ensure that the legal process is followed and that the Department of Homeland Security not abuse its discretion.

We urge ICE and CBP to be humane in all policy implementation and ask that the Department of Homeland Security clarify immediately how these policies will be implemented. We further demand that our local ICE office publicly announce how and when any new policies concerning the enforcement of immigration laws will be implemented locally and within the El Paso Area of Responsibility.

As advocates, representatives of the law, and global citizens committed to rights and justice, we denounce these executive orders as harmful to the very fabric of our communities and country.

The Borderland Immigration Council consists of immigration attorneys, local nonprofits, and members of the community who are concerned with Immigration Customs and Enforcement leadership’s pattern of denial of discretionary relief for immigrants and refugees in the El Paso area. BIC advocates for all migrants and families facing the unjust system of immigration.

In Addition to Border Wall, Trump’s Executive Action Targets Detention Space

The White House announced Wednesday that in addition to moving to build a barrier on the southern border, it will act to build more detention space for undocumented immigrants in the area.

As the Trump administration moves to expedite construction of a physical barrier on the southern border, it will also begin building more detention space for undocumented immigrants in the area and work to withhold federal dollars from entities that don’t enforce immigration laws, the White House announced Wednesday.

“Building this barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it’s a common-sense first step to really securing our porous border,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during a briefing. “And yes, one way or another — as the president has said  before —  Mexico will pay for it.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the executive order to create the border wall and add the detention space after the swearing-in ceremony for Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

In a speech to federal agents in Washington after signing the order, Trump said the measures would help restore peace and stability in the U.S. but would also benefit Mexico.

“This will also help Mexico by deterring illegal immigration from Central America and by disrupting violent cartel networks,” he said. “As I have said repeatedly to the country, we are going to get the bad ones out – the criminals and  the drug dealers and gang and gang members and cartel leaders.”

The executive order also calls for the hiring of another 5,000 Border Patrol officers and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers currently employed by the federal government, he said.

The text of the order also gives a glimpse into how Trump expects Mexico to pay for the wall. It orders agency directors to “identify and quantify” the amount of aid the country has given to Mexico over the previous five years. Analysts have stated that one way to force Mexico to pay is to cut off foreign aid.


The order seeks to boost local and state involvement in immigration enforcement by expanding the controversial 287(g) program, which allows local and state officers to enforce immigration laws if they undergo the requisite training.

“In furtherance of this policy, the Secretary shall immediately take appropriate action to engage with the Governors of the States, as well as local officials, for the purpose of preparing to enter into agreements under section 287(g)” the order says.

Reaction to the order was swift. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund warned Wednesday that Trump’s move will cause irreversible damage.

“Aggressive interior enforcement is an abject failure, delivering tremendous upheaval and harm to families, schools, and workplaces,” MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said in a statement. “The economic disruption to critical industries, such as agriculture, from such efforts render these executive orders a direct and undiluted threat to United States national security.”

The White House is also reverting to using the controversial Secure Communities program, which had been replaced by former President Obama with the Priority Enforcement Program.

“We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin,” Spicer said at the White House briefing. “We’re going to end the last administration’s dangerous catch-and-release policy, which has led to the deaths of many Americans.”

Through the Secure Communities program, administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a federal database to determine if the individual is eligible for deportation under current federal immigration laws. Federal funds will be withheld from cities and states that don’t comply with federal law, Spicer said.

“After these criminals spend time in prison for the crimes they have committed, they’re going to get one-way tickets to their country of origin,” he said.

In order to force those governments to take back the deportees, Spicer said the administration would consider withholding visas and “use other tools” to ensure compliance.

Border lawmakers and officials quickly criticized the idea that a wall was needed and instead advocated for a more modern solution,

During a visit to the state Capitol on Wednesday, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said he was disappointed that Trump would make the decision without reaching out to border leaders.

“It’s sad day In Laredo, Texas. And frankly on the entire border. We would hope maybe the people that surround President Trump would think differently. Maybe they can influence him still,” he said. “We respect him as our president, but we respectfully disagree with this notion of a wall. There is room for compromise — we’re not totally against any type of fencing if it’s strategically placed.”

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Trump had no choice but to please his out-of-touch supporters.

“We’ve seen that the border wall is very expensive to maintain. It’s politics as usual,” he said. “I think Trump has to fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall, and I think Republicans across the country are lining up behind him. It’d be smart for him to invest in technology for our bridges.”

While few Texas Republicans had voiced full support for a wall during the campaign, they offered positive reviews Wednesday as word got out about Trump’s order.

“Governor Abbott is pleased with the immediate action President Trump has taken to fulfill his promise to secure the border,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The Governor looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to keep Texans safe and protect our sovereignty.”

Abbott has previously said it would be difficult to build a wall along some parts of the border, including stretches of the Rio Grande River and Big Bend National Park.

“I’m open to anything that works,” Attorney General Ken Paxton told reporters in Austin, speaking before Trump issued the order. “If the wall is the best way to secure our border and make sure that our citizens are safe and secure, then I’m open to it.”

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who represents hundreds of miles along the Texas-Mexico border, was the lone Texas Republican on Wednesday to react negatively to Trump’s order. In a statement, he reiterated his longstanding view that a wall “is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”

Before Spicer’s briefing, Trump told ABC News that he’d find a way to compel Mexico to pay for the barrier.

“We are going to be starting those negotiations relatively soon,” he said. “Absolutely, 100 percent [they will pay us back].”

When asked about Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent statement that his government will not pay for any part of the project, Trump said, “He has to say that.”

“I am just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form,” he continued.  “You have to understand what I am doing is good for the United States. It’s also going to be good for Mexico.”

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Hope Border Institute on Trump’s Wall: Dangerously Ineffective. Fiscally Irresponsible. Morally Unacceptable.

Nearly one year ago, Pope Francis visited the US-Mexico border. The images of his approach to the Rio Grande were unforgettable, where he prayed in silence for the thousands of migrants who have died in the desert seeking freedom, safety and refuge in America.

Contrast these images with Donald J. Trump’s executive orders today directing federal funds towards the construction of a wall on the United States’ southern border, expanding immigrant detention, and resurrecting the dangerous Secure Communities program.

Make no mistake: militarizing our border communities, criminalizing and jailing migrants, and co-opting local law enforcement is un-American, senseless and inhumane policy.

What will the wall not do? The wall will not stop the thousands of refugees fleeing to our border to escape hunger, violence and political instability in Mexico and Central America. The wall will not stop the flow of drugs to American consumers, most of which pass through regular ports of entry. The wall will not address the poverty wages of maquila workers who produce goods for export to the United States.

The wall will not fix the political instability in Mexico and Northern Triangle countries abetted by US support for coups, corrupt governments and broken policies. The wall will not stop the river of US firearms that flows daily into Mexico contributing to the murders of tens of thousands in a never ending drug war fueled by American addiction.

The wall will add nothing to our national security; not a single terrorist has been apprehended crossing our southern border. The wall will not reduce crime; border communities are already the safest in the country.

What will the wall do? The wall will divert tens of billions of dollars in critical investment away from under-resourced border communities and add to our national deficit. The wall will push more vulnerable refugees to their deaths in the brutal deserts of the southwest. The wall will contradict the reputation of America as a beacon of freedom in the world.

The wall will contribute to the militarization of our border, where record numbers of federal border agents have broad authority to engage in constitutionally questionable acts of search and seizure that would not be tolerated in Boston, Houston, Kansas City or San Francisco. The wall will stand as a permanent monument to the narcissism of a man who announced his ambitions for the White House by demonizing Mexicans, border communities and migrants.

With his executive orders today, Donald J. Trump signaled his intention to follow through on dangerous promises that many hoped were simply overheated campaign rhetoric. None of these policies will fix a broken immigration system; they are a devastating affront to human dignity.

Today we recommit ourselves to solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers, to defending the values and gifts of our border, and to opposing the militarization and wall-building that is tearing our families, communities and nation apart.

On his return to Rome from the border, Pope Francis’ words could not have been clearer: “A person who thinks only about building walls and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”

We couldn’t agree more. And now the work begins afresh.

Author: Dylan Corbett – Director, Hope Border Institute

El Paso State Legislative Delegation on Border & Immigration Policy: POTUS Attacked Border Communities, Immigrants

In a late Wednesday afternoon release, members of the El Paso State Legislative Delegation on Border and Immigration Policy announced their position regarding the President’s proposed border wall.

Below is the entire statement:

Austin – Today, the President of the United States used his office to attack border communities and immigrants. His announcement is disappointing but not surprising, given his rhetoric as a candidate.

A wall will violate the private property rights of Americans, be prohibitively expensive, and be ineffective. The only return on investment is political, and it sends a signal to the rest of the world that America is no longer the beacon of hope for the tired and poor, who given the opportunity in our country become exceptional, just as our parents and grandparents.

If the President talked to border residents, he would hear that we need to strengthen and streamline our ports of entry, so that we can build upon our economic, cultural, and social ties with our neighbors. He would hear that we want to build bridges, not walls. We are one of the safest communities in the country because we do not target immigrants – we welcome them.

Despite policies from the federal and state level that diminish instead of build our border communities, we will continue to do so.

State Sen. José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29; State Rep. Joe Pickett represents Texas House District 79; State Rep. Joseph Moody represents Texas House District 78; State Rep. Mary Gonzalez represents Texas House District 75; State Rep. Cesar Blanco represents Texas House District 76; and State Rep. Lina Ortega represents Texas House District 77.

Rep Hurd: Wall ‘Least Effective, Most Expensive’ Way to Secure Border

San Antonio, TX – Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd released the following statement regarding President Trump’s border security Executive Order:

The facts have not changed. Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border. Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need.

A wall may be an effective tool in densely populated areas, but a variety of tools are needed between Brownsville, Texas and San Diego, California.  The 23rd District of Texas, which I represent has over 800 miles of the border, more than any other Member of Congress, and it is impossible to build a physical wall in much of its terrain.

Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy.

There is no question that we must secure our border, but we need an intelligence-led approach in order to effectively combat the 19 criminal organizations currently operating in Mexico.


UT Poll: Most Texas Voters Support Banning Muslims, Building Border Wall

A majority of Texas’ registered voters believe Muslims who are not U.S. citizens should be banned from entering the country, according to results of a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll released Tuesday.

The survey found that 31 percent of voters “strongly supported” denying such people entry, with another 22 percent “somewhat” supporting the idea. Thirty-seven percent of voters opposed the effort while 10 percent expressed no preference.

Among Republicans, 76 percent said they would support banning non-U.S. citizen Muslims from entering the country. About 25 percent of voters who identified as Democrats agreed. 

A majority of the respondents of the survey, 51 percent, also favored the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants, while 52 percent said they either “strongly” (34 percent) or “somewhat” (18 percent) supported building a wall between the United States and Mexico. Twenty-four percent of the Democrats supported immediate deportation compared with 73 percent of Republicans.

Seventy-six percent of the Republicans asked also favored a wall separating the two countries.

The poll also found that there is less-than-majority support for immigration reform with or without a path to eventual citizenship. Half of the respondents were asked about comprehensive immigration reform with a path toward citizenship for most undocumented immigrants: 24 percent of them “strongly” supported that idea, while 25 percent “somewhat” supported it.

The other half of the respondents were asked about immigration reform allowing legal residence but not citizenship: 20 percent said they “strongly” supported a path to legal status without citizenship, while 27 “somewhat” supported that idea. The margin of error for those questions is about +/- 4.07 and +/- 3.94 percentage points, respectively.

The poll of 1,200 registered voters was performed June 10-20 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Other results from the same survey, released Monday, show GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump leads Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 8 points in Texas. Trump has made banning Muslims and building a wall a centerpiece of his campaign.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

Texas Congressman to Trump: Shove Border Wall “Up Your Ass”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela took a poison pen to the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, in an open letter Monday morning.

“Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass,” the Brownsville Democrat wrote in a lengthy missive to the real estate magnate.

Later Monday, Vela elaborated on his remarks in an MSNBC interview.

“Well, I would have liked to have spoken in a much more diplomatic fashion, but I felt like I had to speak to Donald Trump in language he understands,” he said.

Vela notes in the letter that he agreed with Trump on some policies, like improving veterans’ care, addressing Mexican drug cartels and deporting criminal felons who are in the country illegally. But he also savages Trump for his rhetoric on those of Mexican descent and his promise to build a wall on the southern U.S. border.

While you would build more and bigger walls on the U.S.-Mexico border, I would tear the existing wall to pieces,” Vela wrote. “Why any modern-thinking person would ever believe that building a wall along the border of a neighboring country, which is both our ally and one of our largest trading partners, is frankly astounding and asinine.”

Vela then defended U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge overseeing litigation related to Trump’s education enterprise, Trump University. Trump has questioned Curiel’s capacity for fairness based on his Mexican heritage. Curiel was born in Indiana.

Vela then pointed out that his own family lineage in the United States goes back farther than Trump’s paternal grandfather.

“Before you dismiss me as just another ‘Mexican,’ let me point out that my great-great grandfather came to this country in 1857, well before your own grandfather,” he wrote. “His grandchildren (my grandfather and his brothers) all served our country in World War I and World War II. His great-grandson, my father, served in the U.S. Army and, coincidentally, was one of the first ‘Mexican’ federal judges ever appointed to the federal bench.”

“I will not presume to speak on behalf of every American of Mexican descent, for every undocumented worker born in Mexico who is contributing to our country every day or, for that matter, every decent citizen in Mexico,” he added.

Vela further said on MSNBC that Trump is likely to lose Republican Hispanics in Texas.

“To the extent that the Republican Party has made gains amongst Latinos in the state of Texas, that’s because there have been some Republican leaders in Texas that have reached out to Hispanic voters,” he said. “I think that with this kind of racist rhetoric that we’re hearing from Donald Trump, that many of those Latino voters who may have previously voted Republican are going to vote for the Democratic candidate in this case.”

A request for comment from the Trump campaign was not immediately returned Monday.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues