Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Call for Public Comments About the Border Wall in Texas

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is accepting public comments about the Rio Grande Valley “Tactical Infrastructure” Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). (Guide to the EIS is below.)

Submit your comments by December 31, 2007 in one of the following ways:
a) Electronically through the website at http://www.borderfencenepa.com/
b) By email to: RGVcomments@BorderFenceNEPA.com
c) By mail to: Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS, c/o e²M, 2751 Prosperity Avenue, Suite 200, Fairfax, Virginia 22031
d) By fax to: (757) 282-7697
**Be sure to include your name and address**

What is an Environmental Impact Statement?

Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are required by the National Environmental Policy Act “for all major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” An EIS must fully describe the environment of a project area, consider a reasonable range of alternatives to the proposed action, and conduct a thorough impacts analysis for each alternative. The Draft EIS, by law, must determine and consider the effect of 70 miles of border walls on the human environment as well as the natural environment.

Although the border wall is an enormous project that is certain to damage the communities and natural areas of the Rio Grande Valley, the Draft EIS is a hastily-written document with glaring omissions and unfounded assertions. It is based on only 7 days of on-the-ground survey work. In addition, no biological, cultural, or engineering surveys have yet been conducted on the 14 national wildlife refuge tracts slated to get walls. In short, the Draft EIS is putting the cart before the horse in promoting the border wall as the preferred alternative before even bothering to fully study the impacts of the border wall or alternatives to the wall.

Use the following information from the “Tactical Infrastructure” Draft EIS to guide your comments:

Alternatives to the wall were not seriously considered in the Draft EIS:
· By law the Draft EIS must consider alternatives to the proposed project. However, the document rejects a number of alternatives to building the border wall, including increasing the number of Border Patrol agents or using “virtual fencing,” without any indication that they were seriously considered or evaluated.
· The Draft EIS implies that the required “No Action Alternative” means doing nothing and dismisses it out of hand. However, taking “no action” in this case means the continuation of current Border Patrol operations which have been highly successful. In fiscal year 2007 these led to a decrease in apprehensions of 34% in the Rio Grande Valley, dropping apprehensions to their lowest level in 15 years.
· The Draft EIS wrongly assumes that border walls are effective. They are not. The Congressional Research Service found that the wall in San Diego “did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border.” Indeed, fiscal year 2007 apprehensions increased by 7% in San Diego, where they have triple-layer fencing.

The wall’s effect on flood risk does not appear to have been seriously studied in the Draft EIS:
· The steel mesh used for the wall is treated in the Draft EIS as permeable to water. In a flooding event, even a standard chain link fence becomes clogged with debris and blocks the flow of water. The photographs included show a mesh that is far tighter than standard chain link, which will certainly become clogged with debris during any flooding event.
· The words “hurricane” and “tropical storm” do not appear even once in the Draft EIS, despite the fact that the Rio Grande Valley is located in a hurricane zone.
· The Draft EIS found that the border wall’s impact on water flow in the Rio Grande Basin is expected to be “negligible,” but they do not cite any hydrological studies to back up this claim. Nor do they take into account the existing problems of the flood-control levee system along the river. With no studies to model whether a border wall would channel flood waters, the Department of Homeland Security is recklessly endangering lives and property in the event of a hurricane or torrential rain.

When considering the wall’s effect on wildlife habitat and endangered species, the Draft EIS does not address crucial issues:
· The Draft EIS concludes that “the conversion of 508 acres to support tactical infrastructure is a minimal cumulative impact compared to other development” (Section 5.11). This narrow focus is misleading, as placing a barrier across a tract of wildlife habitat will have a negative impact far beyond the acreage on which the wall sits.
· The border wall will bisect many national wildlife refuge tracts; many others will have their northern border walled off. The walls will prevent wildlife dispersal to and from the river and block north-south travel corridors. This fragmentation undermines the integrity of the wildlife corridor, a series of land tracts meant to allow wildlife travel along the river. Further, refuge personnel will be unable to properly manage wildlife habitat, as fighting wildfires or controlling prescribed burns will be too dangerous behind walls.
· The border wall will deny wildlife access to the river, in many places the only water source, and the Draft EIS does not address this at all. Many tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge will be severed from the river. Such tracts were purchased and incorporated into the National Wildlife Refuge System because their river access made them valuable habitat.
· The Draft EIS claims that 150-175 acres of habitat suitable for the federally endangered ocelot and jaguarundi will be destroyed. It does not address the fact that the wall will separate populations of these endangered cats, preventing them from finding mates. Reducing their genetic diversity will increase the likelihood of their extinction. In addition, there are approximately 20 other federally threatened and endangered species in the RGV that could be adversely impacted.
· Extensive nighttime flood lighting will be associated with the wall segments, but there is no thorough analysis of the possible impacts of this on wildlife.
· There is no analysis of the possible impacts to wildlife of the roads associated with the walls.
· The proposed “wildlife migratory portals,” tiny vertical slots only a couple of inches wide, represent a purely token effort at wildlife mitigation. Animals larger than a cockroach or a starving field mouse will be unable to pass through the wall to reach water or mates.

The Draft EIS seems intent on ignoring the Migratory Bird Treaty Act:
· The Draft EIS states that construction of the border wall is planned for the Spring of 2008 and due to continue until the end of the year. However, it also contains a recommendation that “any groundbreaking construction activities should be performed before migratory birds have returned (approx. March 1) or after all young have fledged (approx. July 31) to avoid incidental take” (Section This recommendation should be followed and no construction should occur during this time to avoid killing nesting birds.
· The Draft EIS does not address the issue of long-term habitat loss for migratory bird species. During the spring and fall migrations, millions of birds funnel through the Rio Grande Valley. Many that arrive have flown hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico. They require intact habitat to rest and refuel, and without it they may be too weak to complete their journey.

The Draft EIS makes baseless claims about the wall’s affect on the RGV economy:
· Ecotourism brings more that $125 million to the Rio Grande Valley annually from 200, 000 tourists and creates 2,500 jobs in the local economy. As national wildlife refuge lands, state parks, and private reserves are lost, degraded, or rendered inaccessible and endemic and migratory species decline or are displaced because of the border wall, there will be less incentive for nature enthusiasts to visit the area. The Draft EIS makes the absurd assertion that a wall would actually bring in more visitors because they would feel safer.
· 23 million Mexican nationals visit the Valley each year, contributing $3 billion to the local economy and supporting 41,000 jobs, $560 million in wages, and $203 million in business taxes. The Draft EIS states that the wall will have “no long-term impacts” on the local economy because visitors will be able to cross at ports of entry. It completely ignores the message that a wall sends. If a store displayed a window sign that said “Mexicans Keep Out” they would not get much business from Mexican shoppers even if their doors were wide open. The border wall will present just such a message, and will certainly impact retail sales.
· There is a recognition that taking hundreds of acres of farmland out of production will have negative impacts on landowners’, and that it will be harder to access to parts of their land. There is no discussion of the impact that this will have on the ability of farms to remain viable, or on the Valley’s economy.
· The Draft EIS states that, “Minor to moderate adverse indirect impacts would be expected from the imminent dislocation of some families due to property acquisition.” For a low-income, Texas family evicted from their home by the federal government, the impact is by no means indirect or minor.

The Draft EIS ignores Environmental Justice rules:
· Although the Rio Grande Valley’s population is over 85% minority, and its border communities are some of the poorest in the nation, the Draft EIS finds that the border wall will not have a disproportionate impact on minority or low income populations. Rather than address this they manipulate statistics: “Of the proposed 70 miles of tactical infrastructure, substantially less than half is within census bureau tracts that have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents” (Section 5. 5.11). Instead of counting the people who will be impacted, the Draft EIS counts the miles, using the many uninhabited areas to dilute, at least on paper, the wall’s impact on minority and low-income populations.

It is crucial that everyone with these and other concerns about the border wall submit them in writing. The Department of Homeland Security will interpret silence as a lack of interest. The deadline for comments is December 31, 2007.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Senator Cornyn Wants Billions for the Border Wall - Tell Him No!

With the introduction of S. 2348, the “Emergency Border Security Funding Act of 2007”, Texas Senator John Cornyn has once again shown that he values the worst politics ahead of the best interests of Texas and our nation. It calls for at least 700 linear miles of border wall and 300 miles of vehicle barriers along the US – Mexico border, and provides $3 billion dollars to get construction started. This despite the fact that the walls built so far have not impacted the number of people coming across the border.

In October, speaking to the Border Trade Alliance, Cornyn said, “I have long said that I do not support a fence, or as some said, a wall, between the United States and Mexico. That’s irrational and just doesn’t make sense, because we know that people can come over fences or walls; they can go under them; they can go through them, given sufficient opportunity.”

Once again, Senator Cornyn is talking out of both sides of his mouth. When he visits the border, where people know that a wall will do tremendous damage but no good, he says that he does not support a wall. When he is back in Washington, he sponsors legislation providing $3 billion to build the wall that he claims not to support.

Cornyn must be held accountable for his duplicity. Texas residents should contact his office and let him know what you think:

Senator John Cornyn
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg.Washington, DC 20510 Main: 202-224-2934Fax: 202-228-2856
The Senator prefers to screen his emails, but there is an online “comment form” here:

If you are not a resident of Texas, contact your Senators and let them know that you want them to oppose Cornyn’s bill. Congress should be working to overturn the Secure Fence Act, rather than spending billions more on the border wall.

To contact your Senators, go to:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tell US Fish and Wildlife - Destroying Refuge Lands for the Border Wall Is Not "Win-Win"

The New York Times quotes Jose Viramontes of the FWS Regional Office as saying the land swap in Arizona is a 'win/win' situation. This refers to the exchange of refuge land on the border for other land so that the wall can be built on what had been protected lands. The wall is being built before the swap has been finalized, and the Fish and Wildlife Service does not even know what land they will receive in exchange. The exchange was announced after the Buenos Aires refuge manager found the wall to be incompatible with the mission of the refuge. Please e-mail the Regional Director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, and Jose Viramontes directly and tell them to not use the words 'win/win' when discussing the border wall. If they can't support the decisions of those on the ground, the least they can do is not say things that directly contradict the reality on the ground. In the subject line, please use the words 'not win/win situation'. We need to flood their offices and let them know they are being watched by the South Texas contingency.

Send your emails to:
and CC:

Here is a link to the New York Times article:
Border Fence Work Raises Environmental Concerns http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/us/21fence.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

Monday, November 19, 2007

New No Border Wall Shirt Design Makes a Great Gift!

Introducing a new No Border Wall design for tshirts and mugs available at http://www.cafepress.com/noborderwall

The design features the quote, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," from Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Wall." This line is the real message of the poem. The oft-quoted line from this same poem "good fences make good neighbors" is actually the ignorant opinion of Frost's simple-minded neighbor in the poem. (To read the entire poem and be able to pooh-pooh the next person who quotes it to you, go to http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html). This shirt is available in organic cotton, jersey style, ringer tee, and long sleeves.

There is also a mug available in regular and large sizes featuring the Robert Frost quote. It's an excellent way to start up conversations about the border wall and help spread the message!

The classic NO BORDER WALL logo design is also available at http://www.cafepress.com/noborderwall in a variety of styles, including children's sizes. Finally something to wear to opposition rallies and public meetings with Customs and Border Patrol! Pick up a bumpersticker or two while you're at it.

All proceeds go directly toward border wall opposition.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Call for Public Comments on Whether the Border Wall and Wildlife Refuges are Compatible

Comments are being accepted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding surveying activities on Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge tracts. A survey for natural resources and a survey for cultural resources will be conducted in preparation for building a border wall on at least 14 separate refuge tracts. USFWS is preparing documents that will determine whether these activities are compatible with their mission. It is important that everyone who is concerned about the construction of the border wall submit a comment to USFWS. Please send your comments via email or US mail by November 19, 2007!

Here are a few ways to guide your comments:

· According to US Fish and Wildlife regulations (603 FW 2), “The refuge manager will not initiate or permit a new use of a national wildlife refuge or expand, renew, or extend an existing use of a national wildlife refuge unless the refuge manager has determined that the use is a compatible use.” It goes on to say, “Fragmentation of the National Wildlife Refuge System's wildlife habitats is a direct threat to the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System, both today and in the decades ahead. Uses that we reasonably may anticipate to reduce the quality or quantity or fragment habitats on a national wildlife refuge will not be compatible.” As the intent of these surveys is to pave the way for the construction of border walls which will seriously degrade and fragment the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, they are incompatible with the mission of the Refuge.

· We have no faith in the utility and impartiality of the survey process. The private corporation in charge of conducting the surveys, Engineering-Environmental Management, Inc. (E²M), has a vested interest in expediting the construction of the border walls to please their client, the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, E²M has already mismanaged the public comment period of the Rio Grande Valley EIS, allowing technical difficulties with both the official website and the posted fax number to interfere with the acceptance of public comments for several days of the already EIS short comment period. E²M should not be in charge of this vitally important surveying task. It should instead be carried out by local US Fish and Wildlife biologists who are familiar with the natural and cultural resources that are present in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

· The USFWS has expressed concerns that there will not be enough refuge staff to properly oversee survey activities. We share these concerns; there should be USFWS oversight for all activities.

· The natural resource survey is further compromised by its limited duration. E²M employees will only spend 10 days surveying the natural resources in the wall’s path. That is utterly insufficient. Endangered species are by definition extremely rare, and sightings of migratory species are dependent on the time of year, so the odds of seeing one during any 10 day period are next to nothing. If they fail to see a particular endangered or migratory animal during their brief visit the final report may give the false impression that they are not present and will not be impacted by the wall.

· The cultural resource survey contains a troubling provision for backhoe trenching up to 33 ft deep in areas that have a high probability of cultural resources. This is listed as a “last option,” but it should not be allowed at all. Not only would such an activity be incompatible with the environmental mission of the refuge, it would likely destroy the very cultural resources that are being documented.

Please send comments to:

Refuge Manager
Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR
Rt. 2 Box 202A
Alamo, TX 78516

Or email Bryan_Winton@fws.gov (Subject line: Draft Compatibility Determinations: Border Fence)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Email Congress - Cut Off Funding for the Border Wall

Click HERE to go to the Democratic Courage website to send an email to your members of Confress urging them to cut off funding for the Border Wall and to support the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that he is going to waive 18 laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Clean Water Act so he can build a wall between Arizona and Mexico in the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, allegedly to keep out illegal immigrants. The wall won't work to stop anyone with a ladder, or anyone who just overstays their visa, but it will mean death for endangered species of the Southwest like the ocelot, jaguar, and Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope. Contact your member of Congress today and ask them to cut off funding for the border wall and cosponsor the Borderlands Security and Conservation Act. Feel free to add your own text.

To learn more about Chertoff's latest waiver of federal laws, visit the No Border Wall blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Organized by Students for Peace at STC
Oct. 19, 2007
McAllen, TX Corner of 10th and Nolana 5-6p.m.
For more info contact:jjhoshing@yahoo.com

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Demonstration Against the Border Wall in Nogales October 20th

Coalición de Derechos Humanos has announced a march and demonstration in Nogales, AZ on October 20th to call attention to what it calls “failed border enforcement policies.” These include the construction of border walls that have led to the deaths of thousands of immigrants in the deserts of Arizona. The event is sponsored by Coalición de Derechos Humanos, Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras, Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc, Fundación México, National Lawyers' Guild, University of Arizona chapter, and Pan Left Productions.

Protesters will gather at Techea City Park (777 N. Grand Ave.) in Nogales, AZ at 10 a.m. From there they will march to the border. A flyer is available at the Derechos Humanos website, or they can be contacted at (520) 770-1373.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Take Action! Comment on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Rio Grande Border Wall.

Comments about the construction of border walls in Texas are being accepted as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). “Environmental Impact” includes the impact on the human environment, as well as on wildlife and the quality of water and air. It is important that we raise all of our concerns during this time.

Please write, fax or e-mail your comments in by October 15, 2007.

Here are a few ways to focus your comments:

Destruction of wildlife habitat. The lower Rio Grande Valley has already been cleared of 95% of the brush. In an area considered one of the most biologically diverse in North America, any additional destruction of brush, including clearing 508 acres for construction of the wall, will have severe consequences for wildlife. How will wildlife survive with their habitat limited by a wall? How will they get to and from the river, find food, shelter, and potential mates in habitat dissected by a wall? In some cases like Starr County, the Rio Grande is the only source of water for wildlife. Any animal that encounters miles of wall will have to travel long distances for a very basic necessity, water.

Endangered & rare species. The ocelot, jaguarundi and red-billed pigeon currently face the real possibility of extinction or extirpation. These are just a few of the endangered and rare species whose U.S. populations would certainly collapse with construction of the wall. The ability of rare species like the ocelot and jaguarundi to cross into Mexico helps keep wildlife populations healthy by maintaining a level of genetic integrity. Reduction of gene flow among or within populations will reduce the likelihood of long-term survival of these species. . A formal Section 7 Consultation under the Endangered Species Act needs to be done.

Violation of International Migratory Bird Treaty. If construction of the wall takes place during the spring, as stated in the Federal Register, many migratory and nesting birds will be affected. The clearing of brush will destroy thousands of nests, many with young birds in them. This is in direct violation of the International Migratory Bird Treaty.

Impact of construction. What will be the impacts of construction? Of roads for vehicles and heavy equipment? Of lighting and transmission lines?

Economic impact. Access will be cut off for wildlife enthusiasts interested in wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking along the river. Eco-tourism brings more than $125 million to the RGV annually from 200,000 eco-tourists, creating 2,500 jobs in the local economy. What are the economic impacts of limiting access to refuges, state parks, and other public and private parks and natural areas?

Community impact. A wall could mean uprooting families from their homes and demolishing or cutting off access to historical buildings and community centers. How many people will lose their homes? What buildings will be destroyed? How will property owners gain access to their land? What will the presence of a wall do to property values? How will there be public access to cemeteries and historical and archaeological sites along the river? Will there be access in case of fire or other emergencies on the other side of the fence?

Impact on agriculture. Farming is still the backbone of the economy in the Rio Grande Valley. How much agricultural land will be taken out of production by the wall? How will farmers gain access to their land? To their pumps and irrigation equipment? How will they bring farm equipment onto farmland behind a wall?

Impact on flood control. All the walled areas are in a floodplain. Has the Army Corps or DHS coordinated with FEMA? How will the wall affect the flood control levees? Will the IBWC have access to the levees and input in the construction? Will future widening of the levees result in even more habitat loss on the south side (since the wall is on the north side)?

Relations with Mexico and the rest of the world. Mexico will perceive the border wall as an insult. How will this affect the bi-national relations and cooperation? How will the border wall affect US relations with other countries and its standing in the world? What kind of example is the US setting of a free and open democratic society?

Alternatives to a physical wall. According to the National Environmental Policy Act, alternatives to projects must be explored. What are the comparative costs and impacts of alternatives to a border wall such as "virtual fencing," more boots on the ground, and comprehensive immigration reform?

Problems with the EIS. The EIS is geographically too limited. The EIS should look at total and cumulative impacts into the future. What about the impacts in other areas where a wall is proposed? How will the impacts of this initial proposed fencing change if the total amount of fencing called for by the Secure Fence Act is installed? What will be the environmental impacts of future needs of the wall such as maintenance and lighting?

Inadequate public comment period. The public comment period is less than thirty days. For a project of this magnitude, the public comment period should be extended. In addition, the website that was created to facilitate public comment has been been offline more than it has been up. This makes it difficult to access maps and other information, as well as preventing the public from using the coment feature on the site.

Submit your comments to Customs & Border Patrol by one of the following methods:

~ E-mail: RGVcomments@BorderFenceNEPA.com

~ Mail:
Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS
C/O e2M
2751 Prosperity Avenue, Ste. 200
Fairfax, Virginia 22031

~ Fax: (757)282-7697

~ Electronically:
www.BorderFenceNEPA.com (This website was removed on
Friday, September 28 and may or may not be up again.)

** Be sure to include you name, address and identify your comments as for the RGV Sector EIS.**

The deadline for public comments is October 15, 2007!