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Subject: Border leaders ask Thompson to help fight border wall


Date: Monday, February 25, 2008 8:47:06 AM

Border leaders ask Thompson to help fight border wall


23 February 2008
María González-Escareño
Rio Grande Guardian

LAREDO, February 23 - Border political, business, and education leaders on Friday asked the chairman
of the House Homeland Security Committee to help them in areas where the Department of Homeland
Security has been lacking.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, met privately with the Texas Border Coalition and U.S. Rep. Henry
Cuellar, D-Laredo, to discuss issues such as international bridge wait times, Carrizo cane elimination,
and the proposed border fence. They then held a news conference at La Posada Hotel to brief local
media on their deliberations.

“He is an individual who understands that we have to look at a different approach when we deal with
the border,” said Cuellar, referring to Thompson. Cuellar is a member of the House Homeland Security
Committee.

TBC has been sharply critical of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for not entering into
meaningful dialogue on the issue of the border fence, as mandated by Congress. The group hopes
Thompson can use his influence to get DHS to worth with border communities on the issue. The
importance border leaders placed on the meeting with Thompson can be judged by who participated.

University of Texas at Brownsville-Texas Southmost College President Juliet Garcia, who does not
usually attend TBC meetings, was present. DHS plans to erect a border fence through the UTB-TSC
campus.

Roma Mayor Rogelio Ybarra, Alamo Mayor Rudy Villarreal, and Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster were
present. DHS plans to erect a border fence through Roma, Alamo, and Eagle Pass.

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas was present for the meeting. Salinas has just brokered a deal with
Chertoff to have a levee-wall built rather than a border fence.

Also present were Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, IBC Bank Vice President Gerry Schwebel, IBC Bank Senior
Vice President Eddie Aldrete, Laredo Development Foundation Executive Director Roger Creery, City of
McAllen governmental affairs director Teclo Garcia, McAllen business leader Monica Weisberg-Stewart,
who co-chairs the TBC’s immigration committee, Mission Economic Development Authority President and
CEO Pat Townsend,

Thompson said that his visit to Laredo was “instructive” for himself and his committee. The Mississippi
congressman was critical of the management of DHS, saying one of the problems they are facing is that
there is no real border security plan and that the department constantly changes its opinions on how to
secure the border.

“That has significant economic impact on this entire region,” said Thompson. “So we look forward to
going back, taking this information, as well as the conversation with individuals here, to force the
department to be proactive in his border security initiative but also to listen to the local communities.”

Thompson said he got a first-hand look at two facilities along the Rio Grande and at the Carrizo cane
problem along the river, adding that he's heard about DHS's proposal of using biological control to
eradicate the cane. He also referred to the situation in the University of Texas at Brownsville, which will
have its campus split in half if the fence is built as planned, adding that this doesn't make sense in the
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name of putting a fence up.

“It’s been quite instructive,” said Thompson. “I look forward to working with Representative Cuellar on
changing the strategies that don't make sense and supporting the ones that do.”

Another topic of discussion was the proposed “virtual” wall in Arizona, known as Project 28, Thompson
said the project is eight months overdue and has encountered problems such as lack of communication
between law enforcement entities and technology deficiencies. Thompson said that on the last site visit
the committee had, the cameras could not tell the difference between a human being and a coyote.

“We will take the Secretary to task on making sure we are paying exactly what our money is invested
in,” said Thompson. “So I would hope that we solve those system integration problems.”

The secretary Thompson was referring to is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Thompson also discussed the concern border communities have had with DHS's compliance with
providing local input on the proposed border fence. Asked to comment on the 18 town hall meetings
DHS claims to have had along the border, Thompson said that the committee's perspective is that there
needs to be local input.

The congressman said that from what he could gather from local community officials, when these “so-
called” meetings took place, questions had to be sent in advance and only certain people were invited.

“So really, you don't get a full sense of what the community position on this issue is when you limit
participation. If the department maintains that as their town hall meetings then in my estimation they
are wrong,” said Thompson.

Thompson also said that DHS needs to open up to the public and that the communities need to defend
what they are doing, adding that anytime participation is limited, democracy begins to wane.

“I will carry that message back to the Secretary to say to him that it is clear from my discussion that
those town hall meetings were in fact masquerades of what they really should be,” said Thompson.

Eagle Pass Mayor and TBC Chair Chad Foster said that TBC has met with DHS officials, and that the
Coalition is focused on getting rid of Carrizo cane, upgrading technology on the border, and looking at
alternatives to the border fence.

“Secretary Chertoff appears to be hyper-focused on building fences and walls when the Texas Border
Coalition, our focus is securing the Texas border,” said Foster. “Not that long ago, President Reagan
asked President Gorbachev to tear down the wall, and we are creating one with our neighbor to the
south and that neighbor is going to be here tomorrow.”

Thompson concluded the press conference addressing additional costs that will surface if the fence is
built, such as maintenance and the role law enforcement agencies will play in surveillance of the fence.
He said that from an economic and cultural stand point, he and the majority of the Homeland Security
Committee are convinced that the fence is not the best way to secure the border.

“We think in a country a sophisticated as the United States of America, to go back to this very primitive
method of protection is something that should not be allowed,” said Thompson.