By Perlita R. Dicochea
Five panelists representing local human rights and environmental groups as well as political representatives spoke to an audience of 100 last Friday night at the Joyce Beers Center in Hillcrest to discuss the negative cultural, environmental and political impacts of the triple border fence Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) latest plan for curbing undocumented border crossers.
The public forum was jointly organized by the Organic Collective and the San Diego Action Network in an effort to inform the public and strengthen the movement to stop the completion of the remaining 3.5 miles of the project.
At the forum, The Organic Collective distributed a statement that reads, “The Triple Border Fence embodies the most racist and violent face of so called ‘Free Trade’ which allows capital to flow freely across borders, but not the people who create the capital.”
The triple border fence is 15 feet high and climb-proof. Mandated by Congress in 1996, the triple fence spans a total of 14 miles along the border between Otay Mesa and the Pacific Coast. The project includes 3 parallel fences and a high-speed road. The land between the 9 miles of triple parallel fences already completed stretches about 120 yards and remains barren.
“It looks like an airstrip,” Jim Peugh, Chair of the San Diego Audubon Society, said. “The land (between the fences) is smoothed over. There is no environmental life,” Peugh observed on his trip to the fences earlier that day. “Once built, this fence will never be taken down. The physical impact is tremendous,” Peugh explained to the full conference room.
The economic impact of the triple fence is also tremendous. An official letter to Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, from Congressman Bob Filner confirms the original cost of the project was $12 million, but the 9 miles already completed have cost nearly $26 million. Congressman Filner’s statement asserts that completion of the project will exceed $54 million.
If completed through the inland canyons and mesas to the Pacific Ocean, the triple fence is expected to endanger the Tijuana River Estuary environs and cause irreversible erosion and major flooding in Tijuana.
According to a statement from the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, the amendment to the Homeland Security bill that prioritizes the triple border fence under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) undermines environmental legislations including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
In addition, the Environmental Impact Statement drafted by the INS is argued to be inadequate.
Peugh contended about the erosion that will be caused by the fences, “The Border Patrol has the audacity to say that they will solve the problem.”
The space for increased human right abuses was another concern expressed by several panelists. “(The triple border fence) creates a space of impunity for the Border Patrol,” Christian Ramirez, Program Coordinator of the U.S./Mexico Border Program at The American Friends Service Committee, said. “(Within the border fences) there are no witnesses to human rights violations,” Ramirez added.
Likening the proposed project to a U.S. version of the Berlin Wall, Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels and Chair of the Border Commission to Mexican President Vicente Fox, said, “This fence gives the wrong message and it is hypocritical. The U.S. tells Gorbachev to take down their wall, and here our President still has his.”
Besides environmental and human rights concerns, the triple fence is seen as an insult to our un-consulted Mexican neighbor and as a nemesis to cooperative border culture.
“Good fences do not make good neighbors,” Mike McCoy, Board Member of the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association, said. McCoy explained that many local residents have worked toward breaking down barriers in projects like Border Field. “Now (the INS) wants to trash it.”
Ramirez agreed, “This fence is a complete offense to our reality. We cannot accept it. They are patrolling our communities under the guise of a war on terror. Really what we are experiencing is a perpetual 9/11 since 1848.”
While Congressman Duncan Hunter’s website highlights reducing “drive-through of vehicles carrying drugs across the border” as a prime object of the triple fence, the Mexican/U.S. border has become a target of war-on-terrorism initiatives.
With regard to war-on-terror justifications for the triple border fence, Jonathan Hardy, representing State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny, assessed, “A proposal of this magnitude is unheard of and too drastic. If the triple border fence really was about security, DHS would take over the project.” Hardy declared that Senator Ducheny is against the triple fence.
Congressman Bob Filner’s statement to Under Secretary Hutchinson includes a similar argument that “The plan mistakenly equates ‘more fencing’ with ‘security’.” Congressman Filner’s perspective is that one fence is enough.
For Ramirez, the fence only offers the “appearance of a controlled border.” He assessed, “It plays on fear and paranoia.”
The triple border fence also offers the appearance of San Quentin. Offended audience members described the fences as ugly, monstrous and prison-like.
McCoy asked, “Why do we want such a permanent fence with our greatest economic ally?”
Peugh reached the conclusion that if the triple fence does not increase security “its purpose must be to stop people from going to work.”
The California Coastal Commission must decide whether or not to approve the Department of Homeland Securities plan to build the fence through the last 3.5 miles extending to the Pacific Ocean.
San Diegans opposed to the completion of the triple border fence are encouraged to attend the hearing at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, 11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 18th at 10 a.m.
For more information contact email@example.com or visit www.organiccollective.org.