By Jill Holslin
SAN DIEGO-TIJUANA, 1 June 2008- The presence of border patrol surveillance, a force clearly intended to intimidate, couldn’t suppress our delight with the sparkling Pacific waves, sunny skies and fresh breezes in Border Field State Park. Nor could the aggressive militarization of the border that we experienced at our vigil impede the generous exchange of ideas, stories and a spirit of cooperation with those who gathered to meet us on the other side of the fence in Playas de Tijuana.
A broad coalition of religious organizations, immigrant rights and environmental groups, activists joined together on June 1 at Friendship Park in San Diego-Playas de Tijuana for a peaceful vigil calling for the immediate halt to the DHS project to construct a massive, aggressive triple border wall and border patrol road through the center of the park. Speakers at the San Diego-Tijuana Vigil included John Fanestil, of the Foundation for Change; Rosemary Johnston, of the Interfaith Shelter Network; Daniel Watman, leader of the Border Meetup Group; Jamie Gates, Point Loma Nazarene University.
Border Field State Park marks the southern end of the Tijuana Estuary, a unique habitat in the National Estuarine Reserve Research System. We stand vigil in solidarity with people all along the 1900-mile US-Mexico Border, including friends in “Hope Park” in Brownsville, Texas where the University of Texas, Brownsville and Texas Southmost College have become a battleground over the border fence project. DHS plans to build a border wall on campus property, dividing one part of the campus from another.
In Tucson, June 1 marks the conclusion of the "Migrant Trail," which
this week has seen dozens of activists march 75 miles through the
At Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, friends will gather in
solidarity in Santa Elena Canyon, near the banks of the Rio Grande.
Our vigil at Friendship Park
Click here for SLIDE SHOW on my Public Gallery
COALITION STATEMENT: An Offense to the Peoples of San Diego & Tijuana
We call for an immediate halt to the construction of supplementary border fencing near the coast in San Diego. This Federal Government project is an offense to the peoples of the San Diego/Tijuana region.
We call on elected officials at all levels of government to convene public hearings so that the far-reaching implications of this project will be brought to light, and so that alternatives can be explored. While reinforcing the current fence on the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, the Department of Homeland Security is now building supplementary fencing along the border’s western-most 3.5 miles.
The second fence – twenty feet high, made of steel mesh, and angled at the top – will stand north of the border at distances ranging from 130 feet to over 800 feet. DHS plans call for grading and clearing the land between these two barriers, uprooting all native vegetation and constructing an all-weather patrol road made of decomposed granite. A third fence will be built 20 to 24 feet north of the secondary fence, allowing for the construction of a maintenance road in between. Lights, sensors and cameras will span the project, which will run all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The project is one of the largest public-works projects in recent San Diego history. Cutting into the mesa tops and filling the alternating canyons, DHS will be re-locating over 3 million cubic yards of earth. The total cost of the project will exceed $70 million. The scale and scope of this project – and an honest assessment of its impact on our region – demand the public’s attention.
Toward this end we submit the following.
The plan to construct this supplementary fencing …
… is an abuse of the Executive Branch’s constitutional authority. To enable construction of supplementary fencing on the border, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has voided over 30 federal, state and local laws and regulations. While a 2005 act of Congress granted this authority to DHS officials, to date they have refused to submit their final construction plans for congressional oversight or release these plans for outside review or public scrutiny.
… is a Big Government boondoggle. Tens of millions of dollars in government contracts are being finalized without accountability, without Environmental Protection and State inspections and permits, without public input, without cooperation from the Mexican government, and without demonstrated commitment to sound engineering, anti-erosion, and hydrological practices.
… is a land-grab by the Federal Government. At least one hundred acres of San Diego County land and California State land, long held for recreational and open-space use by the public, have now been condemned for exclusive Federal Government use. County and State taxpayers have invested over one half billion dollars across many decades to acquire, improve and protect lands along the Tijuana River Valley Estuary and the adjacent border highlands. These public investments are now being placed at great and enduring risk.
… threatens the vitality of the Tijuana Estuary. The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is a combination of county, state and federal lands preserving one of the few salt marshes remaining in California. This fragile ecosystem is home to over 370 species of migratory and native birds, including six endangered species, and has been declared a “Wetland of International Importance” by the International Ramsar Committee, which promotes wetland conservation throughout the world. Because it depends on the unobstructed ebb and flow of the coastal tides, the estuary could be severely impacted by DHS plans to relocate such massive quantities of erosion-prone soil. The grading alone will remove or impact the habitat for twelve species of rare plants. There are no suitable mitigation sites left in San Diego for these coastal species, because of development. Having waived laws that guarantee compliance with environmental protection, DHS cannot presently be held accountable for its plans to control for erosion, sedimentary runoff, backwater flooding, and other risks.
… will thwart the purpose of Border Field State Park. Border Field State Park is built around a stone monument placed on site on June 16, 1851 as the first marker of the new boundary between the United States and Mexico. At the heart of the park’s 396 acres lies “Friendship Park,” with a central plaza at the international boundary, allowing people from Mexico and the United States to visit through the border fence. DHS plans will result in “unmitigatable adverse impacts to public use and enjoyment” of the Park, according to the California Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission describes the proposed construction as “mutually inconsistent with the recreation goals” of visitors to the Park.
… will destroy a rich cultural landscape. The construction will limit or prevent public access to many historic and cultural resources, while outright destroying others. At jeopardy are pre-historic and Native American archeological sites, early Spanish exploration and settlement routes, remains of early ranches, the 1850s border monument, and WWII coastal defense gun control bunkers. These are places that matter to the citizens of both nations.
… is a most inefficient allocation of law enforcement resources. The Congressional Research Service reports that apprehensions within the bounds of the Border Patrol’s two western-most stations fell by over 94 percent between 1993 and 2005. Border-crossings near the coast have already been brought to a virtual halt.
… continues a failed border enforcement strategy. Heightened border enforcement near the coast does not prevent migration, but pushes migrants into more dangerous rural areas along the border. This strategy has created a human rights disaster: since the implementation of the Southwest Border Enforcement Strategy in the mid-1990s, to date more than 5,000 people have died crossing inhospitable areas into the United States. The construction of additional barriers along the border does nothing to address the economic disparities which drive Mexican migration to the United States.
… discourages bi-national partnership and cooperation. By reinforcing – both literally and symbolically – the division between our region’s two nations, the construction of more barriers promotes mutual suspicion and mistrust. Additional barriers make it more difficult to create peaceful relationships and partnerships that can help to resolve our region’s problems. The challenges we face in our border region are real and complex. They require solutions that are realistic and forward-looking. The future of our region depends on the peoples and governments of Mexico and the United States working in concert to create greater degrees of economic equality and social justice. The construction of supplementary border fencing by unilateral decree of the U.S. Federal Government drives another wedge between the people of our sister cities when we should, instead, be promoting greater bi-national collaboration. We call on elected officials at all levels of government to convene public hearings so that the far-reaching implications of this project will be brought to light, and so that alternatives can be explored.
Organizations endorsing as of May 28, 2008
Activist San Diego
American Civil Liberties Union, San Diego & Imperial Counties
American Friends Service Committee – U.S./Mexico Border Program
San Diego Audubon Society
Border Meetup Group
California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter
Center for Social Advocacy
Citizens’ Oversight Projects (COPs)
San Diego Coastkeeper
Endangered Habitats League
Environmental Health Coalition
Foundation for Change
San Diego Friends Meeting
Fundación La Puerta
Green Party of San Diego County
Immigrant Rights Consortium
Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
Lipan Apache (El Calaboz) Women Defense
Peace Resource Center of San Diego
Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental (PFEA)
Save Our Heritage Organisation
Sí Se Puede Immigrants’ Rights Organization
Sierra Club, San Diego Chapter