January 8, 2008

 

It is not often that our university finds itself in the middle of a national political debate, but this fall we were pulled right into the heart of an issue of great importance to all of us.

 

In early summer, we were notified of plans by the Department of Homeland Security to build a fence 18 feet high on top of the levee north of the ITEC campus, essentially placing ITEC on the Mexican side of the fence. In addition, the plans would also build a fence 18 feet high on top of the levee just south of the baseball field and of the EDBC parking lot, essentially placing all of the golf course on the Mexican side of the fence.  

 

In October, we received a letter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection asking for right of entry onto University property. The request sought access to survey University land for 18 months for the possible construction of the fence, to store equipment and supplies, take samples and to do any other work they found necessary for the proposed construction of the fence.  

 

The same letter informed us that they would not be responsible for any damage done during this time by their activities. Finally, the letter stated that should they determine need for any University land, the University would be paid market value for the land.  

 

I did not sign the letter that would have granted access for several reasons. I felt the action posed serious harm to the University on many fronts. 

 

1.) There is a risk to our property investment because the government seeks access to land from the levees to buildings in the very heart of our campus adjacent to the Student Union and the Life and Health Sciences Building. That means all of the activities cited in the letter could occur in any of the areas outlined in red in the map below.  

 

2.) But the right of entry was also refused because it was meant to support preparations for the building of a fence that would jeopardize our campus security. 

Crime statistics for all UT campuses are routinely collected and compared. In spite of our location deemed high risk because of our adjacency to the border, UTB/TSC does not experience a disproportionately high crime rate any more than a campus in Dallas or in Arlington. 

 

However, according to DHS, the plan to build a fence on the levees would be for the purpose of channeling illegal entrants to a point presumably for easy apprehension. That point is the same opening in the fence that would also be used for entry and exit to the golf course, the headquarters for our golf team and, directly behind, the baseball park and the REK Center. 

 

Having an opening in an 18-foot high fence for the purpose of channeling illegal entrants alongside our golf teams and adjacent to the baseball park, the new soccer field and the REK Center would greatly endanger our students and jeopardize campus security and safety.  

 

3.)  In addition, the building of a fence on this campus or adjacent to the campus runs counter to our mission, which is in part to convene the cultures of its community, foster an appreciation of the unique heritage of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, encourage the development and application of bilingual abilities in its students and provide academic leadership to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic life of the bi-national urban region it serves.  

 

To support a plan that would build an 18-foot-high steel barrier between two friendly countries would be to directly contravene our mission and destroy the campus climate that has been so painstakingly and carefully created. 

 

4.) UTB/TSC has become a key player in the promotion of the ecotourism industry and in the reclamation of important wildlife areas. The building of the fence structure would have negative environmental impact, disrupt the ecological systems of our region and obstruct the ongoing development of bike trails, jogging paths and eco-trails characteristic of our campus culture. 

 

5.) Finally, building the fence on the levees adjacent to campus would violate the important historical significance of the campus. Similar to ecotourism, historical tourism is a growth industry in our region. The University campus encompasses several of these significant historical sites, including historical Fort Brown and Fort Texas. The proposed site of the fence would place the original earthworks of Fort Texas on the Mexican side of the fence. 

 

Last month, the Department of the Army Corps of Engineers notified us of potential litigation to gain entry to the campus to evaluate it as a site for border security infrastructure. 

 

What is being demanded, under threat of legal action, is unimpeded access by military and civilian agencies to a UT System campus and its state and locally financed buildings for an extended period of time for purposes of determining if land and buildings will be condemned and seized.  

 

I believe this is sufficient cause for serious concern.   

 

The TSC Board passed a resolution in the fall supporting efforts of our government to secure our borders but against the construction of a fence in the region. We have asked UT System for support in denying this request. They have joined us in seeking alternative methods for securing the border aside from the construction of a fence on or adjacent to our campus.  

 

Of course, we believe in protecting our borders.

 

Of course, we believe in strong immigration policy.  

 

But we also understand that a fence, no matter how high or how wide is no substitute for either.    

                  

 Map of UTB/TSC campus

            

Red dotted line outlines university property. Yellow line is proposed fence. Red solid line is the right of entry request.