June 19, 2008
At the beginning of this year, the federal government filed a lawsuit against UTB/TSC seeking a right of entry that would allow federal agencies to survey land for the proposed U.S.-Mexico border fence. Just prior to the hearing on that suit, scheduled for March 19th, the University and the Department of Justice entered into an agreed order that allowed limited access to campus, but required investigations to study alternatives to a border fence and the impact of additional security measures.
The agreed order was significant for a number of reasons. While the original request for entry by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had asked for 18 months of unlimited access into the very heart of our campus and absolved DHS from any damages that might result from its work on our campus, the agreed order limited access to 6 months on a much smaller area restricted to the land adjacent to the levees and required DHS to either repair the damage or make an appropriate settlement. The order also specified that DHS would not be allowed to clear land or otherwise alter the physical landscape of the university, required DHS to give Campus Police prior notice of all activities on the property, and take all reasonable action to promote safety and minimize any impact on our educational activities.
By entering into the agreement, DHS consented to consider our unique status as an institution of higher education, to jointly assess alternatives to a physical barrier, and to conduct investigations in order to minimize the impact of any tactical infrastructure on the environment, culture, commerce and quality of life for the communities and residents located near the University.
Finally, the agreed court order was also significant because the judge recommended that DHS consider using the process set out as a template for dealing with other landowners regarding the border fence.
Therefore, in good faith we agreed to allow DHS access to our campus under the terms of the agreed order, and we have been attempting to collaborate fully with representatives from DHS, Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, continuous attempts to try to work together with DHS have been futile. Instead, contrary to its earlier agreement, DHS has bluntly stated that it is not interested in seeking alternatives.
We, on the other hand, have proceeded to comply with the court order, investing hundreds of hours of time and engaged the services of experts at our own expense to seek alternative mechanisms for providing a secure border and safety for our students and university community.
Our attempts to work responsibly and transparently and to engage DHS in the joint assessment process have been summarily dismissed. Instead, DHS has unilaterally proceeded on its original plans for constructing a fence.
The land on which they seek to build the fence would effectively slice off up to 180 acres of university property from the rest of the campus, severely curtailing critical and valuable expansion land for the university’s future growth and relegating the property to a “no-man’s land.”
DHS has decided to renege on their March 19th agreement to work with us and instead is attempting to force upon us a fence that it knows to be poorly sited. DHS explains this lesser choice as a consequence of needing to satisfy a deadline set in the Secure Fence Act. While it should be demanding the means to offer the best solution, it instead seems willing to rush into a less effective, more expedient one.
Many, both inside and outside DHS, worry that the fence will actually have negative unintended consequences. We have good reason to worry that the proposed fence will, in fact, reduce the security of students and the community and believe that the local community and the nation at large would be better served by a more deliberate approach to this urgent need.
Today, we filed a Motion for Relief in federal court. The filing was in reaction to a notice we received from the Department of the Army informing us that they intend to seize 2.11 acres of university land on which to construct the border fence. The motion asks the court to enforce the provisions of the Order of Dismissal agreed upon in March. Federal Judge Andrew S. Hanen immediately took note of our motion and has set a hearing for June 30th.
The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College share the commitment that Congress and our nation has to protecting our homeland. We know that America’s security is a national responsibility. However, we also know that what is needed is authentic security, which can only be achieved when it deploys all of our assets, including fully resourced enforcement, a stable economy, trustworthy and open governance, and an educated citizenry.
Further, we are duty bound to preserve the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff. We believe in protecting our borders. But we also believe that the rule of law and the principles that guide our democracy must also be protected. These include open and fair government processes and the property rights of individuals and state institutions. We deserve to be treated fairly and given the due process afforded by our laws. No more, but certainly not less.
Juliet V. García, Ph.D.