February 14, 2009
I thank you for joining us today.
Today we gather to commemorate the successful agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which we signed on July 31, 2008. In this agreement, DHS agreed to neither build a border fence on campus or to condemn University property. The university agreed to enhance its existing campus security fence.
This was not an easy stance for any of us to take – to decide against complying with a request made by the federal government.
We believe in securing our borders. We believe in good immigration policy. We did not believe that the border wall was an appropriate substitute for good policy.
In fact, the border wall ran counter to our very mission as a university. We work to convene the cultures of our community and foster an appreciation of the unique heritage of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We encourage the development and application of bilingual abilities in our students and provide academic leadership to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic life of the bin-nation urban region we serve.
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.
For this, and for many other reasons, we knew that we had to take a stand for what we believed to be right. We had to tell our government: not here.
I won’t go through all the detail of our court proceedings, especially since many of you here today lived and breathed it with us each step of the way last year.
However, I would like to publicly thank Judge Andrew Hanen for ensuring that our legal process worked as promised to us in the constitution and in the bill of rights. We were able to have our day in court. We were treated fairly. Both sides were ordered to work together to come up with a solution - a real compromise that would ensure that both our university and the Department of Homeland Security could carry out our missions.
And so today behind us stands the result of this agreement.
During the legal proceedings we realized that we already had a fence on our campus. Actually, we had kind of a hodge podge of security fences along our perimeter. Some of which we had built when new buildings went up, and some that were left over from the USDA when we purchased that property.
In our agreement, we proposed to standardize this fencing in a way that would meet DHS requirements, yet it would be *our* fence and we would keep our land.
On my car, I have a bumper sticker that says No Border Wall. And it has a picture of a fence topped with barbed wire. Along the way, someone suggested that it would be great if our fence was topped not with barbed wire, but with flowers.
And I agree. That notion just felt so right. It symbolizes the kind of struggle we were fighting. You know during the Vietnam War there was the war protest poster that had the photo of the gun barrel with a daisy sticking out of it? This is our protest poster.
Today we will plant vines and seeds of hope - hope that our nation will strengthen its democratic core values during this both difficult and hopeful time in our history.