April 20, 2008

This Land Condemned

Acknowledging that you’re in an abusive relationship is the first step towards reclaiming your identity, and it’s not an easy process. It may be that civic relationships can be imbalanced in regards to power and/or co-dependency issues. As news becomes more widespread about the injustices of this administration, maybe the shock will help people recognize the tug around the neck is not a glorious necklace but a pull of the leash.
Government authority is crossing a line
By Raul Reyes
Last week, Eloisa Tamez, 73, lost the latest round in her ongoing fight with the U.S. government. A judge ordered her to let Washington survey her land near Brownsville, Texas. It lies in the path of a proposed border fence. Now, Tamez, heir to an original Spanish land grant dating to the 1700s, fears that her property will be seized with good reason.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently waived more than 30 laws in order to expedite construction of the border fence. He did so with little regard for the concerns of residents, local officials and environmentalists.
And though the proposed path would cut through the properties of many citizens, it would bypass land owned by the wealthy and politically connected. The Texas Observer reported that the fence would detour around the River Bend Resort and golf course, as well as developments owned by the Hunt family, whose members are major supporters of President Bush. The fence would also cause irreparable damage to wildlife; two Texas nature preserves would wind up in Mexico. They'd likely have to close. [see blog February 11, 2008, Unpeaceable Kingdom re environmental damage]
[...] Yet two recent polls by CBS and CNN show that Americans rank illegal immigration lowest on their short list of the most pressing national problems.
The fence wouldn't solve our immigration crisis. It would simply divert crossings to other places along the 2,000 mile border. It would do nothing about the 12 million unauthorized migrants already here. In fact, nearly half of all illegal immigrants entered the country legally and overstayed their visas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right in assessing the fence as a waste of money.
Moreover, Congress has ceded too much power to Chertoff. In 2005, it granted him the authority to waive laws while prohibiting federal appeals courts from reviewing his decisions, undermining the system of checks and balances enshrined in our Constitution. Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have filed petitions with the Supreme Court challenging the legality of the waiver. I hope the court accepts the case and voids the grant of power. Alternatively, Congress should revoke this power because it is being abused.
In the meantime, Chertoff has free rein to destroy fragile ecosystems, flout our laws and trample on the rights of citizens like Tamez. How sad that we are willing to undermine our Constitution for an expensive, wasteful monument to American insecurity.
Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

Here is the story from the Houston Star Chronicle. Please be forewarned that I've probably intruded too much bold and comments:
April 11, 2008, 6:21PM
Judge grants U.S. access to land in border fence suit
McALLEN, Texas[s] — [...] U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen on Thursday denied Eloisa Tamez's motion to dismiss the government's condemnation lawsuit and ordered her to give six-month access to three acres of land in El Calaboz, part of a Spanish land grant to her family near Brownsville.
Tamez, a 73-year-old nursing program administrator at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, had fought the government since it sued her in late January. Her case, handled by the nonprofit Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles, was the most time-consuming for Hanen. [Poor Judge Hanen was inconvenienced!]
[...] Tamez had argued that the government's case should be dismissed because it did not negotiate before suing and that talks after the fact should not count. Hanen disagreed, saying that to make the government drop its case only to inevitably refile would be frivolous. [huh? What about settling standards, limits, a sign, guidance?]
[...] Hanen wrote, "the Court is quite sympathetic to both parties. Any landowner, not just Dr. Tamez, would like to know the exact details of what the Government will be doing on his or her property." But the government is in a "Catch-22" because it will not know the scope of its work until it is on the property, Hanen wrote.
"This is certainly a case where the parties are 'unable to agree on a reasonable price,'" Hanen wrote. So the condemnation was allowed to move ahead.
[...] South Texas property owners have given the government its stiffest resistance. Unlike more remote parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Rio Grande Valley is heavily populated and closely tied by blood and commerce to sister cities across the Rio Grande.
In pursuit of completing a congressionally-mandated goal of having 670 miles of fencing in place along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year, the Bush administration said last week that it will use its authority to bypass more than 30 laws and regulations.
"Though we will try to accommodate landowner concerns, we cannot indefinitely delay our efforts or engage in endless debate when national security requires that we build the fence," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.
On Monday, Hanen appeared ready to rule against another of the final holdouts: the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District.
In wording similar to the original Tamez order, Hanen indicated that the school district's arguments against giving access to its 132-acre campus on the Rio Grande would not hold up. He gave the government until April 18 to provide evidence of bona fide negotiations.
And let's finish with this from CNN:
Border fence dispute brings Texas showdown
By Jeanne Meserve, CNN
EL CALABOZ, Texas (CNN) -- Eloisa Tamez said she isn't scared anymore, just determined. "I am not backing down," she said.
Tamez owns three acres of land along the Texas-Mexico border where the Department of Homeland Security would like to build a border fence. The property is a remnant of a 12,000-acre grant from Spain to her family in 1767, before the United States even existed.
"It is my history. It is my heritage," Tamez said.
This week, the Justice Department began legal action against landowners and municipalities who have refused to give government surveyors access to their land.
Tamez expects she will be sued sometime soon, but she is not intimidated.
Asked how long she will fight, she said, "As long as I have to."
[...] Richard Cortez, the mayor of the border town of McAllen, Texas, believes hiring more Border Patrol agents, deepening the Rio Grande, and clearing its banks of tall vegetation would provide better border protection than the fence.
Cortez calls the fence "a multibillion-dollar speed bump," which will slow, but not stop, illegal immigration.
"It is a false sense of security," he said. "America will not be safe. America will continue to waste resources on something that is not going to work."
[...] While expressing support for open dialogue with residents and officials, David Pagan of U.S. Customs and Border Protection wrote in an e-mail, "We do not plan to suspend work on the construction of fence in order to hold a series of additional consultation meetings."
Cortez said his city is contemplating a court test of the law that mandated the construction of the border fence.
And so a battle is being waged by about 100 landowners, those like Eloisa Tamez who are standing firm. "I will not allow them to come and survey my land. I have an American-given right to protect my property," she said.

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