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Government takes testimony on border fence as hundreds protest

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    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5371130.html Government takes testimony on border fence as hundreds protest By ELIZABETH WHITE Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2007
      http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5371130.html
      Government takes testimony on 
      border fence as hundreds protest

      By ELIZABETH WHITE Associated Press Writer

      McALLEN, Texas -- Gloria Garza doesn't know whether submitting her
      comments to the government about a plan to construct 70 miles of fence
      along the U.S.-Mexico border will help stop it. But she said it's the
      best thing she can think of to do.

      Garza was among hundreds of people who protested the fence Tuesday at a
      rally that coincided with a federally sponsored open house to gather
      public comment on a draft study of the fence plans for the Rio Grande
      Valley.

      "I'm here to protest against this wall because it's going to destroy
      homes," said Garza, 25, a McAllen resident. "There's a better
      solution."


      After attending the rally, Garza said she planned to wait in line to
      put her opinion about the fence on the federal record.

      Tuesday's open house was the first of three meant to gather public
      input on the draft Environmental Impact Statement assessing the
      potential effects of proposed fencing that would span 21 different
      sections of the Valley and total about 70 miles.

      At the event, four stations were set up with poster-sized maps and
      bullet points, with officials from agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol
      on hand to answer questions.

      In another area, people could submit handwritten or typewritten
      comments or get their comments transcribed.

      "We're here to listen, that's what it's all about," said Barry
      Morrissey, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is
      an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

      Morrissey noted that the open house was to take comment on the impact
      statement. Still, he said all comments were welcomed and expected many
      to be on whether a fence should be constructed at all.

      While much of the rally was about opposition to the fence as a whole,
      some people had worries about possible impacts in specific areas.

      Carmen Perez Garcia, 60, of McAllen, said she's worried about wildlife.

      "We're going to destroy precious habitat," she said. "I think our
      environment would be horribly damaged."

      Other open houses were set for Wednesday in Brownsville and Thursday in
      Rio Grande City, Morrissey said.

      Pat Ahumada, mayor of Brownsville, said city leaders were scheduled to
      meet with Homeland Security officials at noon Wednesday to discuss the
      border fence. Ahumada plans to submit an alternative plan for a
      "virtual fence" that he says would be more effective.

      A protest against the border fence is planned for later in the day.

      Early during Tuesday's open house, several of the ralliers interrupted,
      yelling over a short presentation being given about the impact
      statement and opportunity to comment.

      "I'm making my comment," yelled Ruben Solis, who held a "No Border
      Wall" sign, when told he could make his remarks another way.

      A few of the others who were there to give their opinions on the fence
      clapped. Others shouted back.

      "I live here and I want a wall," said Alton Moore. "I believe we should
      be a nation of laws. I think he (Solis) should follow normal channels."

      After several minutes, the protesters left.

      Greg Gephart, deputy program manager for tactical infrastructure for
      Customs and Border Protection, said a final impact statement will be
      released in February.

      "Will it (fence placement) change? It may, it may not," Gephart said.
      "These are not final locations."

      McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius said he didn't
      think the federal government was taking the open houses seriously.

      "From our perspective they're just going through the motions," Ahlenius
      said.

      Morrissey said that by holding three open houses instead of just one,
      the government was going beyond its responsibility to gather public
      comment.

      Ahlenius said the idea was for the protesters to show up for the rally
      and then stay to testify to "lay a foundation" that residents oppose
      the fence in case residents or city officials decide to sue the
      government later.

      The government will take public comment until Dec. 31, Morrissey said.

      The heavily populated Rio Grande Valley has been the center of
      opposition to the planned fence, a combination of steel fence and
      "virtual fencing" designed to stop illegal immigration and smuggling.
      But landowners and government officials complain the fence will cut
      them off from the Rio Grande, a historically significant waterway to
      Texas and the only source of fresh water in the region for livestock
      and crops. They also say it will do little to stop illegal immigration
      and smuggling and essentially cede miles of riverfront land to Mexico.

      Federal officials, however, say that without immigration reform
      legislation, the fence is the only acceptable way to secure the border.

      Some senators are questioning a decision by Homeland Security Secretary
      Michael Chertoff to conduct an environmental impact statement for
      Texas, but skip one for Arizona, where the fence will traverse the San
      Pedro Riparian Conservation Area.

      In October, Chertoff invoked power given to him by Congress to waive 19
      environmental laws after a court blocked construction of the 2-mile
      fence in the Arizona conservation area.

      About a month earlier, the Homeland Security Department announced it
      was preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, to study
      possible effects of fence construction along 70 miles of the
      Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. An EIS requires public
      hearings and is a more thorough study.

      Environmental assessments have been ordered for fencing planned on
      other parts of the Texas-Mexico border.

      The Homeland Security Department did an environmental assessment for
      Arizona, a study that does not require as much public input and is not
      as in-depth.


      ___

      Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report.

      ___

      On the Net:

      U.S. Customs and Border Protection: http://www.cbp.gov

      Rio Grande Valley EIS: http://www.borderfencenepa.com

      ----------------------------------------------------------------------


      Brought to you by the HoustonChronicle.com



      =========================================================


      Huckabee Gets Minuteman Head's Backing

      COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — The founder of the Minuteman Project, the anti-illegal immigrant group, endorsed Republican Mike Huckabee on Tuesday, while Huckabee dismissed a presidential rival's immigration criticism as the work of "the tattletale in the third grade."

      At a news conference hastily arranged to cope with a crippling ice storm, Huckabee brought out Minuteman head Jim Gilchrist, whose private group patrols the Mexican border on its own to keep out illegal immigrants.

      "For months now, I've been searching for a candidate to support for president of the United States," said Gilchrist. He said he settled on Huckabee as the candidate whose plans were most likely to halt "this illegal immigrant invasion problem."

      Huckabee has soared in the polls recently, jumping into the lead in Iowa where caucuses in less than a month launch the presidential nominating season. Rival Romney, who has spent millions in the state and for months was the leader, began running a TV ad Tuesday assailing Huckabee on immigration.
      "It's the first one of the season and we're honored to be in the middle of it," said Huckabee. "I think the people of Iowa, who have been through this so many times, will vote for somebody who has a plan for the future of America, not just somebody who is looking around and saying, like the tattletale in third grade, 'let me tell you what this guy is doing.'"

      "We didn't like it when we were in the third grade, I don't think we like it electing a president either," said Huckabee.

      Asked to clarify his comparison to a third-grader, Huckabee opted to repeat it.

      "When all of us were in school there was usually in the class somebody who loved to tattle," said Huckabee. "Usually the tattler is not the most popular kid in the classroom. When the person who runs for office becomes sort of the class tattler, that doesn't necessarily make people endeared to them."

      In the ad, Romney says his record and Huckabee's are alike in many ways.

      "The difference? Mitt Romney stood up and vetoed in-state tuition for illegal aliens, opposed driver's licenses for illegals. Mike Huckabee? Supported in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants. Huckabee even supported taxpayer-funded scholarships for illegal aliens. On immigration, the choice matters."

      Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, said Tuesday, "The federal government has completely and miserably failed in dealing with this issue. During the time that I was governor, we were dealing with, in essence, the fallout from that failure."

      He described Gilchrist as "a person who just got fed up with what he saw as a breakdown of his own government."

      "Since October of 2004 he's been one of the leading voices in this country trying to bring sanity to an issue that's spiraled," said Huckabee.

      He defended his own decision as governor to allow education assistance to children of illegal immigrants: "You don't punish a child for the crime a parent commits."

      He said last week that as president he would seal the Mexican border, hire more agents to patrol it and make illegal immigrants go home before they could apply to return to this country.

      Huckabee was forced to cancel much of his schedule for Tuesday because of the snow and ice, but made it into Council Bluffs for the news conference and headed to a campaign event in Des Moines later in the day.

      Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.



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