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MCC workers attend congressional hearing on the border fence

Tammy Alexander
June 17, 2008

WASHINGTON – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) staff from the MCC Washington Office and MCC Central States attended a congressional field hearing in Brownsville, Texas, April 28 on the impact of the U.S.-Mexico border fence on the environment and local communities.

The April 1 announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that it would waive 37 laws to expedite construction of the border fence prompted the hearings. The lack of consultation with sanctuary managers, local communities and Native American communities regarding this action is of particular concern.

Laws waived include the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

As part of a coalition of religious and environmental groups, the MCC Washington Office has been active in bringing attention to the devastating impacts that construction of the border fence is having on the environment.  Nearly one quarter of the border region is public land, including national wildlife refuges, national monuments and national forests.

In the Brownsville area, the fence will be built north of the Rio Grande, cutting off a vital source of water for wildlife and leaving the Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, parts of the University of Texas at Brownsville and many parcels of private property south of the fence without easy access for people. Working together with Border Patrol over the past several years, managers at Sabal Palm had seen illegal crossings in the sanctuary drop significantly, but now it looks as if the fence is going ahead without any such consultation or cooperation.

Although the security provided by the fence is largely symbolic – Border Patrol estimates the fence will slow down the average migrant by just a few minutes – the fence has widespread support in the U.S. Congress. In the absence of serious immigration reform legislation, the fence is the lawmaker's symbolic show for a tough stance on immigration.

Nancy Rivera is on staff in the MCC Central States office in Edinburg, Texas – in close proximity to the proposed fence. As a result of her work with area congregations in the United States and Mexico, Rivera knows the communities on both sides are interdependent.  The fence will restrict not only wildlife but also the daily lives and fellowship of Mexican and U.S. border resident.

As Bishop Raymundo Peña of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville noted in his testimony at the hearing, "No fence we can build will be long enough or high enough to wall out the human and economic forces that drive undocumented immigrants into our country… Instead of a wall, we need national policies that help overcome the pervasive poverty and deprivation, violence and oppression that push people to leave their own homes."

Concerned citizens can take action by contacting their senators and representatives in the U.S. Congress to ask that construction of the border fence not be allowed to violate U.S. laws designed to protect human health, human rights and the natural environment.