July 9 2004

Misguided Border Policy Continues With Triple Border Fence, Local Activists Say

By Perlita R. Dicochea

In view of the Tijuana hills, activists Amelia Simpson from the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) and Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) described the triple border fence as yet another misguided attempt to stop undocumented immigration.

Presenting at the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center last Friday evening, both Simpson and Rios placed the triple fence in the context of current border policies, such as Operation Gate-keeper and NAFTA, that they consider utter failures.

“The triple border fence is another example of failed border policy,” Pedro Rios said to an audience of 35. “It does nothing to deal with the root causes of migration. It does not promote bilateral relations. It only promotes a history of violence along the border,” Rios contended.

That history of violence Rios referred to includes the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe, the anti-Mexican activities of the Texas Rangers, and the 1994 massacre at the San Ysidro McDonald’s wherein a white male opened fire killing nearly 20 people, most of whom were Mexican nationals.

The triple border fence is 15 feet high and climb-proof. Mandated by Congress in 1996, the triple fence spans a total of 14 miles along the border between Otay Mesa and the Pacific Coast. The project includes 3 parallel fences and a high-speed road. The land between the 9 miles of triple parallel fences already completed stretches about 120 yards and remains barren.

A letter from Congressman Bob Filner to Assa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), confirms that the original cost of the project was $12 million, but the 9 miles already completed have cost nearly $26 million. Completion of the project is estimated to exceed $54 million.

Rios maintained that the Triple Fence is about how we place value on human life. “It’s about how we deal with immigration,” Rios stated.

In addition, the fence is viewed as a form of violence to the environment because it is expected to cause irreversible damage to the Tijuana River Estuary environs as well as cause erosion and flooding in Tijuana.

The Triple Fence in the Face of NAFTA

Revealing the triple fence as hardly a resolution to migration, Amelia Simpson focused her presentation on NAFTA as a prime facilitator of poverty, worker injustice, and environmental injustice.

“NAFTA did not bring prosperity to Mexico,” Simpson asserted. Instead, Simpson contended that NAFTA has exacerbated environmental pollution and workplace injustice, particularly by maquiladoras, and has benefited non-Mexican companies at the expense of Mexican worker safety and job security.

Referring to poor work conditions found in Tijuana, Simpson said, “(Maquiladoras) try to fire anyone who speaks up.” Simpson added that in one case, maquiladora management would count the number of toilet paper sheets workers used in the restroom. Management was so vigilant about workers’ restroom usage that some workers resorted to using diapers while on the job, Simpson said.

Further, Simpson helps maquiladora workers gather data on the types of chemicals used in particular industries, which is critical information for increasing worker safety. “Often labels are in Japanese or Korean and (staffers at EHC) cannot translate them.”

The bottom line for Simpson is that NAFTA failed to equalize environmental and labor law standards. There are 66 toxic waste sites along the border, yet, Simpson noted, the border toxic waste tracking system has been canceled and polluter inspections are down by 45%.

Rios agreed with the connections Simpson made between NAFTA and border policies that attempt to curb immigration.

“It’s not a coincidence that Gatekeeper was launched when new trade policies were implemented and would displace many Mexican workers,” Rios said.

Many of those displace are forced to cross the border in the desert regions of California, Arizona and Texas. The AFSC projects that by sum-mer’s end, 3000 people will have died crossing the border in treacherous desert areas since the inception of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994.

Resolutions to migration and workplace and environmental injustices involve fair trade principles and economic cohesion between the U.S. and Mexico so that Mexican cities may develop proper infrastructure, Simpson concluded.

As reported on the San Diego Independent Media Center website, the triple fence is proposed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service and was unanimously voted down on February 18th of this year by the California Coastal Commission.

This event was organized by the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice.

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