July 31, 2008

UTB, Government Work Toward Compromise

By Kevin Sieff, The Brownsville Herald, Texas

Jul. 31--A hearing in federal court today could determine whether a border fence -- or an alternative to physical barrier -- is constructed on the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

On June 30, Judge Andrew Hanen ordered officials from the university and from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to continue working toward a compromise. Today, marks the deadline of those court-ordered negotiations.

"I view the joint assessment differently than y'all do," Hanen said during the June hearing. "It means sitting down in the same room ... and trying to reach an accommodation. I don't think that has been done."

At the June hearing, UTB-TSC Attorney Mark Renfro said that DHS "cut off the discussion" before alternatives were addressed thoroughly. He also complained that the fence's proposed path would funnel criminal activity to the center of campus.

Daniel Hu, DHS' legal counsel, countered that a dialogue with the university had taken place. But because of a number of practical concerns, including a Dec. 31 deadline mandated by Congress, the fence was determined to be the only adequate security solution in what the U.S. Border Patrol has deemed a "high-priority area."

In a map released in early July as a part of DHS' environmental study, the university's golf course and undeveloped acreage near the remains of Fort Brown were behind the fence.

"The (fence) alignment will pass through the archaeological component of Fort Brown earthworks," the study states. "Since this property is of primary national historical significance, additional research will be conducted."

After the university's case concludes this morning, 14 private landowners, including UTB-TSC professor Eloisa Tamez, will also have hearings.

The government has filed land condemnation lawsuits over properties ranging from .13 to 6.51 acres.

Some landowners, like Tamez, have resisted the government's monetary offers, leaving Hanen to mediate a negotiation in court.


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