Thursday, January 31, 2008

If Rio Grande could speak, it would say, 'No wall'
By Adrienne Evans

At the Environmental Assessment open house in Marfa last week, in a room of 150 people, including citizens, Border Patrol, Texas Rangers, Marfa Police, DPS, Homeland Security and government subcontractors, I asked Loren Flossman, program manager for U.S. Customs and Border Protection Secure Border Initiative Tactical Infrastructure, this question: "Do you love Big Bend?"

He didn't understand me, and I had to repeat the question twice. The room became deathly quiet. His answer: "I don't know if I love it or not."

I nodded, and then asked: "Have you ever visited Big Bend National Park?"
"No, I haven't."

Then: "Will you promise to visit the park very soon?"

Flossman: "I may or may not do that."

Reading here about the possibility that the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo may someday soon be walled off along its entire length will take most people in the Big Bend by surprise.

When this news sinks in, it will just about entirely persuade most Texans to see the issue of a border wall in a different light. If the current political climate continues and the wall is erected, the wise politician that tears it down will probably receive the Nobel Prize for doing so.
Yet why should the wall go up in the first place? I personally have chosen to speak up about this, and to encourage others to do so. Will speaking up work? Dunno, but the alternative, giving up, won't let me sleep at night.

If you listen to late-night talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs or Fox News, you know there are many that demand walling up the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez recently came and visited with some local elected officials, and emphasized that they should expect more sections of the wall to be added very soon in Big Bend, in addition to the portions that have recently been announced the government will build here this year. He also said that he hasn't heard much at all from his constituents on their opinions on the wall, but asked that they contact him so he would know their particular stances.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006, now in effect, has technically authorized a physical border wall along the entire U.S. border, though only a portion of the wall was funded in December 2007, including 10 1/2 miles in Big Bend.

The Secure Fence Act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security "to take appropriate actions to achieve operational control over U.S. international land and maritime borders, including: (1) systematic border surveillance through more effective use of personnel and technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras; and (2) physical infrastructure enhancements to prevent unlawful border entry and facilitate border access by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, such as additional checkpoints, all weather access roads, and vehicle barriers." (Copied from the summary of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 from the Library of Congress online.)

I'm not a lawyer, but the way I read this, the Rio Grande is in jeopardy. I hope I'm wrong. Since I read the Secure Fence Act the other day, I haven't stopped telling people about it.

The reason I regularly refer to the river being at risk, and not so much the other aspects of my anti-border wall stance, is that I believe when one talks about the river, people's brains don't click off, the way they tend to do when you talk politics.

Of course I realize the issue is much bigger than the river. But simplifying it down to the river works best for me, to maintain my sanity in the midst of this crazy plan the government has come up with, and even made into law, of authorizing a wall along the entire border of the U.S., including the beaches! Even along the river's length sounds just plain crazy.

Everyone here is connected to the river, even more so if they've actually been next to it, dipped their toes in it, fished in it or floated down it, a connection especially strong here in Big Bend.
The river has its own magic, and it works on everyone. Everyone of all ages, from any place on Earth, gets a relaxed look that is unmistakable after floating the river on an overnight river trip.
Walling all of the rest of Rio Grande, except for the wild, scenic parts, is not a solution either. That would create serious problems that have never before existed in Big Bend.

Therefore, to me, it is not acceptable to wall the Rio Grande at all. Walling up all of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California is definitely not an answer either, because it funnels drugs and border-crossers to the beaches or to low-flying airplanes. Walling off Canada is equally unworkable.

When you say the words "illegal immigration" or "drug smuggling" or even "homeland," "security" and "sovereignty," words often connected with a border wall, a type of thought is engaged that is different than the type that occurs when one simply considers raw, wild nature and acknowledges its preciousness and great value to us and our children.

The river also has great intrinsic value that has nothing to do with humans. It was here for hundreds of millions of years before we were.

Our river isn't a political toy; it has forged a personal relationship with each one of us here in the Big Bend, and with millions of people beyond Big Bend who have visited here. I believe it even calls to those who I have heard say, "I've never been to Big Bend, but I've always meant to go."
Have you read, "Border Healing Woman" by Jewel Babb? Its setting is Indian Hot Springs, one of the most healing places on the planet. I personally received a healing there while I was battling a life-threatening illness. They now tell us that this spring will be less than four miles from the wall to be built this year at Neely's Crossing near Sierra Blanca.

The wall is also going up this year in an exquisitely beautiful place along miles of the Rio Bravo wilderness on either side of Presidio. Have you run the river in a boat on that stretch above and below Presidio? Have you talked with those who have fished there, who walk their dogs there, who herd their livestock down to the river? Have you talked with anyone in the last few decades who lives next to the river in Presidio County, whose soul is enriched by the sight and sound of the Rio Bravo next to their home?

I've recently witnessed a strange phenomenon. Pro-wall folks who also happen to love Big Bend grow silent, calm and thoughtful when I ask them how they feel about the beautiful Rio Grande, and the possibility of it being walled off completely.

No one in Texas has had time to process the news that we may now lose the Rio Bravo along its entire length.

Our government barreling ahead to "seal the border" with a physical barrier along the entire length of the Rio Bravo is such folly, as to be completely unbelievable! But to those who know nothing about the Big Bend or the Rio Grande, or even Texas, perhaps they believe it's going to work.

It's clear to us and most Texans that the Rio Grande needs to remain free. But we need to share photographs and video of the Rio Bravo with those who don't know its beauty and rawness. Let's not use scare tactics. That's what the fear-mongers do, and that's the kind of propaganda that must now stop, if we are to emerge from this dark period of Texas history in the making.
First, let's fight the wall by telephoning and writing letters and e-mails to our congressmen, our senators, the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, the secretary of Homeland Security and the president. Let's ask our local governments to pass resolutions against the wall.
Also, we have until February 5 to submit our comments on how the wall will affect the environment at the government's website, in the following ways:

By e-mail to:

By mail to: Marfa Sector Tactical Infrastructure EA, c/o e2M, 2751 Prosperity Avenue, Suite 200, Fairfax, VA 22031

By fax to: 757-299-8444

The reality of the pristine river wilderness is all around us as we float down the Rio Bravo. Most of in Big Bend can close our eyes now and remember being there. Along with our cherished neighbors in Mexico, we are intertwined with our beautiful frontera and no wall can ever disconnect us.

Let's find out all we can about the wall, and let's ask our friends to help stop the wall. Let's tell them what we know about what's coming. Let's hear what they have to say.

Adrienne Evans is a guest columnist. She is a licensed acupuncturist, search and rescue dog handler, and co-founder of the No Wall - Big Bend coalition. She and her partner, river guide and songwriter Butch Hancock, have lived in Terlingua with their three children for 10 years.


Photos below taken outside Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas, prior to the DHS Open House on that same afternoon.