border wall / Congressional Field Hearing / consultation / El Calaboz Lipan Apache Women

May 16th Deadline for Lower Rio Grande Communities to Voice Concerns About the Wall

Pérez: There’s still time for Valley residents to testify against border wall

By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Valley landowner Betty Perez (center) testified against the border wall at a congressional field hearing in Brownsville on April 28. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

BROWNSVILLE, May 3 – A rancher and farm owner who testified against the border wall at last Monday’s congressional hearing in Brownsville says there is still time for other Rio Grande Valley residents to have their say.

“Written testimonies can now be submitted in association with this hearing and added to the Congressional record,” said Betty Pérez. “This is one of the best opportunities we have had for our voices to be heard.”

Pérez said comments need to be mailed in by May 16 and sent to:

Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Pérez said any comments submitted do not have to be in response to the testimony given at the Monday’s hearing at the University of Texas at Brownsville. “They can address the many negative impacts that the wall will have,” she said.

Pérez is an active member of the No Border Wall coalition and a former director of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. She and her family own ranchland north of La Joya, on the northwest edge of Hidalgo County. The ranch was bought in the 1930’s by Pérez’s maternal grandfather. However, she can trace her roots in the Valley back to Mexico and to the Texas land grants of the 1700s on both her maternal and paternal sides.

Pérez was a panelist at the hearing held jointly at by the House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee and the Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee. Both are subcommittees of the Natural Resources Committee. The hearing, titled “Walls and Waivers: Expedited Construction of the Southern Border Wall and the Collateral Impacts on Communities and the Environment.”

In her testimony, Pérez pointed out that a previous opportunity for Valley residents to have their say about the border wall was snuffed out by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Late last year, thousands of Valley residents wrote or gave oral comments as part of the federal government’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. However, the EIS process was eliminated last month when Chertoff announced he was waiving more than 30 federal laws and regulations in an effort to speed up construction of 670 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border by year’s end.

The Department of Homeland Security has yet to make the comments submitted as part of the draft EIS process available to the public.

“This is an important opportunity to inform members of Congress, and to ensure that our voices become part of the official record,” Pérez told the Guardian.

“Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff has announced that since he waived the National Environmental Policy Act there will be no Final Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements, and it is unclear what will happen to the hundreds of public comments that they received at the open houses they held in McAllen, Brownsville and other cities along the border.”

In her testimony to the House panel, Pérez said DHS has failed to enter into meaningful dialogue with Valley residents about the border wall plan.

“Secretary Michael Chertoff and the DHS are either out of touch or misleading the nation in saying that residents along the border have had this opportunity to be heard many times before,” Pérez said, in her testimony.

“The handful of open house meeting they held, left people frustrated and angry that their questions were not answered and that their opinions could only be written or given to a stenographer. These meetings were not opportunities for public input or dialogue; they were rigid forums where DHS did not listen or respond to legitimate concerns.”

Pérez said Chertoff abused the REAL-ID Act in order to issue his waivers and bypass the National Environmental Policy Act.

“That makes the comments submitted to members of Congress in connection to the field hearing even more important,” Pérez said.

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