Saturday, December 01, 2007

Urgent Action Request

Please help us distribute the following action request far and wide as it contains extremely important information about the Border Wall Environmental Impact Statement and environmental justice.

Thank you for your help.


November 29, 2007

Dear Community Leaders and Activists:

We are gearing up for the Department of Homeland Security public meetings December 11and 12 in McAllen and Brownsville regarding the Rio Grande Valley border wall. At these meetings DHS will be soliciting public comments about the Draft RGV Border Fence Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We need your help to get the word out that the EIS is not just an environmental issue. By law, environmental impact statements are supposed to cover issues of the human environment as well. Unfortunately, the Rio Grande Valley Border Fence EIS (copy available at does not adequately address these issues, and the most vulnerable people of the Rio Grande Valley are being left unprotected from the damage a border wall is certain to cause. We want to raise this concern among religious leaders and humanitarian organizations, so they’ll be better armed to challenge the EIS during the public comment period.

Environmental Justice means that “no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal environmental programs and policies” (EPA Fact Sheet). This sentiment was codified by President Clinton in executive order 12898 (Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice [EJ] in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations), which provides that “each Federal agency must identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the U.S.”

In 2004, the Operation Rio Grande Environmental Impact Statement found that environmental justice was indeed an issue for projects in the Rio Grande Valley:
Approximately 85% of the population in the area can be classified as minority (well above the state average of 39.4%). The median annual household incomes for the counties in the project area (Starr, $10,182; Hidalgo, $16,703; and Cameron, $17,336) are well below the state average of $27,016 and, in the case of Starr County, below the $15,000 established by the EPA for defining the economic status risk group. Therefore, many of the households in the project area doubtless have a high potential EJ index. (Operation Rio Grande EIS, Section 3.12.6, emphasis added) However, in the 2007 Draft Rio Grande Valley Border Fence EIS, it is claimed that the protections of environmental justice do not apply. This questionable judgment is achieved by sleight of hand and is revealed in the following quote:

Of the 21 fence sections, 11 are within census bureau tracts in which portions of the tracts have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents. Of the proposed 70 miles of tactical infrastructure, substantially less than half is within census bureau tracts that have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents—therefore the overall impacts of the proposed tactical infrastructure would not fall disproportionately on minority or low-income populations. (Section 5. 5.11)

Rather than stating that the majority of people who will be negatively impacted by the border wall are poor and/or minorities, which is what environmental justice is all about. The EIS counts miles. Miles that fall within US Fish and Wildlife refuge tracts, where no people live, are counted along with the miles that pass through poor communities, allowing them to dilute, at least on paper, the wall’s impact on minority and low-income populations. Mileage is irrelevant to the question of environmental justice. The question is whether a disproportionately high number of the people who will be negatively affected are members of minority and/or low-income populations.

We must not allow the Department of Homeland Security to paper over the real human hardships that a border wall tearing through our communities will cause. We must force them to acknowledge that here in the Rio Grande Valley it is minorities and the poor who will bear the brunt of the damage of this misguided and politically-motivated project. Please urge your group members or congregation to attend one of the public meetings in McAllen or Brownsville and to comment on the border wall. Please also submit official comments from your organization or church. See below for details on meeting times and comment submission.

Thank you,
Stefanie Herweck
No Border Wall Steering Committee

Public “Open House” Meetings
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
4:30-8:00 pm
McAllen Convention Center
(956) 681-3800

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
4:30-8:00 pm
Brownsville Events Center
(956) 554-0700

Written comments will also be accepted until December 31, 2007.

You may submit comments in the following ways:
a) Electronically through the web site at
b) By email to:
c) By mail to: Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS, c/o e²M, 2751 Prosperity Avenue, Suite 200, Fairfax, Virginia 22031
d) By fax to: (757) 282-7697

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