Texas college fights border fence
Homeland Security barrier would divide the campus
June 28, 2008
BROWNSVILLE, Texas - The steel fence that the U.S. government wants to build along the Mexican border would do more than slice through the University of Texas' Brownsville campus and cut off the golf course from the rest of the school.
School officials say it would make a mockery of the very mission of the university: promoting close ties between the U.S. and Mexico.
The university - built close to the Rio Grande on land where the United States and Mexico traded cannon blasts during the Mexican-American War 160 years ago - recruits Mexican students, offers government and business classes in English and Spanish and turns out sorely needed bilingual teachers. It has a biological field station in Mexico and hosts educators at a Binational Conference every spring. About 400 of the 17,000 students are from Mexico, and more than half of them commute across the river to class.
The fence, if built as envisioned by the U.S. Border Patrol, would run a mile north of the Rio Grande, the international boundary, cutting off about 180 acres of the 465-acre campus. University officials say it would also thwart its hopes of expanding someday toward the river and send the wrong message across the border.
"To slice off and fence off the 'bi' part of 'binational' violates the essence of this university," said university President Juliet V. Garcia, whose office is situated in what was once the thick-walled, tan-brick hospital at Fort Brown, built shortly after the Civil War.
On Monday, university officials will ask a federal judge to force government officials to work with the school on alternatives to the fence, continuing a long-running legal fight that began when the Department of Homeland Security sued the school for refusing to allow surveyors onto its property.
In March, a federal judge ordered Homeland Security to consider the school's "unique status as an institution of higher learning" in minimizing the impact on the "environment, culture, commerce and quality of life" at the university. But the two sides have been unable to agree on some kind of alternative to a fence.
In a May 27 letter to the university, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that in place of a fence, it would have to station Border Patrol agents every 50 yards along the 3.4 mile-stretch around campus, and the salaries alone would amount to $71 million.
A Border Patrol spokesman said the matter would be addressed in court and refused to make further comment.
The fence is being erected away from the Rio Grande for fear it could alter the flow of floodwaters and illegally change the international border.
People still will be able to reach the university from Mexico by way of the three international bridges that connect Brownsville to Matamoros, Mexico.
The Bush administration is hurrying to build 670 miles of the border fence by the end of the year.
The school's architecture reflects the twin influences on the region: Its older buildings are 19th-century remnants of Fort Brown, with tan brick walls, galvanized steel roofs and shaded arcades. Other buildings are Spanish-influenced, with tile, towers and terra cotta roofs.
The land the golf course is on belongs to the International Boundary and Water Commission, but the university holds a 99-year lease on it.
Texas college fights border fence -- baltimoresun.com