Wednesday, March 19, 2008

UTB, government reach settlement on border fence

Top Story, Brownsville Herald, Kevin Sieff

UTB, government reach settlement on border fence
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March 19, 2008 - 2:56 PM
By Kevin Sieff, The Brownsville Herald
The federal government's lawsuit against UTB-TSC over the border fence has been dismissed-at least for now.

After six hours of negotiations, both parties' lawyers reached a compromise before the case's scheduled court date today.

The resulting court order gives federal surveyors access to the university's land, but asserts a number of related conditions.

"They're not allowed to mow a single blade of grass without our permission," University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College President Juliet V. Garcia said, summarizing what university administrators described as a minor triumph in the ongoing litigation.

On Wednesday afternoon, Daniel Renfro Jr., counsel for Texas Southmost College District, told U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen that federal surveyors "are now authorized to go onto the university's property to assess all alternatives" to a physical barrier. If the Department of Homeland Security decides to construct the barrier, a second land condemnation suit will be filed.

"Maybe we reached a result where both sides are equally pleased and equally displeased," Hanen said. "This is the process envisioned by Congress when they passed the act."

Hanen suggested that the negotiation between the university and the federal government should be used as a template for related cases-especially those involving public institutions.

"That was our intent," Garcia said, "to test the outer edges of the rights landowners have."

For more on this story, read Thursday's Brownsville Herald.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NEWS: Carlos Guerra "We'll Hear More and More about Gov's Power to Take Lands"


In the Rio Grande Valley, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sued dozens of individuals, local governments and agencies for refusing to grant it "access" to their land so it can take it for the border wall.
After refusing access to her 3-acre plot, Eloisa Tamez was sued. She countersued and a federal judge has ordered DHS to negotiate with her in good faith.

Hundreds of miles north, in one of the Hill Country's most pristine ranches, Martha, Mary and Bebe Fenstermaker are girding for their fifth legal battle since 1989 to keep their land.

The city, Bexar County and the San Antonio River Authority want it for a dam to control flooding downstream by flooding the sisters' modest home sites, and much of the rest of their ranch, a federally registered historic district dotted with 19th-century limestone structures.

More Coverage

• Judge plans to rule quickly on border fence brouhaha

Then, there are the thousands who have found all or parts of their farms and ranches under thick lines on Texas Department of Transportation maps. TxDOT wants their land for the Trans-Texas Corridor, which will take as many as 8,000 miles of land in 1,200-foot-wide swathes for privately operated utility easements, multi-lane toll roads and railroad tracks.

These are just a few of the reasons "eminent domain" is appearing more often in Texas news reports. And as we get more Texans — but not more land — expect to hear more about governments using eminent domain to fix earlier mistakes — and for less noble purposes.

Governments' seizure powers predate our nation. Based on the notion that the sovereign owns all its territory and landholders own only an interest in the land's use, Common Law empowered monarchs to take whatever they wanted.

When America's colonies gained independence, they assumed eminent domain powers by proclaiming themselves the new sovereigns. In 1791, the U.S. Constitution was amended and eminent domain was implicitly recognized — but also limited — in the Fifth Amendment, which states, "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

By 1829, however, the U.S. Supreme Court redefined "public good" by allowing states to empower private railroads to seize land. By 1954, this relaxation led the high court to let the District of Columbia take properties that were not blighted along with others nearby that were and hand them all to private parties for profitable redevelopment.

And in 2005, the court allowed New London, Conn., to seize a totally unblighted neighborhood and sell it to a private developer for a project city fathers believe will bring the city greater tax revenues.

Other eminent domain issues that are emerging involve local jurisdictions that, increasingly, are using eminent domain to provide infrastructure improvements — such as new schools, wider roads and drainage projects — that have been made necessary by uncontrolled development and low impact fees.

While the courts have, on the one hand, given governments greater latitude to use eminent domain to help private developers, they have also held that at times, "just compensation" is also due when governments' actions diminish the value of land that has not been seized by, for example, making it less desirable or less accessible.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature addressed this very issue with HB 2006, which allowed landowners to sue for "diminished access" to their property, instead of having to show "material and substantial damages" before seeking compensation. It passed but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it.

As growing populations make land-use restrictions more necessary, we are going to face more policy questions that will revolve around eminent domain.

It is clearly time for Congress and the Legislature to rewrite laws to assure that eminent domain powers truly serve the public good — and aren't just used to fatten private wallets.

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail

Saturday, March 15, 2008

NEWS: U.N. CERD 2008 Recommendations to U.S.A.

NEWS! United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racism & Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) makes Comments and evaluations on the U.S.A. violations.
UN Faults US on Racism
UN Racism Experts Urge Changes to Eliminate Racial Bias
(New York, March 7, 2008) – The United States should immediately adopt UN recommendations to alleviate the widespread racial bias it found in the criminal justice system, Human Rights Watch said today.

The UN is telling the US that it needs to deal with an ugly aspect of its criminal justice system. Alison Parker, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch

Related Material
HRW Submission to CERD in its 72nd Session
Report, February 7, 2008

Follow-Up Letter to CERD
Letter, February 26, 2008

Free Email Newsletter

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination harshly criticized the US record on race after considering oral and written testimony submitted by the US government. In its conclusions issued today, the committee urged the US to rectify the “stark racial disparities” in criminal justice systems throughout the country.

“The UN is telling the US that it needs to deal with an ugly aspect of its criminal justice system,” said Alison Parker, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “The committee outright rejected the government’s claim that more black kids get life without parole sentences because they commit more crimes.”

The UN committee condemned what it found to be racial disparities in the death penalty and in the sentencing of youth to life without parole for crimes committed when they were under 18, a practice the committee wants stopped. Further, the committee called on authorities to take steps, including a moratorium on the death penalty, to root out racial bias.

The committee also dismissed claims by the US government that it did not have the power to examine the detention of non-citizens at Guantanamo. It urged the US to guarantee “enemy combatants” judicial review of the lawfulness and conditions of their detention.

“Once again, the Bush administration has been told by a major human rights body that it is not above the law when it comes to the war on terrorism,” Parker said. “The US should reverse its decision to deny judicial review to non-citizen enemy combatant detainees.”

The committee criticized US practices in numerous other areas, including:

· The Bush administration’s view that its human rights treaty obligations do not apply to laws or practices that are race-neutral on their face but discriminatory in effect;

· Racial segregation in housing and in public schools;

· Systemic inadequacies in indigent criminal defense, which have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities;

· The disenfranchisement of millions of US citizens because they have been convicted of a felony, even though they have fully served their sentences or have been released on parole.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is the UN body of experts responsible for monitoring countries’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, a human rights treaty ratified by the United States in 1994. The committee’s comments and responses to state party reports are authoritative interpretations of states’ obligations under the treaty.

As is its regular practice, the committee considered US compliance with the treaty following the government’s submission of a report, due in November 2003 but finally submitted by the US in April 2007. A US delegation participated in the committee’s meeting to examine the report on February 21 and 22, 2008 in Geneva, and responded to questions.

For more information on the United States and the CERD, please see the following documents:

February 2008 Human Rights Watch submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

February 2008 follow-up letter from Human Rights Watch to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

April 2007 US Report to CERD

03/08 CERD final observations on the US

Cruzando Fronteras/Crossing Borders--Film by Heather Lara, Narrated by Leslie Marmon Silko

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Eloisa Garcia Tamez & Peter Schey, Federal Court, February 7 2008, Brownsville, Texas

Indigenous women's sensibility of collective versus 'individual' is an ongoing educational campaign in the struggle of Lipan Apache women of El Calaboz, Lower Rio Grande, MX-US border region.

Dr. Eloisa Garcia Tamez firmly positions indigneous women's concepts of land, community, collectivity, ancestral relations to land as first people, and the obstacles that the United States government puts in the pathways of indigenous livelihoods, ecologies, cultural rights and human rights to live on their lands, in their aboriginal territories. She repeats her sustained message, in the clip linked below.

"This is not for personal gain. The sole reason ... is for my children, my
grandchildren and for the children and grandchildren and the future generations
of all Americans

Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Why I Speak Out", Eloisa Garcia Tamez

View the video of Dr. Eloisa Garcia Tamez educating and defending her community's rights to the lands, culture and livelihoods of El Calaboz community members, who are a unique indigenous community being threatened by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with the "Declaration of Taking Act."