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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Professor Demands U.S. Records |on Texas-Mexico Border Wall Plans

WASHINGTON (CN) - A clinical professor studying the impact of the security fence along the Texas-Mexico border has filed a Freedom of Information Act petition in Federal Court, seeking records and maps detailing where the government plans to build segments of the wall and what criteria it used in plotting the route. She says research shows that the border wall typically disrupts poor, minority communities, while bypassing wealthy property owners.

Plaintiff Denise Gilman is a clinical professor at the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas law school. She is also a member of the university's Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall, which has been studying the human-rights impact of the border wall.

Congress laid the groundwork for the wall or fence in the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which mandated a fence or wall along specific portions of the U.S.-Mexico border. Later, in 2008, Congress amended the Act to include 700 miles of fencing, 370 miles of which had to be finished by 2008.

"Notably, the new provisions did not indicate where the fence was to be build; all discretion was left to the (Department of Homeland Security)," Gilman states.

She says DHS could build the wall where it pleased, after consulting with states, local governments, Indian tribes and property owners. But DHS was evasive about planned locations, she claims, making it difficult for community members to obtain crucial information and researchers to study the wall's impact on border communities.

However, based on what is known, Gilman claims affected property owners are, on average, less wealthy and have higher concentrations of minorities than unaffected property owners.

"Public commentators have noted that the wall is planned such that it will skip over a wealthy country club property on the border, while having a devastating impact on some poorer communities and Native American communities," Gilman claims.

On April 11, 2008, she asked the government for records on all planned wall locations, factors used to establish the route, community analyses and land contracts, among other documents.

A DHS director forwarded Gilman's request to someone at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, who allegedly told her that the documents were likely exempt from disclosure as "confidential business information." An officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed her that copies would cost more than $50,000 unless she narrowed her request, which she did, the lawsuit claims. The Corps eventually released some documents, but withheld others, citing the privacy rights of property owners.

Gilman claims she has a legal right to view the documents, and the defendants have "no legal basis for failure to disclose them."

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