AUSTIN, Texas -- The University of Texas at Brownsville, along with other landowners in the area, can expect to be sued by the federal government for refusing to allow their property to be surveyed for construction of a border fence.
The Department of Homeland Security's plan to build a fence aimed at stopping illegal border crossings has met resistance from landowners and community leaders along the border.
A federal judge ordered the city of Eagle Pass to allow surveyors to access 233 acres of land on Jan. 14, after a suit had been filed against the city by the U.S. Department of Justice. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said this was the first of 101 similar lawsuits the justice department planned to file, including 71 in Texas.
"For those landowners who have not or will not sign, we are moving forward with court cases," she said.
The federal government requested permission to access UT-Brownsville's campus for the purpose of surveying the planned fence site in October.
UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia denied the request, claiming that the fence created security and environmental problems and went against the school's mission of fostering relationships between the communities on both sides of the border.
"To support a plan that would build an 18-foot-high steel barrier between two friendly countries would be to directly contravene our mission and destroy the campus climate that has been so painstakingly and carefully created," Garcia said in a letter announcing her decision.
The fence's proposed route would also separate the school's golf course and the International Technology Center, a workforce training and continuing education facility, from the rest of the campus.
Antonio Zavaleta, vice president for external affairs, said he believes UT-Brownsville will soon be the target of legal action.
"The federal government has indicated to us that they plan to file suit in federal court," he said.
Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said he stands by the university in its opposition to the fence, which he said will cause economic harm by blocking tourist access to historical sites and nature preserves in the border region.
"All we're asking for is for them to work with us," he said. "I'm teed off because those proponents of the wall agenda are not listening."
Keehner denies that the department created its fence plan without input, and said it hosted 18 town hall meetings and met with community leaders more than 100 times.
"The allegation that somehow we have not communicated with the state and local communities along the border is just wrong," she said.
Zavaleta said he believes the lawsuits have raised the stakes for UT-Brownsville and the border fence controversy.
"I don't believe there has been a federal border action of this magnitude since the United States invaded sovereign Mexico," he said.