August 6, 2008

UT-B, Homeland Security formalize deal

In lieu of a new fence on campus, existing fence at UT-Brownsville will be raised

By Andrew Kreighbaum
PrintEmail Article Tools Page 1 of 1 UT-Brownsville and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials submitted a formal agreement Tuesday to end all legal actions concerning a proposed border fence on the school's campus.

The agreement, reached in principal Thursday, stipulates that Homeland Security will not build a fence on the campus. Instead, the university will raise an existing fence on the campus to a height of 10 feet. Homeland Security will also add motion-sensor technology to the fence, including a fiber-optic wiring system.

Contracts for the enhancement of the fence will be awarded by the university by Sept. 15 and construction will be completed by Dec. 31.

After the verbal agreement with Homeland Security, UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia said the UT System had volunteered to pay for costs of the fence enhancement.

"The office of facilities planning and construction would obviously work with the UT-Brownsville campus to look at specs for the fence, what the costs would be for the fence," UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said. "They would bid it out like any other process."

Michael Putegnat, project manager for UT-Brownsville, said the costs of fence enhancement would likely fall below $1 million.

UT-Brownsville officials will collaborate with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, a subsidiary of Homeland Security, to measure the effectiveness of the fence by exchanging information on arrests, seizures, turnbacks and other statistics related to illegal cross-border activity, as stipulated in the agreement.

The agreement also says local border patrol "retains the ultimate discretion to determine whether the UTB/TSC pedestrian fencing system is satisfying [Customs and Border Patrol's] border security operational requirements."

The second component of the deal is a commitment by university and border patrol officials to study options for border security, including technological alternatives to physical barriers. A proposed center for the collaborative studies will be housed on the UT-Brownsville campus.

Funding for the research center will likely come from external grants, Putegnat said.

The agreement resolves a nearly yearlong legal dispute between the university and Homeland Security that began when the federal government sued for access to the campus after UT-Brownsville barred federal surveyers from going on the campus. Homeland Security has a congressional mandate to construct 670 miles of fencing along the Mexican border by the end of this year and local border patrol agents identified Brownsville as a high-priority area for fence construction.

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