City Council Tabled Vote on Licensing Agreement for 17 miles along the river
Community demands that transparency and local control over Laredo lands be part of any agreement
LAREDO, TX – In a win for Laredo community advocates on Monday evening, the Laredo City Council unanimously agreed to table a vote on the Border Patrol Roads Project, to allow for greater scrutiny and due diligence.
In a meeting that included several tense exchanges, members of various community groups showed up in yellow shirts that said “WE DECIDE OUR FUTURE” and asked City Council to vote no on the agenda item Monday night if it includes several “deal breakers,” in which the City is being asked to turn over its control of 17 miles of Rio Grande vega lands to the U.S. Border Patrol through a licensing agreement.
The 17 river miles in question stretch through the heart of Laredo from Fr. McNaboe Park upstream, down toward Chacon Creek in the south.
After nearly three hours of debate, the City Council agreed to not enter into the licensing agreement as originally drafted by Customs and Border Patrol through their Washington DC-based Acquisition Manager for the Border Wall program, Paul Enriquez. The Council instead authorized the City Manager Joseph Neeb to continue negotiating with all of the considerations that were brought up in the meeting.
The motion was made by Councilmember Dr. Tyler King with a second by Councilmember Melissa R. Cigarroa. Councilmember Vanessa Perez included language to have the item return at the next City Council meeting. At present, it’s unclear if the item will be brought back at the June 5 council meeting, or at an earlier special called council meeting in late May.
City Council members were asked by advocates – who also held a press conference on the steps of City Hall that afternoon – to include several provisions into the licensing agreement before the next meeting:
- TRANSPARENCY: The City and public must see and review the construction plans before a licensing agreement is approved, given the potential long-term impacts.
- NO EMINENT DOMAIN: include a 100 year waiver of Eminent Domain written into licensing agreement to protect City property from being taken by State or Federal authorities for a border wall.
- SHARED USE: Laredo residents continue to have full access to public lands along these 17 river miles, and eliminate any language that could be used to exclude the Laredo community from any roads or new construction on City-owned property.
- ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: The Agreement must mandate a strong environmental impact statement and if it is shown to damage the ecosystems that the river supports, the project must be canceled.
- FINAL SAY – The City of Laredo has final say over the use of its lands.
Other meeting highlights:
Councilmember Melissa Cigarroa
Showed how the Laredo Sector has seen a 50% decrease in crossings for FY 2023 (26,000) compared to the previous year, and how we compare to El Paso, “a city that has Wall”, and its 265,000 crossings. Cigarroa alluded to human migration dynamics and how the US creates a powerful economic magnet by industries that completely depend on migrant labor.
“Until the United States deals with immigration reform, you can’t secure a border and prevent people from crossing. To change that into a narrative of fear to allow Border Patrol to rule us by fear is unfair. I actually believe that an investment on the roads can be a win-win, can be beneficial to us, if the City does have control of how the construction is done. … We can make this work. The improvements that BP is willing to do to erosion along the river is going to help us. The bridges crossing over creeks, if done with respect to the environment there, is going to be a positive for our people as long as access is assured and we don’t turn that right over to the federal government. What would be better also is if the federal government said, ‘In exchange for this, we promise to not use eminent domain on this land for the lifetime of the roads.’ If you want to regain trust in this community, that would go a long way to restoring our faith in the federal government coming into these lands. We can find a way to negotiate. But it has to be in black and white.”
Laredo Attorney and riverfront landowner Ricardo de Anda
“Are we looking at an agreement that would keep the public out whenever CBP decides that that’s what they want to do? The other thing is this rushing bit. Oh there’s $39 million, so you’ve gotta do it now or else it’s going to go away. Well guess what? The river is going to be here. They need us. They need the City to patrol the river. They’ve got to deal with you. So I suggest that you table it and that you open this process up to the public at large. Let the public see what it is that CBP wants to do. It’s not enough for you to tell us roads and bridges. You need to tell us what they’re going to tear out. We need to see a map. … This is how we’re going to improve Laredo. Take advantage of it. For the sake of citizens, for the sake of our quality of life. Take advantage of the fact that the federal government needs you. Get something for the citizens in return, instead of this scare tactic. There’s $39 million. We can use it. Make the decision that will be the best for Laredo. A decision that we’ll look at 25 years from now and can say that our forefathers took care of us.”
Ecologist, Biologist, and former University Professor Dr. Tom Vaughan
“I’ve lived in Laredo for 42 years more or less, and most of that time I’ve been Interested in the Rio Grande, the water quality, the organisms that inhabit the river, the banks of the river. I have dealt many, many times with the Border Patrol over those years. Had many meetings with them. Have been promised many things from them, most of which they have never lived up to. So my concern is not the road itself. It’s the activities that I have experienced knowing what the Border Patrol does. For years they talked about if we can only control the river cane. Get rid of that carrizo. If you go down and look at the banks of the river in Laredo today, the cane is gone but so is everything else. They weren’t happy with just controlling the cane. Any vegetation they mowed it down and they continue to do so. That was never an agreement. … What I want to say about the road is Be very cautious. Get it in writing. And then appoint somebody to actually monitor what they do, to see that they live up to what they say they’re gonna do.”
Webb County Heritage Foundation executive director Margarita Araiza
“It’s significant that we’re coming to you today, May 15, because today is the 268th anniversary of the founding of Laredo. And now we’re here in front of you asking you to please consider the decision that you’re taking today because it is so significant for our community; 268 years ago, Don Tomas Sanchez came to this area and decided to form the community exactly on the land that is under consideration right now and there was a reason for that. .. It was optimal, the best place that he could find to chart a future and he did that. The people who came with him underwent terrible hardship … The city was almost wiped out on several occasions. We come from a stock that is fiercely independent, quietly determined, and strong in adversity. It falls on you today to continue those traits to defend our community against poor judgment. If they’re saying this is such a serious decision that you’re making, it really should involve way more public input, professional opinion, and a lot of transparency. There’s a lot of vague information in the proposal. … With all due respect, you are nine people up here that are making a decision for the entire population, and not just the population that is alive right now but for future generations.”
Sylvia Bruni, Webb County Democratic Chairperson
“This isn’t about the politics, it’s about the policy. What you’re considering right now is so complex and so important, that you really need to give it much more time. I would remind you when I talk to you about policy, and the reason that I’m here representing the Democrats is because we believe in a democracy. Open, transparent, just, citizen participation – these are the issues that I think are at stake right now. … We are not this City that’s being overrun by rapists and murderers … We have an exemplary law enforcement community. They’re the ones keeping this community safe. We are not being overrun. … I heard a friend who supports this say that the community is going to be able to use that road. That’s not true. The propaganda that surrounds it is not propaganda that you should be falling prey to. … We are a booming town. We’ve got a proposal to turn that river into a showcase. … Those are the things that you should be paying attention to… And to the facts.”
Laredo attorney George Altgelt
“Is the environment and national security, are those mutually exclusive? No they’re not. There’s a place in the middle. And that’s where you all need experts to tell you exactly where that place is in the middle. Get it in writing. Get the government to sign off on it.”
Laredo attorney Carlos E. Flores
“What does this road have to do with the border wall? It has everything to do with it. Because those 17 miles were the 17 miles that the gentlemen that are right over there came and said we need them for the border wall. So they’re trying to do this through the back end … ‘Oh no, we’re coming here now peacefully’.” … I don’t want you to make a decision today on what you think, on what you feel, on what you believe. Make sure that they show you the justification for this. You heard the gentleman come up here and say ‘Well, we haven’t had problems with Title 42 but we might have problems in the future. I can’t give you any studies. I can’t give you any evidence but it’s just my opinion so please vote for this project.’ It’s more of the same.” … Here’s what we request that you do. Negotiate and add these two provisions to the licensing agreement … The Shared Use provision.. And the Waiver of Eminent Domain provision. … If they’re truly not going to build a border wall and they’re truly done with that, then they’ll have no problem with adding these into their provisions.”
Rio Grande International Study Center executive director Tricia Cortez
“The problem with the Border Patrol Roads proposal starts not with the road itself but with the lack of transparency. Without having a complete scope in place, this project can hamper the City from future planning and development along the river … It puts the Border Patrol in the driver’s seat, rather than the property owner. That’s not how land deals work. … This has to be a contractual agreement that mutually benefits both parties, that is beneficial to the community, and not just beneficial to the Border Patrol. It can’t be a one-sided deal.”
At one point during the meeting, a slideshow was presented that showed numerous disparaging and insulting online posts that Border Patrol Union president Hector Garza had publicly made about Border Patrol officials and Laredo City Council members, including Councilmember Albert Torres. The union has lobbied City Council members to support the Roads proposal.
The #NoBorderWall Laredo Coalition is a network of residents, elected officials and organizations who oppose the border wall.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Tricia Cortez | 956-319-4374 | firstname.lastname@example.org