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October 17, 2008

Working Group to Testify on Human Rights Impacts of Texas/Mexico Border Wall

In response to its claim that the Texas-Mexico border wall violates human rights law, The University of Texas Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall has been granted a general hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The public hearing will be held on Oct. 22 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Commission’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and simultaneously web cast to a global audience.

The Commission, comprised of seven independent jurists from across the Americas and the Caribbean, is the body of the inter-governmental Organization of American States responsible for monitoring and ensuring respect for human rights in the Americas, including in the United States.

The hearing marks the first time that the United States has been called to defend, in an international forum, the decision to construct a border wall on the Texas/Mexico border.

“It is unfortunate that we must go to an international forum to address the actions of the United States on its own border, but we are very pleased that this important human rights body will consider the extremely harmful impacts of the wall through a human rights lens,” said Denise Gilman, a clinical professor at the UT School of Law and a member of the Working Group who will testify at the hearing.

The Working Group, a multi-disciplinary collective of faculty and students at The University of Texas at Austin and Brownville whose work is facilitated by the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at The University of Texas School of Law, submitted a series of briefing papers on the border wall to the Commission in June 2008 and then followed up in August 2008 with a request for a general hearing. The delegation also asked that a high-ranking policy official from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security participate in the hearing.

At the hearing, the Working Group will present its arguments to the Commission that the border wall violates a number of provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, including rights to private property, freedom of investigation and expression, private and family life and culture, judicial protection, and equality before the law.

Presenters for the Working Group will describe the difficulties it has faced in obtaining essential information from the U.S. government, including the precise planned locations for the wall and any consideration given to the impact the wall will have on traditional Native American ceremonial lands. The group’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act have gone without answer since April of this year.

The Working Group will also offer a statistical analysis, spearheaded by UT Brownsville Environmental Studies Professor Jeff Wilson, which demonstrates that the location of the wall disproportionately affects poor, less educated Latino families. Part of the hearing will be dedicated to testimony by Margo Tamez, who is Lipan Apache and whose family has owned property directly affected by the wall for generations, tracing back to land grants from the Spanish crown. In addition, the Working Group will provide written statements from the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas and Dr. Juliet Garcia, president of The University of Texas at Brownsville.

Gilman said the delegation will seek a recommendation by the Commission that the United States halt construction of the border wall in Texas, given the likelihood that serious violations of the American Declaration are already taking place and that further violations are imminent as a result of the U.S. government’s actions. The delegation will also ask the Commission to issue a formal request of information to the U.S. government, including a requirement that it respond to the Working Group’s briefing papers.

Additional faculty and student members of the Working Group from UT will attend the hearing and be available to respond to questions by the Commission. They include Jude Benavides (assistant professor, UT Brownsville); Ariel Dulitzky (visiting professor and associate director of the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at UT Law); Karen Engle (professor and director of the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at UT Law); Barbara Hines (clinical professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at UT Law); Shannon Speed (assistant professor of anthropology, UT Austin); Karla Vargas (a graduate student in public affairs and law at UT Austin.).

The UT School of Law, through the Rapoport Center and the Immigration Clinic, is involved in three additional hearings during the October session of the Commission. A media alert providing information on all four hearings is available at:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/centers/humanrights/projects_and_publications/border-wall-media-advisory.pdf.

The hearing on the Texas/Mexico border wall and all other hearings will take place on the terrace level of the General Secretariat Building of the Organization of American States at 1889 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Instructions for watching live video stream or obtaining audio recordings are available at the Commission’s website:
http://www.cidh.org/Prensa/guidelinespresscoverageENGL.htm.

The full texts of the Working Group’s briefing papers on the border wall are available at:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/centers/humanrights/projects_and_publications/border-wall.php.

Contact: Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications Office, (512) 471-7330, or kfortune@law.utexas.edu