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Homeland Security Monitors Media, Activists

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Apparently, the Observer story “Holes in the Wall” which made allegations last year that the border wall skipped the land of wealthy land owners, created some tension in Bush’s Homeland Security agency, according to some documents that were released to a government watchdog group.Scott Nicol at the Web site No Border Wall made me aware of an amazingly powerful nonprofit Web site called GovernmentDocs.org that is loaded with thousands of pages of FOIA documents that can be browsed by anyone. The Web site offers a ray of light into the murky world of Homeland Security.Documents released as the result of a FOIA filed by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington show how Homeland Security monitors the media, especially stories criticizing the building of the border wall.  Scott sent me a few documents that related to the Observer story then I did some more searching on my own.  They also monitor activists apparently. Homeland Security had emails that had been circulated by Brownsville landowner Eloisa Tamez’s daughter Margo.

There is  also an email exchange between Jeffrey Self, chief of the Southwest Border Division for the Border Patrol and Randy Hill, Chief Border Patrol agent for the Del Rio sector about Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass. They discuss how to build fence through Eagle Pass before Mayor Foster has a chance to fight it. They also talk about trying to get the State of Texas to pay for it. Brownsville landowner Eloisa Tamez, her daughter Margo and Mayor Foster have all been vocal critics of DHS building the border wall. The story “Holes in the Wall” prompted U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who is chair of  the Committee on Homeland Security to send a letter to Chertoff asking him to explain why the fence was skipping wealthy landowners. It’s interesting to see how they put together their memo to explain it to the Congressman. What Chertoff does is basically say it was a local decision made by the Border Patrol sector but he never offers any data or specifics as to why a country club doesn’t get  an 18-foot wall, but a working class family gets one right through their  backyard. What’s also notable is how heavily redacted everything is. This has been my experience as well. After waiting a year for FOIA documents from Homeland Security most of what I received was blacked out. I’m really glad that the folks over at No Border Wall showed me this Web site. It’s a powerful tool for Democracy. Being the document and data nerd that I am, I’m looking forward to spend countless hours searching through these documents.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.