MULTIMEDIA FEATURE: Wall threatens Zavaleta’s campus

May 6, 2008 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

zavaleta

Administrator’s questions pop open ‘proverbial lid’

Story: Jazmine Ulloa
Photos: Andrew Rogers
Video: A.J. Miranda
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

BROWNSVILLE, TX — Tony Zavaleta found himself a little bit more than confused last year when he attended a stakeholders’ meeting at the Border Patrol Station in Harlingen as the representative for the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

But he also found himself at the right place at the right time.

“We had heard about a border wall, or a border fence and that it may be coming,” said Zavaleta, the vice president for external affairs for the university. “But very little, little information.”

At the meeting, which he attended as a substitute for another university official, Zavaleta said a border patrol agent announced plans for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border for the Rio Grande Valley, as required by the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

In the Brownsville area, the agent said the fence would be built on the north side of the International Boundary and Water Commission levee, Zavaleta said.

But the International Technology, Education and Commerce campus, a branch of the university, lies south of the levee and north of the Rio Grande River. Zavaleta, who is the administrator directly responsible for that branch of campus, had plenty of questions for the agent, he said.

“Does that mean that you are going to wall off, or fence off our university?” Zavaleta he asked. “Does that mean you are going to put a Texas university on the Mexican side of the fence? Does that mean we will have to have passports to go to work? Does that mean that students will have to go through border checkpoints to get to class? What does it mean?”

Up until that point, the plans for the fence had not been challenged, Zavaleta said.

“Boy, that was the proverbial fly in the ointment,” he said. “It took the proverbial lid off the thing. The worms started crawling out of the can.”

Zavaleta’s questioning brought national media attention to the impact the fence in Brownsville. It slowed the “juggernaut” down, bringing the federal government to the table on some of the issues, he said. But a lot is left to be resolved.

Plans still have the fence running along the southern edge of the main campus, across a historic site and the university’s golf course.

“I think somebody whose job it is to draw lines on the map, drew lines on a map in a vacuum,” he said. “It’s not they’re fault, but they [government officials] admitted they had never been here.”

Judge Andrew Hanen ordered the federal government and the university last month to further discuss access to the land adjacent to Zavaleta’s international branch of the campus. Meanwhile, the fence has boosted activism throughout the community and among the student body, Zavaleta said.

Zavaleta, himself, has been questioning authority as an activist since the 1970s while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. He said he encourages students to do the same.

“That’s an important part of the university experience,” he said. “If you students who are the future of our country and our state and region cannot openly question why things are being done than who can?”

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Entry filed under: Crossing Borders 2008. Tags: , , , .

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