You’ve probably never heard of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). But you should know about it, given that it has total jurisdiction over whether the United States can build sections of border wall near the Rio Grande River, in a large geographical area on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
Founded in 1889, it the IBWC was created to settle land disputes between the United States and Mexico. There’s a good deal of water in borderland, and over time, rushing rivers erode, move, and otherwise alter the geographical landscape. The IBWC may have had noble aspirations 130 years ago, but as with any governmental organization, it has ballooned into a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Treaty of Nov. 23, 1970, signed by then-president Richard Nixon, was the last legal update to the IBWC and its jurisdiction and duties. That treaty gave the IBWC the absolute power to decide what gets built in flood plain areas in the Rio Grande Valley. As if a federal government organization holding the keys to the proverbial gate (or lack thereof, as it so happens) wasn’t bad enough, there’s a kicker – the IBWC has a co-equal counterpart in Mexico.
That means that the organization is half-controlled by the United States, and half-controlled by Mexico.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that Mexico is, at best, a horribly corrupt country whose government is heavily influenced by brutal cartels who make fortunes smuggling humans and drugs into the United States, and negotiate with beheadings and bullets. At worst, Mexico is failed state. The fact that it has any influence over America’s border security policies ought to shock the conscience.
But that’s the case, as I found while covering a court hearing featuring a litany of who’s who in the border security world.
Fisher Industries is a construction company that was contracted by the non-profit viral crowdfunding organization We Build The Wall to construct 3.5 miles of border wall in heavily trafficked area of the Rio Grande Valley in Mission, TX. Some of the worst of the worst, including drug and human smugglers, are known to cross into the United States at this very location. Another private company, Neuhaus & Sons, owns and donated the land on which the wall will be built.
Immediately, the border construction groups were met with a flurry of legal action. The North American Butterfly Association, whose member the National Butterfly Center owns land near Neuhaus & Sons’ property, along with the federal government representing the IBWC, filed an injunction to stop the construction of the border wall on environmental grounds. The details of that court battle can found here.
The government’s star witness Friday was Dr. Padinare Unnikrishna, the IBWC’s Chief of Engineering Services. Unnikrishna explained – or at least attempted to explain – the exact process by which an American organization gets approval to build in flood pain areas.
It goes something like this:
First, the builder must submit his detailed building plans to the IBWC. Then, the IBWC lays out requirements, usually involving environmental testing and modeling, for the builder. Those requirements seem unclear (this was a point of contention during Friday’s hearing, and even Judge Randy Crane noted that some organizations are required to jump through different hoops than others) but must be adhered to, regardless.
That’s where things get even trickier.
After the American IBWC approves a builder’s plan, the organization sends the plan to its Mexican counterparts to be approved. The Mexican side of the IBWC has the opportunity to give its input, potentially adding more requirements for American builders. Whether the Mexican side of the IBWC can deny or shut down a building project in the United States is another unresolved question, though Unnikrishna assured the court that it has never happened before. Once the Mexican IBWC is satisfied, the American IBWC will put its stamp of approval on the builder’s project. Only then can one build.
In short, Mexico has the authority, at least to some extent, to dictate American border security policies by providing its input on building projects near the Rio Grande River. Remember, these are unelected officials from perhaps the most corrupt government in North America.
And in case you’re not already blind with rage and throwing a fit, you might be wondering: Do Mexican builders have to follow a similar procedure? In theory, yes. In practice? Many here in borderland claim building is constant on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, and the terms of the hard-and-fast treaty that Americans are bound to following in order to protect the environment are routinely ignored.
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