Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Valley residents fenced into no man's land by border wall

San Antonio Express-News
August 12, 2008

Lynn Brezosky - Express-News Rio Grande Valley Bureau

GRANJENO — Perhaps it was the shade-giving mesquite and the storied ebony tree that caused border-fence surveyors to apparently miss the Anzaldua family and their two neighbors' bucolic cropping of homes, horse paddocks and farm equipment.

But if construction on the first segments proceeds without changes, the family will end up in a kind of no man's land between the Homeland Security Department's border wall and the Rio Grande.

“It makes us feel like we're going to be a part of Mexico ...,” said Melissa Anzaldua. “The Rio Grande's not going to any more be the border. Are people going to think people who stayed behind stayed because they no longer wanted to be part of the United States?”

No one from Customs and Border Protection or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came by to tell them a fence was planned that would put them somewhere between the United States and Mexico.

No one from Hidalgo County came by to tell them whether the school bus would come once the dirt roads changed to a precarious series of dirt piles.

After construction personnel told him he couldn't go through the only route leading to the main road, Mike Anzaldua, 40, Melissa's father and an oil field worker, concluded the handful of “Rincon” residents had been forgotten.

“I had to bring the engineers all the way out here to show them that there were people back here,” he said.

The engineers, employed by one of the private contractors for the barrier, said they hadn't known.

Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he hadn't heard of the situation but would look into it. He said Hidalgo County had the lead on that leg of the project.

“No final decisions have been made at this point for access,” he said. “They're still going to be spoken to, whether by us or by Hidalgo County. We're definitely going to be talking with them.”

Asked if the family was overlooked, he said, “We put notices in the newspaper and the radio and all those things. We like to think in some of those places they would come forward.”

Melissa Anzaldua said she had tried without success to get in touch with County Judge J.D. Salinas. Monday, after a reporter called, the judge's office called her to set up a meeting.

But Salinas said he “can only do so much. A lot of people think that I can call Secretary (Michael) Chertoff in Washington and say, ‘Take care of this situation.'”

Salinas said the family should be able to get to and from their home when the project is completed.

“My understanding from the start according to Homeland Security is that anybody who has access is going to continue to have access,” he said.

Mike Anzaldua said his property dates back at least a century, and the remnants of old stone steps and rusted tractor wheels bear that out. They lead a quiet existence, tucked back along their unnamed caliche path.

Saturday, Anzaldua and his 16-year-old son Aaron, the younger sporting chaps and a Texas-shaped pendant, cleaned around the property and tended to the five horses and two sheep.

Late afternoon was for relaxing outdoors on old chairs, watching for armadillos and relishing breeze from the Rio Grande. Visitors are few, even though there are blood ties with most in the tiny city of Granjeno.

“We're pretty quiet people. We keep to ourselves,” Anzaldua said. “Not party people, I guess. Not used to the fast life.”

The wall segment being erected now is not a fence, but rather a combination levee-wall.

Hidalgo County officials reached a compromise with Homeland Security that uses reinforced levee as a security barrier. The agreement saved private properties from eminent domain acquisition and helps Hidalgo County fix ailing flood controls.

Other parts of the Texas fence are awaiting land condemnation proceedings in federal court. Two such lawsuits were taken to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which Friday dismissed the case.

Julie Hillrichs, spokeswoman for the Texas Border Coalition, a group of cities that have rallied against the fence, called the Anzalduas' situation “mind-boggling.”

“You would think our federal government would conduct the proper surveillance to know who's there,” she said. “They obviously didn't do that.”

For the Anzalduas, the implications of living in a no man's land range from inconvenient to scary.

They fear being in a cross-zone for violent drug and people smugglers, which makes Mike Anzaldua wonder about defending his family.

“It comes to a point where we're going to be left behind,” he said. “We're going to have to start making our own laws back here.”


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