Brownsville Herald / The Monitor
by Kevin Seiff
BROWNSVILLE - Eva Lambert woke up one morning in late February to the sound of heavy machinery. When she stepped outside, she saw tractor-trailers and cranes along the levee behind her home in El Calaboz, 15 miles west of Brownsville.
Then she saw the border fence's steel beams - 18 feet tall and rust-colored. She watched as they were erected one by one on her property.
"I was shocked," she said. "They pulled out the hurricane fence in our backyard. They messed everything up."
But Lambert's biggest surprise was that the federal government began construction without giving her her any compensation.
Unlike her neighbors, who were awarded more than $10,000 in exchange for their assent, Lambert was never asked to sign a contract allowing fencing on her property.
"But that didn't stop them from starting construction," she said Friday, pointing to the steel barrier in her backyard. "In the end, the government does what it wants."
DHS did not respond to calls for comment.
Since February, the federal government has completed construction on several miles of fencing in Lambert's El Calaboz community, part of the government's plan to construct a 700-mile barricade on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Department of Homeland Security has run into numerous legal obstacles in its attempt to construct the barrier in the Rio Grande Valley, making it one of the few places along the border where fencing plans remain incomplete.
In the last 18 months, DHS filed more than 230 land condemnation lawsuits in South Texas federal courts. Several of those cases, including one involving El Calaboz's Eloisa Tamez, are still unresolved. Tamez's court date was recently moved to October. Until then, her sliver of property will remain one of the few places in El Calaboz without fencing.
"(Homeland Security Secretary Janet) Napolitano and (President Barack) Obama have totally betrayed us," Tamez said. "Their opposition to the fence was just words. They haven't done a darn thing."
When she was governor of Arizona, Napolitano famously said, "Show me a 50-foot fence and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder." But since becoming secretary of DHS, she has done little to change the trajectory of the initial border fence plans.
"In terms of the wall itself, we are going to complete the sections that had already been begun and for which there already were appropriations," Napolitano said in a press briefing on Tuesday. "To the extent we request any other sections it will be part and parcel of a system that includes technology and manpower."
According to DHS spokesman Claude R. Knighten, contracts for all remaining segments of the barrier have already been awarded, including about 35 miles of fencing in the Brownsville-Harlingen area.
Eva Lambert still recoils at the sight of the fence in her backyard.
"It changes everything," she said. "We used to walk and ride bikes out there. ... Now we go outside and there's just that ugly wall."
On Thursday, a government official came by Lambert's house to confirm that she will eventually be compensated for her land. She sighed. It was a conversation she'd expected to have several months earlier, before steel beams lined the perimeter of her property.