Monday, June 15, 2009

Proximity of border fence to homes and businesses upsets many

Brownsville Herald
June 14, 2009
by Laura Martinez

Joe De La Garza established his mom-and-pop store back in 1966 on South Oklahoma Road in rural Cameron County.

It wasn't too long ago that he and his grandchildren would walk up and down the levee, located across the street from his store, for exercise.

Things have changed, De La Garza said, as he watched a construction worker use a backhoe to remove dirt for the continued construction of the border fence.

"It's all nonsense," De La Garza, 73, said as he looked at the 18-foot tall brown border fence in front of his store, De La Garza Grocery.

The border fence is two-and-one-half miles away from the Rio Grande, he said, and that is just wrong. Landowners like De La Garza were under the impression the fence would be built 180 feet from the river, not from his storefront, he said.

"What the heck are they doing out here? It doesn't look right," De La Garza said.

The fence's construction is part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which is part of the government's comprehensive immigration reform that includes securing the nation's border. The Department of Homeland Security is overseeing the fence's construction.

Last Thursday, the Texas Border Coalition penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to halt the fence construction so his administration could review the nation's border security policy.

"Without such an order, construction will proceed, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on a border security tactic that fails its basic purpose in defiance of realistic, proven alternatives," said Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition.

The letter is signed by dozens of local politicians, including Brownsville Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr., Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos and state legislators Eddie Lucio Jr., Eddie Lucio III and Rene Oliveira.

In the interim, fence construction in Cameron County is visible up and down South Oklahoma Road a few miles outside the Brownsville city limits, except along some sections of the road where pending lawsuits against the fencing temporarily have halted building, at least for now.

Although De La Garza doesn't like the fencing, he knew it was just a matter of time before it would be built because the government was determined to build it whether the residents liked it or not.

"It's not going to stop the people" from trying to come across, De La Garza said, adding that it in fact could increase illegal immigration since there could be fewer U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling the area because of the fence.

De La Garza sees Border Patrol agents driving around the area about every 15 to 20 minutes or at times once an hour.

"They (Border Patrol) might say, ‘We got a fence now, so we don't have to worry because people aren't going to come across,' " the local businessman said. "This is not going to stop them. I don't think so."

In Cameron County, 34.8 miles of fencing is planned. As of June 5, 11.7 miles of fencing had been completed, said Claude R. Knighten, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. Roughly 9.3 miles of fence are slated to be built along South Oklahoma and Southmost roads, with 3.4 miles to be constructed on South Oklahoma and 5.9 miles on Southmost.


From her front door about a mile away, Otalia Perez sees the landscape De La Garza now sees.

Perez from her front door could see the levee, with acres of green land shortly behind it.

All she sees now is a brown barrier known as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's border fence, blocking her view of everything located right in front of her home.

"We feel closed in," said Perez, 73, of the barrier erected weeks ago in front of her home. "It's sad, very sad."

As an American flag hoisted on a flagpole waves proudly in her front yard, Perez contends that nothing could be done to stop the fence's construction.

Simply put, the government was going to build the fence whether the residents liked it or not, she said.

The DHS in May 2008 filed a land condemnation suit against Otalia and Tomas R. Perez for 2.19 acres of land they owned in front of their home, court documents show. In August 2008, the DHS paid the Perezes $21,086.49 for the property.

Many fence protestors had hoped Obama would put a halt to fence's construction, but a few months after taking office, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the fence's construction would continue.

Additional fencing in Cameron County is visible along Military Highway, also known as Highway 281. Much of the fencing in this area was constructed earlier this year, including on property owned by UTB-TSC Associate Professor Eloisa Tamez, a strong opponent of the fence.

Pending is fencing to be constructed on land owned by the city of Brownsville; city officials earlier this month agreed to give to the DHS some 15 acres of land to build a temporary fence, which would be removed when the city begins construction on the East Loop project. The DHS already had the land title.

Back at De La Garza's store, the businessman wonders how the fencing will hold up during hard rains and hurricane season.

"The soil here? Once it gets wet, it loosens everything, and if the wind starts to get it, I believe it is going to collapse," he said.

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