Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Granjeno levee-wall is not keeping out immigrants, says community leader

Rio Grande Guardian
July 21, 2009
by Steve Taylor and Joey Gomez

McALLEN, July 21 - The hybrid border levee-wall in Granjeno has not stopped undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico and the number of crossers may actually have gone up since it was built.

That is the view of Gloria Garza, who led the fight to stop a border wall being built in the tiny border town south of Mission, Texas.

“We are actually now getting more illegals coming in, but now they are going around the levee-wall, which is a few feet away from my house. Now, they are coming in, in bunches of 50 or 100 people. Before you would see one or two,” Garza said.

Garza made her comments in an exclusive interview with the Guardian while attending the South Texas premiere of ‘The Wall” at Cine El Rey in McAllen. The new film is directed by New York-based filmmaker Ricardo Martinez. Garza is featured prominently in the documentary.

Garza and other Granjeno residents put up fierce resistance to the Department of Homeland Security in 2007 and 2008 when the first government maps came out showing a border wall being erected in their backyards.

They told DHS their property is sacred and pointed to land grants issued to their ancestors by the King of Spain. Granjeno, which lies on the banks of the Rio Grande six miles south of Mission, was established by three “porciones” granted by King Carlos III of Spain in 1767. Many of its 450-odd residents can trace their family roots back to three land grant families.

In the end, the government did not build a border wall in Granjeno. Instead, the nearby levee was reinforced and heightened with a concrete wall.

Garza said the levee-wall may be protecting the town from flooding but it is not doing anything to deter immigrants from coming in from Mexico. “How can you build a wall that ends at the city limits? Those coming over just have to go around it,” Garza said.

Garza recalled an unexpected visit to her house by a pregnant woman from Guatemala. The young woman had just climbed the levee-wall.

“I asked her how she did it and she said, ‘I don’t know, I just climbed it.’ I told her, ‘you could have walked around it because there is no fence or nothing at the city limit’,” Garza said.

“She said she and two guys had been followed by Border Patrol but she got away. She was pregnant and yet she climbed the fence. She called me once from New York to thank me because, she said, I was nicer. It was cold that morning. Last I heard she was in New York, coming in from Guatemala.”

Garza said although Granjeno has been spared a border wall, opposition to the project is as strong as ever in the town. “The border wall is nothing but a waste of taxpayers’ money and everybody knows it. In Granjeno, it was just plain politics. And, it does not work. If they have a river as a barrier and that does not stop them, how can a wall stop them?” Garza said.

One personal problem Garza has with the levee-wall is that since it was built Internet and TV reception has been spotty. “I had to stop using the Internet because it keeps kicking you out. We have been told it’s because of the interception of the levee-wall. I have asked around with various companies and that is what I have been informed. The same thing is happening with the TV. I am going to have to get a higher antenna. It’s not hurting other people as much as it is us, because we are closer to the levee, to the wall itself. We are about 250 feet away,” Garza said.

Garza enjoyed 'The Wall,' though she has asked Martinez to correct the name given to the mayor of Granjeno. At the end of the movie, Garza says she is thankful her property was saved but still says the border wall was unnecessary. In her interview with the Guardian, she praised the media for the attention they gave her town.

“I feel the land grants had a lot to do with it but I also think the media did wonders for us. I thank Stefanie Herweck, of the No Border Wall group, because the first day we were going to hold a public meeting she asked if we would like for her to do a press release. I said, ‘please do.’ The Guardian came to the meeting and then the rest of the media started to learn about us. I thank God because there always seemed to be somebody else looking out for us,” Garza said.

When the documentary ended, Martinez hosted a question and answer session about the border wall.

Anayanse Garza, of the Southwest Workers' Union, told Martinez and those in the theater that opposition to the border wall was as strong as ever in the Valley. Garza broadened the discussion to include immigration policy in general and pointed to the large turnout for the César Chávez Day march organized by La Unión del Pueblo Entero and Proyecto Azteca.

“There is still a lot of resistance happening. It’s not just people negotiated (with the government) and it’s over now,” Garza said. “People are taking a stand and our community is in the forefront, I think because we are on the border and we have been colonized. We see the need to put up resistance. It is there.”

Among those attending the premiere were former University of Texas-Pan American President Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas and state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. “'The Wall' is a powerful condemnation of those who saddled our citizens with a very expensive boondoggle,” Peña said.

Peña said he was disappointed more elected officials from the Valley did not show up to see the premiere. Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, who is also featured in the documentary, said he really wanted to go but could not make it.

“I told the director, Ricardo Martinez, that he was doing the job that most public officials were failing to do, even at this late date when the cost of the wall has skyrocketed and its effectiveness brought into question,” Peña said.

“I apologized for those in our local community that failed to have the foresight and collaborated to bring about the project. He (Martinez) remained humble and was startled by the reception and praise he was receiving by the attendees.”

Peña urged Valley residents to purchase ‘The Wall’ when it comes out on DVD.


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