March 27, 2011
by Laura B Martinez
If the objective of the border fence is to stop illegal immigration, then the fence isn’t working, some area residents say.
What does help deter illegal crossing, they maintain, is the presence of U.S. Border Patrol agents. But these same observers claim they are seeing fewer agents and wonder if that’s partly because of the fence.
Furthermore, the border near the Southmost area once was well lit with the spotlights used by the Border Patrol but now is often dark, they say.
Pamela Taylor, 82, and her daughter, Michelle Moncivaiz, are among those who have always opposed construction of a border fence.
Now that they have lived with the fence for a time and have some experience, they say it has not deterred immigrants from crossing onto their property and, if anything, they are seeing even more people than before.
“Our biggest concern is that the Border Patrol is not going to get enough money and we are not going to get enough agents on the ground here,” said Taylor. “We need more people here.”
Daniel Milian, supervisory Border Patrol agent, said there are about 520 agents stationed in Brownsville, with 260 of those agents working out of the Fort Brown station, the one in charge of patrolling the area where the two women live.
“No agents have been let go or anything like that,” Milian said. “We are still out there.”
As for the spotlights, Milian said the agency moves them for several reasons: when they are needed in other areas, when they are requested for use by other entities, and when they are sent for maintenance.
Construction of the border fence in Cameron County began in 2008 and is largely completed. Work continued earlier this month near downtown Brownsville.
Moncivaiz echoed the sentiments of her mother about the value of the Border Patrol and her concern about budget cuts.
“They need the funding,” she said of the Border Patrol. “We need the boots on the ground, and we need to make sure the cameras across the field work. ... They are very valuable to us, especially at night.”
Moncivaiz said she thinks the infrared equipment used when it is dark is essential to helping agents be “where they need to be.”
“Without that, they are like blind,” she said.
Those who own property near the Rio Grande have varying opinions about the fence. Farmer Rusty Monsees says he always supported it, while Taylor and Moncivaiz have tried from the beginning to voice opposition.
The women say no one listened to them when they tried to speak up and that they weren’t allowed to talk in any of the meetings when plans were being.
Taylor said she sent letters to the Obama administration and, earlier, to the Bush administration asking for help. She said she wrote to federal, state and local officials but received no answers.
“People tell you write to your representatives, but what for,” added Moncivaiz. “It is frustrating. We are not looking for a hand-out.”
The women say they are still trying to inform others.
“People up north have no clue what a sham this (fence) has been. It has been a waste of their tax dollars, and it’s affecting their kids’ education, their parents’ social security and their health care,” Moncivaiz said.
Cuellar weighs in
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, says the local community is right to voice concerns. He agrees that the fence was not the most efficient way to secure the border.
“I certainly agree with the locals in saying that the most cost-effective way in securing that border is more security at the border, more personnel and more technology,” he said.
Cuellar said the estimated cost of each mile of fence is about $7.5 million, and he believes the federal government would do better to spend money on technology, which could cost about $1 million per mile.
He strongly opposes the estimated $350 million in cuts recommended for border security funding. Not only would it affect the Border Patrol but programs such as Operation Stonegarden, which provides grants to the sheriff’s department for border operations, he said.
“Of course we have a deficit budget issue and we need to have deficit reduction, but we’ve got to be smart on how we cut. ... When you cut $350 million from border security, are we saying that the border is not a priority for our budget?” Cuellar said.
“I am glad some of the local folks in the Brownsville and Cameron County area are saying this. This is what we have been saying,” he said.
No man’s land
Taylor lives about 208 feet from the Rio Grande just outside Brownsville. People call it “no man’s land” because her home, which she has lived in for decades, sits behind the border fence.
The property value has probably declined because of the fence, but Taylor says she is more concerned about security.
Next to her property, a couple of deflated inner tubes lie discarded. Black plastic trash bags that were tossed aside likely held the clothes of some undocumented immigrants, Taylor said.
Recently, she and her daughter caught someone trying to break into their home. Nearby, the Border Patrol apprehended a group of undocumented immigrants who had crossed the river.
“Every time we call, the Border Patrol has responded. We don’t have a gripe,” Taylor said.
The sound of helicopters has become more common, and Moncivaiz sometimes calls the Border Patrol to make sure the chopper belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and not to Mexico or possibly one of the drug cartels.
The family has felt the need to take more precautions to protect their property, and Moncivaiz says she worries when she is not at home.
“They poisoned our dog,” she said with a sigh.
In favor of the fence
Monsees, the farmer who also lives by the border, said some of his pets have been killed and that his home has been shot at several times.
He is not as concerned about the average undocumented immigrant as he is about drug smugglers and people linked to the drug cartels.
“I’m not worried about the gente, the people. I never have been. They never bothered me. … What we are dealing with is a different breed. They have no respect for their own family. You are not dealing with the same individual that sells candy at the bridge in Matamoros,” Monsees said.
Tired of the situation at his home, Monsees has decided to fight back. He has posted signs in his front yard warning people that if shot at, he will shoot back.
Monsees said he is being targeted because he calls the Border Patrol every time he sees illegal activity occurring on or near his land.
Defending one’s home
The Brownsville native has lived on the family farm for some 57 years. He says he is not going anywhere and will defend his home at any cost.
“This is my place. I refuse to cower to them. I am not going to do like they do in Mexico and run and hide,” he said. “If they want to tangle with me face on, fine. … If I get killed in the process, I am defending my land. That is my right.”
Cuellar said it should not get to the point where residents have to protect themselves when the federal government should be doing it.
“I can understand that frustration,” Cuellar said.
Taylor and Moncivaiz respect Monsees’ right to voice his opinion, but they believe he could be putting his neighbors at risk should he try and take the law into his own hands.
“We do have problems, but all we want to do is live here and enjoy our home,” Taylor said, adding that people should be careful about what they say.
“There is some information that really shouldn’t be put out there,” Moncivaiz added.