May 27, 2011
by Hank Stephenson
The old sheet-metal border fence in downtown Nogales is being torn down and being replaced by a see-through, bollard-style fence, but some people on both sides of the border are having a hard time seeing the difference.
The 2.8-mile, $11.6 million project, which Granite Construction has been building on the outskirts of town since March, broke ground in the heart of downtown on Tuesday, leaving a gaping hole just west of the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry and a lot of questions in the minds of residents.
To the Border Patrol, the difference is the new fence is stronger, taller above ground and deeper below ground, and, most importantly, agents can see through it to threats that may be waiting on the other side.
“Rockings” are a constant problem and agents at the Nogales Station were victims to 300 rock-throwing assaults last year, according to the Border Patrol. Or, as one agent put it, “any agent worth his salt has been rocked.”
The Border Patrol hopes the new fence will discourage people from assaulting the agents because they will now be able to see their assailants and fight back with non-lethal pepper ball guns.
But to Robert Castro, a pharmacy employee in Plaza de Pesquiera, located just west of the DeConcini port and with a clear view of the border barrier, the type of fence doesn’t matter much.
“What difference does it make?” he asked while watching the old fence being torn down by a backhoe and a bulldozer. “It’s still a wall.”
Castro said he initially thought the construction signaled a new port was being built to help ease the long lines he sees snaking south through the plaza and in front of his shop. When he found out it was just a new, see-through fence, he said, he thought, well, maybe now he can waive to his friends on the other side.
Carmen Villanueva, a life-long resident of Nogales, Ariz., who was born here in 1922, said she remembers the days when the fence was nothing more formal than the chain link fence in her yard now.
She said the landing-mat fence is “ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly. Just ugly.” But that doesn’t mean she thinks the government should be spending the money to build a new one.
“That’s tough that they can’t see through this one, they should have thought about that when they built it," she said. “We don’t need to spend that money to build a new one. Someone needs to tell that to Uncle Sam.”
In the end, Villanueva said, it's not going to stop anyone from coming to the United States and seeking a better life, as her parents did in 1918.
“I don’t care what type of fence they build,” she said. “Those people who are determined to cross will. They might die in the process, but they’ll keep crossing.”
In the dark
Businessmen on the U.S. side of the border also have some confusion as to what the project entails.
Greg Kory, owner of Kory’s Department Store, said he understood that Border Patrol contractors would be tearing down the beige decorative wall in the downtown area – a move he opposed. When he found out the concrete wall would remain intact through construction and only the steel fence would be replaced, he was relieved.
“I’m glad to know the concrete one is staying because it’s the better one of the two,” he said. “As far as the landing-mat fence, I think the new one they’re putting in is better looking.”
Kory, whose store faces the border on the corner of Morley and Robbins avenues, said he had had no contact from Border Patrol regarding the project.
Border Patrol just finished construction on a staircase on the corner, and Kory isn’t excited to see more construction tying up traffic in the area, he said. But his real complaint is that the wall is another sign that the government is willing to spend money keeping people out, but not invest a way to bring more legitimate travelers in to the state.
“I don’t put a whole lot of importance on the fence exactly, but I think or government should work on trying to put out a welcome to Mexico instead of putting up a barrier,” he said. “We’re all very much affected by them not coming http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifbecause it’s a hassle to cross the line.”
Back across the line, Simon Castillo, another pharmacy employee in Nogales, Sonora, looked through the 20-yard gap in the fence at the construction workers, Border Patrol agents and private security hired for the project. Castillo said it was hard to say if a new fence would be a good or bad thing, but he was sure of one thing: He liked the new view of the United States.
“It’s been many years with no view like that,” he said