July 21, 2012
by Dave Hendricks
HIDALGO — The rust-red border fence that snakes through Hidalgo County
includes more than a dozen small gaps wide enough for a truck to drive
And, sure enough, smugglers have driven right through them — north carrying
drugs and illegal immigrants, and south running from the law.
The gaps are beginning to close as the federal government installs imposing
metal gates that open only for Border Patrol agents, farmers and other people
with legitimate business along the Rio Grande. In the project’s first phase, the
government plans to install 44 gates across Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
At first, Border Patrol tested farm and vehicle gates across the Rio Grande
Valley. While Border Patrol has been tight-lipped about the test gates, calling
the project “operational and law enforcement sensitive,” some details have
At least one test gate appears to have been installed just west of
International Boulevard near the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District 3
pump station in Hidalgo. The nearby border fence, just yards from International
Boulevard, includes two small gaps that briefly had different gates.
“I guess they were trying to find out which one was most reliable, which one
worked best,” said district President and General Manager Othal E. Brand Jr.
“They did that for four or five months.”
One gate mechanism appeared to be hydraulic. Another used a gear-and-chain
system. The test appears to have finished and both gates now appear
Asked about the test at District 3, Border Patrol requested questions in
writing. Border Patrol confirmed testing “vehicle and farm gates at selected
existing fence gaps in Cameron and Hidalgo counties” but wouldn’t provide
“Specific details regarding the gates design and mechanisms are law
enforcement sensitive,” according to information provided by Supervisory Agent
Dan Milian, a Border Patrol spokesman.
After installing the first 44 gates, 32 in Cameron County and 12 in Hidalgo
County, the government may build up to 34 more, according to Border Patrol. As
of Jan. 12, the project had cost “approximately $10 million.”
Farmers and others with business along the Rio Grande use keypads to open the
gates. If the power goes out, a backup system powers the gate’s lock but the
gate must be opened manually.
“If (the) power outage lasts longer than 12 hours, gates will automatically
unlock and will remain unlocked until power is restored,” according to
information provided by Border Patrol. The gates are designed so that an adult
can manually open an unlocked gate.