Skip to comments.Debate over massive fence plan is heating up in South Texas
Posted on 07/08/2007 7:13:18 AM PDT by Dysart
EAGLE PASS -- He's been living here off and on for more than half a century, so rancher Bill Moody figured he had experienced about all the excitement and madness the Texas-Mexico border could produce.
When there's not a drug bust going down or a lost immigrant begging him for food, Moody sometimes finds himself in the company of Hollywood directors, like the one who filmed Lonesome Dove here years ago and was back again recently working on a prequel called Comanche Moon.
But the federal plan for a massive security fence along the border strikes Moody as too far-fetched for a screenplay and downright nutty for his gigantic Rancho Rio Grande, which runs through three counties between Del Rio and Eagle Pass.
"If the wall would help I wouldn't mind. But it won't help. It'll be a big expense, a big problem, ugly as hell and unfriendly to Mexico," said Moody, 84, born in Galveston and heir to one of the largest and oldest fortunes in Texas. "It's not going to happen."
Moody and other landowners along the Rio Grande generally have little in common with open-border proponents and environmental activists, who have their own reasons for opposing the 700-mile fencing project approved by Congress late last year. But taken together, their voices have cranked up the heat against a fence along the border.
A wall may be popular in Arizona, or in the suburbs of North Texas for that matter, but Texans living along the border are more likely to call it a government boondoggle waiting to happen.
"I think it's the stupidest idea I've ever heard of," said Brian O'Brien, a wealthy Houston oilman who has an 18,000-acre ranch, seven miles of it along the Rio Grande, near Eagle Pass. "If the river doesn't keep them out, why do you think a wall will?"
The first casualty of the federal fence-building project could actually be another federal program: the decades-long, multimillion dollar effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore habitat for endangered plant and animal species in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Carefully pieced together since 1980, the brushy riverfront tracts are now the ripest of targets for a Texas border fence because there's no need for messy landowner negotiations or condemnation proceedings. It's Uncle Sam's property already.
But, the critics ask, what happens to the land on the south side of the wall? Does it become a no man's land, a de facto part of Mexico? The University of Texas at Brownsville discovered recently that plans called for part of its campus to be on the south side of the fence. Would students need a passport to get to math class?
And would ranchers like Moody and O'Brien suddenly need permission to water their cattle in the Rio Grande?
"I think there's a bunch of knee-jerk politicians up in Washington who need to come down here and see what's really going on, instead of posturing in front of the TV cameras," said Roy Cooley, general manager of the Maverick County Water Control District in Eagle Pass. "But that's just my opinion."
Despite the red-hot anger a proposed wall is generating in Texas, border fence bashing runs counter to the prevailing political winds in Congress and the American electorate.
With polls showing immigration a top concern for voters last year, U.S. lawmakers approved the Secure Fence Act overwhelmingly and President Bush signed it into law a few days before the November elections. Though spearheaded by the GOP, 64 Democrats in the House and 26 in the U.S. Senate -- including Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois -- voted for it.
Months later, critics say, only about a dozen miles of new fencing have gone up, none of it in Texas, which is home to roughly two-thirds of the 1,952 mile U.S.-Mexico border. Political activists opposed to lenient treatment for illegal immigrants are using the slowpoke progress in funny but biting TV ads, entitled "Where's the Fence?"
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who led efforts in the 1990s to build imposing double-walled barriers near San Diego, has made the sweeping project a cornerstone of his 2008 presidential campaign.
"Border enforcement is now a national security issue," says Hunter, who has repeatedly accused the Bush administration of dragging its feet. "It's time to build the border fence."
Officially, the ambitious project would cost between $2.1 billion and $8 billion. But building in remote areas, not to mention legal fights with landowners who don't want to sell, could send the price tag soaring.
In the short term, the Department of Homeland Security has publicly committed to building 370 miles of fencing along the border before the end of 2008, with 153 miles of it planned for Texas. Hunter says that schedule falls way short of the Secure Fence Act, which he co-authored last year. Eight months after it was signed into law, only 12 miles of new fencing have gone up -- near Yuma, Ariz. -- according to Hunter's office. U.S. Customs and Border Protection would neither confirm nor deny the 12-mile figure.
The Secure Fence Act actually calls for 854 miles of fencing, which, because of the winding terrain, is longer than the linear 700 miles it would cover -- all of which Hunter promises to build within six months if elected president.
In Texas, the double-reinforced fencing, new roads and technological upgrades would stretch for 10 miles east of El Paso, and cover 64 miles from the northern outskirts of Del Rio to the southern edge of Eagle Pass -- including the 35-mile stretch of the Moody ranch on the river. The longest piece would stretch 305 miles along the meandering Rio Grande from Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico.
Critics call the plan unrealistic.
"I don't think they're going to do that," said. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee. "Somebody up here in Congress got a crayon and they said, 'OK, from Laredo draw all the way down to Brownsville.'"
Still, opponents were caught off guard this spring, when the Homeland Security Department started contacting landowners about fence rights of way along some of their riverfront property. Soon fence location maps and memos leaked out of Washington. Then two wall construction contracts worth up to $750 million were put out to bid.
The federal actions angered political leaders along the Texas-Mexico border. A "wall of shame," they called it. Another Berlin Wall. Cuellar, whose district would get over half of the first 153 miles of Texas fencing by 2008, said the negative reaction caused Homeland Security officials to "change their tune."
"They're now saying they're going to get input from the community before they do anything else," Cuellar said.
Over White House objections and veto threats, Cuellar amended a Homeland Security funding bill -- still working its way through Congress -- that if passed would allow authorities to use natural and technological barriers where fencing is impractical. It also requires them to get input from locals before building anything.
In the meantime, Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, said the agency is "well into" meeting its goal of completing 70 miles of fencing by October, when fiscal 2007 ends. He said the barriers were going up first in New Mexico, Arizona and California, where much of the land already belongs to the federal government.
"The 70 miles of fence that we are working toward building this fiscal year are not in Texas," Friel said. "We realize that in Texas there are folks that own property, that have land on the border. That dynamic is different."
The question mark
What nobody can say with any certainty is whether fences will actually help secure the border.
Oscar Saldana, spokesman for the Border Patrol's 316-mile Rio Grande Valley Sector, said physical barriers help give law enforcement "the upper hand that will allow us to maybe funnel entries into an area that we can control."
"Any type of infrastructure that will allow us to gain more time and engage in incursions, obviously we welcome it," Saldana said.
Asked whether fencing off the border in the Valley might simply push the smuggling trade to other areas, Saldana said that would be a success story as far as he's concerned.
"We're responsible for our area," he said. "If they end up going somewhere else I would say our job has been done in our area."
Only about 88 miles, or less than 5 percent, of the U.S.-Mexico border is fenced off, figures show; there's another 80 miles of vehicle barriers designed to stop smugglers from driving their cargo into the U.S. from Mexico.
If there's a gold standard for border fencing, it's the one outside San Diego. Once the premier smuggling corridor in the nation, the San Diego Sector got nine miles of double fencing, new high-tech surveillance and more boots on the ground after Operation Gatekeeper was unveiled in 1994. Critics called it a sham at the time, but today no one disputes that it has had a major impact on smuggling.
In 1995, the Border Patrol caught 524,231 illegal immigrants trying to cross its San Diego Sector, representing more than 40 percent of the total apprehensions that year. A decade later, the sector caught 126,913, figures show.
For fence proponents, Operation Gatekeeper is proof that fences work. For critics, it's proof they don't.
After the successful crackdown in Southern California, apprehensions soared to the east, in the Arizona desert, where illegal immigrants found they were less likely to be captured even if natural dangers, from heat stroke or snake venom, multiplied. Nationwide, apprehensions have remained relatively steady over the past decade even as the Border Patrol budget has more than tripled.
In 1995, 1.27 million illegal immigrants were apprehended along the southwestern border. Ten years later, in fiscal 2005, 1.17 million were caught.
The Border Patrol doesn't compile figures on the ones who make it through, but the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington estimates that the net population of undocumented people has been growing by about half a million people a year since 1990. About 12 million are here now.
The steady flow
Every year thousands more cross the southwestern border, through fields and farms, across city parks and Indian reservations, over golf courses, irrigation canals, wildlife preserves and coastal beaches.
Some of them cross into the United States from the tiny Mexican village of Madero del Rio, just south of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, and Del Rio, where Mexican farmer Samuel Gomez raises watermelons and cattle. Unlike his U.S. counterparts or his country's government, Gomez, 76, would like nothing more than to see a fence erected across the Rio Grande. He ticked off a litany of problems associated with the rampant smuggling industry -- destroyed produce, dead bodies in the river, abandoned cars in the fields, strangers everywhere.
"People come through at night and we have no idea where they're from. With this thing, this wall, that's protection for all of us," Gomez said. "I'm very much in agreement with this project."
Farther south along the border, near McAllen, farmer Chet Miller can tell he's got company when the dogs start barking, usually after dark. He watches the illegals through night-vision binoculars.
Miller used to shoot at them with a shotgun loaded with birdshot, particularly the ones he says he caught stealing produce. It was something he learned from his father, the late C.L. Miller, who in 1975 shot and injured 10 workers called to strike by followers of union leader Cesar Chavez. The elder Miller was never charged.
A decade later his son turned a shotgun on two illegal immigrants who were allegedly stealing melons. One of them drowned in the river while trying to flee.
Miller eventually pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to seven years' probation.
That was more than 20 years ago. Miller, now 44, says he doesn't do labor-intensive agriculture anymore and has given up trying to stop illegals from using his farm as a way into the U.S. He said the U.S. might as well give Mexicans a legal way to get here, instead of collectively looking the other way.
A fence? Miller calls it a "joke," just like the rare use of fines and sanctions that Congress, years ago, promised to impose on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
"If a person can cross the whole country of Mexico and then the river, a measly double fence, even a triple fence, ain't going to stop them," he said. "There ain't no stopping the people."
Miller would get no argument from Oscar Danelo, 22, a dirt poor laborer from Santa Rita, Honduras. Two days after Miller spoke, Danelo stripped down to his shorts and got into the Rio Grande in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, determined to find a job somewhere in the U.S.
A huge Border Patrol camera tower stood on the horizon, but there was no wall. Even if there had been one, Danelo, making his first attempt to sneak into the U.S., said he'd still try to cross.
"I think for a mojado (or wet illegal immigrant), it won't stop him," Danelo said minutes before swimming off to an uncertain future. "There's always a way in."
Border fence fact sheet
The start of the wall: In the 1990s, as illegal crossings skyrocketed, the United States expanded the use of fencing along the U.S-Mexico border near San Diego and in El Paso. Traffic dropped significantly in those areas but soon surged elsewhere.
Less than 5% built: There are now approximately 88 miles of primary fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, representing 4.5 percent of the 1,952-mile boundary. Authorities have installed another 80 miles of vehicle barriers that stop automobiles but not humans.
700 miles planned: In late 2006 President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which calls for about 700 linear miles of fencing between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Authorities plan to build 70 miles of it this year and 370 before the end of 2008, including 153 in Texas.
Cost estimates vary: Officially, the 700-mile barrier would cost about $3 million a mile, or $2.1 billion. But independent estimates show the cost of building and maintaining the fence could go as high as $49 billion over 25 years. Congress provided $1.2 billion for border infrastructure upgrades in 2007.
The virtual wall: Besides physical barriers, a "virtual fence" -- cameras, sensors, surveillance and the like -- is slated for certain areas. But technical glitches have plagued the installation of 28 miles of virtual barriers in Arizona as part of the three-year, $67 million contract with Boeing Corp.
Curbing the flow: In 2005, 1.17 million illegal immigrants were caught trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico, about the same as a decade earlier. In fiscal 2006, the Border Patrol reported an 8.5 percent drop in apprehensions, to 1.07 million.
Sources: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Congressional Research Service; Pew Hispanic Center
Photographs by Tom Pennington, Star-Telegram
I'm not a fan of the "barf alert", preferring to let others reach their own conclusion. As someone already pointed out here, you can expect to see more of these slanted articles. I intend to expose them here.
It won’t stop everyone but it will sure slow them down.
I am not to keen on a wall. I believe this nations armed forces should be protecting our borders. Chances are the National Guard can handle it. Sure some illegals may still get in but the NG will stop 90% of it.
Thanks for the ping list link!
A journalistic attempt to maginify the negatives and minimize the positives in the border fence ...
“Officially, the 700-mile barrier would cost about $3 million a mile, or $2.1 billion. But independent estimates show the cost of building and maintaining the fence could go as high as $49 billion over 25 years.”
I dont believe those numbers, but ... under $2 billion a year to secure the border? It’s a deal!
“I am not to keen on a wall. I believe this nations armed forces should be protecting our borders. Chances are the National Guard can handle it. Sure some illegals may still get in but the NG will stop 90% of it.”
A wall is cheaper than NG, works 24/7, and cannot be so easily taken away later by an aministration intent on not actually enforcing the law.
In truth, we need both a fence and good human watch over the border to catch and deport any unauthorized border crossers.
Itâs an America issue, not a Texas issue. If the people of Dearborn decided that jihadis should be able to cross into Michigan via Toronto, they should have no special say in the matter of border security based on their proximity.
That pesky 13th Amendment!
Southern landowners are still using slave labor.
They’re very very very worried, that they’ll actually have to hire people at competitive wages.
That’s what this is all about.
They picked those two jerks for their opposition to a wall.
I always find it funny when they say "Mr. So-and-So owns this big ranch" or whatever near the border, and it's always some guy with an Anglo name. Why funny? Because if Mr. Magnanimous Anglo gets his way and the guys with the hispanic surnames end up being the majority, they aren't going to "own" anything for much longer.
These people are nothing but traitors. Their property is the result of other Anglos - er, Americans - claiming the land and making it stick by force of arms. Did Mr. Moody get his dirt from General Santa Anna? If his deed isn't in Spanish, who allowed his ancestors or predecessors in ownership to patent the land in the first place?
And O'Brien is just a classic pig who's looking for some cheap help in building his next house on El Rancho.
But all of these guys depend on us to secure their property for them. When the s**t hits the fan, and the hungry people of Mexico are eyeing their dirt, who will they turn to?
Right. The Americans. In desperation, they'll say "save us! stop them from taking our land!". But there will only be brown eyes looking back at them, saying, "What do you mean, Gringo? 'Your land'? Don't think so".
“IF” the fence is ever actually built, the fenced portions will funnel illegal activities to the unfenced portions- it happens now with increased enforcement in certain areas. What I propose is where there is opposition to the fence- leave those sections until the end of the project- by then anyone not profiting from illegal activity will be begging for a fence in their area.
Opponents call it a wall.
Proponents call it a fence.
I call it the United States/Mexico border.
Better fences make better neighbors.
July 2, 2007 | Editorial
Like the United States, India has an immigration problem. India is a developing country with a booming economy. Its neighbor, Bangladesh, is an impoverished mess with 150 million people crammed onto what is mainly a flood plain about the size of upper New England plus Massachusetts. India surrounds Bangladesh on three sides; on the fourth is the Indian Ocean, which frequently stirs up catastrophic typhoons.
India’s per-capita income is about $730 a year, not much by American standards but twice that of Bangladesh, where nearly 60 million of its residents earn less than $1 a day. The result was a growing wave of people crossing from Bangladesh into India, including job-seekers and Islamic terrorists.
In the words of Ajai Sahni, head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, “India has enough nightmares of its own without adding to them.”
Something urgently needed to be done, and India went ahead and did it.
Without fuss, without bother, without much debate, India began building a fence all the way around its 2,050-mile border with Bangladesh. The fence consists of two rows of 10-foot-high barbed wire stretched between posts studded with spikes. Coils of barbed wire fill the space between the two rows. Work began in 2000, and about 1,550 miles of the fence has been completed.
Contrast that with the outcry and anguish in the United States over a plan to build a 700-mile fence across part of its border with Mexico. Contrast that with the inability of Congress to do anything about illegal immigration.
Last week’s failure of the immigration bill in the U.S. Senate means nothing is likely to be done until at least 2009. By then, work on India’s fence should just about be done.
Infiltration down due to fencing
Tribune News Service
Srinagar, Kashmir (INDIA)
January 11, 2005
With about 14 months of ceasefire along the border in Jammu and Kashmir facilitating uninterrupted exercise of border fencing, the infiltration of militants has been curtailed to a great extent during the past six months. Nearly 45 infiltration attempts have been made along the LoC since July last year. The task of fencing the porous LoC along the rugged mountains to check the infiltration of militants was completed in a year by September last.
The fence has added a new dimension in the battle against infiltration and exfiltration of militants, according to Army officials here. With the Army keeping an ever-constant vigil along the fence, crossing the border has become very tough for the militants. Sources here claimed that the security forces have seen groups of militants move up to the fence and then turn back realising that any attempt at crossing will be suicidal.
The fencing that prevented infiltration is also regarded as the main reason behind a decline in the violence in the state during the past year. However, the infiltration is there. It has not stopped, said a senior police officer here, adding that the infiltration attempts by the militants from across the border were calibrated.
With the decline in the violence the past year has witnessed over 2500 incidents and over 700 civilian killings, which has been rated as the lowest level of violence since the eruption of militancy 15 years ago.
Not only the border fencing, various other measures like laying of landmines and possession of modern equipment and weaponry, have helped the Army to check the infiltration and exfiltration along the border. The sources said except for some populated areas, the entire border is laden with landmines. It has, however, been hazardous to many civilians living in the border areas injuring them or rendering them maimed over the years.
The Army is also equipped with world-class night vision devices, detection equipment, surveillance, alarm and communication system. The security forces have sought installation of more sensors made in Israel to effectively check any movement along the border.
The fencing was first attempted in 1994 on the pattern of Punjab and Rajasthan but was suspended due to cross border firing. Later it was restarted along the 198 km-long International Border in the Jammu region in 2001. The fencing along 778 km of the LoC in Kashmir was taken up in 2003 and completed after one year in September last year, according to the sources here.
In order to ensure deterring and detecting the infiltrators or exfiltrators, two systems have been conceived. These are the anti-infiltration obstacle system, which is an integration of an electrified fence incorporated with an anti-intrusion alarm system. Moreover, there is hi-tech surveillance and communication clubbed with the deployment of troops so as to cover the fence with little or no gaps, said the sources.
Probably one of jorge's owners. But 18,000 acres seem the army was looking for a firing range.
I think you’re right...the American memory isn’t very long. In the age of instant gratification, the younger people don’t have a clue. For instance, remember when we paid for Dr./hospital visits? When we saved up to purchase something for money? In a few short months, no, probably more likely weeks, unless the issue is kept in front of them, the general public is off to something else. Sigh.
Moody and the rest of the land owners along the border need to get used to the fence that “we the U.S. are going to make sure is built!
If Bush had devised a reasonable border enforcement policy from the outset, none of this would be happening, and we would not need a fence. It was only because he looked the other way that we are in this mess. And no one trusts him to get us out of it.
The shamnesty bill was an abomination.
$4.4B, $8B, $49B...whatever amount on building a wall.
Suppose we build a 99.99% fence for a fair price and put machine guns on that wall.
What stops a simple Mexican from getting a ‘passport’ in Mexico, a tourist visa from Houston, and walking across the border legally, only to overstay his visa on a construction job in Maryland?
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