Border fence with Mexico waste some say

January 25, 2008 9:20:54 PM PST
A dozen landowners in Brownsville could find out next week if the federal government will get access to their property to build a border fence. Friday, a federal judge urged the government to use common sense in the fight. The feds want access to the land to do survey work for the fence and the judge is expected to make a ruling next week.

Those landowners and the mayor of Brownsville have been vocal critics of the border fence saying the fence could end up being a waste of money.

The southernmost golf course in Texas is south of the city of Brownsville. It sits right along the US border with Mexico.

Today people play golf on what was in 1846 a battlefield in the Mexican American War. Back then Texans had to fight for this land, but now the federal government is planning to put the entire course on the Mexican side of the planned border fence.

Securing the border is a greater goal than securing a tee time, but the whole placement of the fence is symbolic in Brownsville.

"They're trying to ramrod this fence with no clue how we live here," said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada.

Ahumada agrees there is a need to stop illegal immigration, but he says the fence is not the answer.

"No fence, no nothing is going to keep the determined ones out," he told us. "You build a 16 foot fence, they'll get a 17 foot ladder."

Ahumada expects the federal government will soon move to seize city and privately owned land through eminent domain to build the fence. Brownsville already has a lawyer to fight the federal government.

In Brownsville the view of the river and Mexico beyond is unobstructed and city leaders like it that way. They would love to develop the river with restaurants and clubs, but this wall plan would change all that because the wall would be built on the US side, blocking the entire view of the river and Mexico.

When the department of homeland security laid out the fence's proposed route in a public meeting in Brownsville last month, it didn't exactly follow the river. That left some citizens confused.

"If you look at these maps, in some places it's two and a half miles off the river," said wildlife guide and Brownsville resident Jack Gibson. "You give an illegal, once he's on this side of the river, two and a half miles he's going to get around anything you put up. This is just a waste of money."

Gret Gephart of the Department of Homeland Security says the plan will work.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't," he said.

The federal government says this is the plan that makes the most sense for them. The fence, they remind us, is not designed to protect Brownsville alone.

"It's based on security," Gephart said. "We need to secure our border. We've got illegal activity going on across the border. It's not just about Rio Grande Valley. It's about securing the border, securing the nation."

To do it, they're committed to build 70 miles of Texas fence by next Christmas. A schedule that doesn't allow much time for questions of what it means to put us land on the Mexican side of the fence.

"Do I need a passport to go to work in the morning," Brownsville resident Robert Ruiz said.

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