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    TX - Businesses want gap in border fence closed

    Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013 6:00 pm
    By David Crowder El Paso Inc. staff writer


    Dorine Baca-Brown
    Photo by Melody Parra


    While Chip Johns has been fighting the completion of the border fence on his property at the site of the Oñate crossing and Old Fort Bliss, his neighbors have been praying for it.

    “It’s just a real burden for us, and it’s unsafe,” said Dorine Baca-Brown, owner of Baca-Brown Cabinets at 1852 W. Paisano Dr. “Everybody crosses here.

    “We’ve been in the office with customers and had people rush in to get away from the Border Patrol.”

    Her property, like Johns’, backs up to the Rio Grande and the half-mile gap in the border fence.

    Mexico is less than a football field away and the only thing standing in the way is her Cyclone fence loosely topped with razor wire.

    “I can tell you, it has been a freeway crossing here since they left it open,” Baca-Brown said. “We’ve had to repair our fence three times, but I’m not doing it again.”

    She probably won’t have to.

    A contractor has been given notice to proceed with a construction project to close the gap in the fence.

    Johns says the contractor has started moving equipment onto the property and intends to start work soon, despite the recent congressional interest stirred up by him and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas.

    O’Rourke has gotten U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and five Democratic House members to sign letters asking Thomas Wenkowski, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol, to review the project in light of the historical significance of the site.

    Historians say it’s where Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate first crossed the Rio Grande in 1598. Simeon Hart established the region’s first mill there in the early 1800s, and it was home to Fort Bliss from 1879 until 1894.

    Two former officers’ quarters buildings are all that remain.

    O’Rourke’s chief of staff, David Wysong, advised El Paso Inc. last week that there has been no word on whether Wenkowski intends to suspend the fence’s construction to give the project another look.

    That is welcome news to Baca-Brown and Allyn Echaniz, vice president of Bomanite Artistic Concrete next door.

    Their stories are virtually identical and both businesses now keep their front doors locked at all times.

    They tell of border crossers coming into their businesses by day, thefts and attempted break-ins by night and wild chases involving Border Patrol agents at all hours.

    “One day, I was here by myself and this guy runs in and sits down right in front of my desk, panting,” Baca-Brown said. “He said, ‘I’m looking for work.’ He wouldn’t leave. Then I remembered a pellet gun in the drawer.

    “I opened the door and slid it onto my lap and let him see the handle. He left pretty quick. Most of the people are just trying to get away, but you never know.”

    Two years ago, she said, there were a couple of incidents a week. Now, they’re relatively rare, but she said she is ready to move.

    As for the interest by O’Rourke and others in an alternative to the 17-foot-high border fence, she said, “History is very important to all of us, but I think safety is much more important.”

    She added, “Even the White House is fenced. There’s a reason for that.”

    Echaniz said she knows the fence is controversial to some, but when federal representatives asked if her business wanted the fence, “We said yes.”

    “On numerous occasions, people just run across to get in the country,” Echaniz said. “One time, the doorbell rang and my son opened it and there was a man bleeding badly.

    “We’ve had people try to break in from the rear. They’ve carved holes in the wall. The alarm goes off and we have to come down at 3 or 4 in the morning to meet the police and turn it off.”

    She said Border Patrol agents have told her the gap in the fence has created a funnel that illegal crossers naturally head for.

    “I think there’s no point in putting up half a fence or three-fourths of a fence,” she said. “We’ve already spent all this money, and now we just need to finish it.”

    http://www.elpasoinc.com/news/local_...a4bcf6878.html
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