Debate looms over border fence
By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Article Launched:08/05/2007 03:17:11 PM MDT

AUSTIN -- Used underwear. Temporary cell phone. A lady's blouse. Sweatpants. Plastic baggie used for marijuana.
For Mark Grijalva these items, the trappings of illegal border crossings left behind among the rows of cotton he tends in San Elizario and Tornillo, are a sometimes costly nuisance and even portend danger.

Clothes get lodged in his farming equipment. Crossers trample his plants and leave massive tracks in the soil. Faces pop up in his fields out of the blackness of night.

While community leaders in the Rio Grande Valley are launching a loud fight against border fence proposals, Grijalva is among many farmers in the El Paso area who said they would welcome the barrier.

"It would stop the free flow of the traffic I think," said Grijalva, who raises cotton, pecans and wheat and land in San Elizario, Tornillo and Fort Hancock.

By 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has plans to construct 370 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

About 70 miles of that fence are due for completion by September of this year, most of it in California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Already, about 75 miles of fencing exists along the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border, including about 10 miles in the El Paso area, most of it inside the city limits.

DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner said new fencing for Texas isn't set for construction until next year, and plans for where the fence might go are yet to be finalized.

Preliminary DHS maps in March showed plans for building much of the fencing in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo and sparked outrage among community leaders there. The plan showed no new fencing near El Paso.

"In South Texas a wall is not going to work, it's just not going to work," said Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos.

Concerns about the fence devastating the local economy, damaging the unique wildlife and destroying already weakened levees have prompted officials from that region to take their worries to the Austin, Washington and even Mexico.

The Texas Border Coalition, a group of local elected officials from El Paso to Brownsville, announced Thursday that Valley leaders were contemplating a lawsuit against the federal government to stop the fence building plans.

Instead of building a fence, Cascos said, the federal government should build up levees along the Rio Grande and build dams that would deepen the waters, discouraging crossers.

"There's not a one-size-fits-all (solution) here," Cascos said. "There are some parts of the border that may welcome a wall for whatever reasons." At a recent meeting with about 60 local farmers and their wives nearly all of them said they wanted fencing, said Jesus "Chuy" Reyes, El Paso County Water District No. 1 executive director.

He said the farmers are fed up with immigrants trashing their crops, with U.S. Border Patrol chases leaving ruts in their fields from chasing the scofflaws.

"'Stop the problem at the border,' is what they're saying," Reyes said.

Art Ivey raises pecans on about 400 acres that abut the Rio Grande. He said he grew up along the border during a time when families on both sides knew one another and most border crossers were young men looking for work.

Those days, he said, are gone forever.

Now, he sees men who look like gang members with teardrop tattoos on their faces and baggy jeans traipsing through his land, and it makes him afraid for his seven children.

"It's a completely different border," he said.

And he wants Congress to shut to it down, with a fence, with technology, with Border Patrol agents... whatever it takes.

Ramon Tirres Jr., a farmer who works land between Clint and Fabens, though said he doesn't think a fence is going to stop anybody.

Illegal immigrants often damage his cotton crop and leave clothing strewn in his fields, too, he said.

But he thinks Border Patrol agents and more cameras to monitor the border would be better solutions to curb illegal traffic.

Fencing, he said, would be a waste of money.

"They'll find a way go over it, under it or through it," Tirres said.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, said each area of the Texas border has its own unique concerns, and he hoped that DHS officials would consider those in making fencing plans.

"We've got a lot of work to do with communities along the border about fencing," he said.

DHS spokeswoman Keehner said federal officials are working with and listening to local officials as they make plans for both virtual and physical fencing in Texas. But in the end, she said, it will be the federal agency that decides where the barriers will go.

"They will not have the veto power," she said.