Sunday, March 16, 2008

Border fence opponents join 9-day march against wall in South Texas

Dozens of protesters have taken a stand against the fence as part of the March Against the Border Wall, a nine-day journey from Roma to Brownsville, Texas. The march, which crosses three counties, ends Sunday.
His cry serves as a punctuation point here, where drug-related violence across the border has become all too real.

Border fence opponents join 9-day march against wall in South Texas
More than 200 join 9-day march against border barrier
12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, March 15, 2008
By DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News

MISSION, Texas – As the group nears a campground after the day's 12-mile march against a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a red-cheeked man yells out of his vehicle: "Stop the drugs! Build the fence!"

But all along the three-county route of the march, voices against the fence have dominated the discussion. Ranchers and river entrepreneurs, school administrators and students oppose the fence and question whether it's a better deterrent of illegal migration and illicit drugs than beefed-up Border Patrol forces and high-tech blockades.

Pushed by growing public concern over illegal immigration and a perceived lack of border security, Congress voted in September 2006 to build the fence. The vote was framed as a security-first springboard toward President Bush's proposed overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, which later failed.

Many here say that security help is needed but that fencing won't trip up the drug traffickers and other illegal crossers.

Yes, illegal immigration causes multiple frictions, reasons 14-year-old Carolynn Perez, who along with her mother, Rosalinda Perez, joined the nine-day protest march over the three southernmost counties of the nearly 2,000-mile border.

But a wall – even an 18-foot one – is something a migrant will just learn to climb, says the great-great-granddaughter of a Spanish settler.

The protest, which drew more than 200 people for different legs of the trip, ends Sunday in Brownsville.

While opposition to the fence is strong here, some off the march route favor it.

"I am for securing the border so that they can provide some security to Americans," says Moses Sorola, a 74-year-old bookkeeper in Brownsville. "If that is a fence, fine. If that is whole line of soldiers at the border, fine."

The Mexican government needs to begin providing good jobs for its people so that they stop migrating to Texas, Mr. Sorola says.

The U.S. government wants to build 670 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico by December.

Texas has the longest stretch of border and the greatest concentration of private property owners. The U.S. Homeland Security Department has filed dozens of lawsuits against landowners – including the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District and the University of Texas at Brownsville – seeking access to land to conduct surveys. The suits have led to animosity and activism.

"I fault us in Texas for not speaking out when they built the first walls in California," says Matt Webster, one of Carolynn's high school teachers, referring to fencing that went up at Pacific Ocean beaches in the early 1990s.

Along the Rio Grande in Mission, Johnny Hart runs the Riverside Club, nestled in a curve of the river.

"Build a wall," he says, pausing to breathe, "around Washington, D.C."

Then a smirk crosses his sunburned face and he laughs at his joke.

"That's Mexico there," says Mr. Hart, pointing out his window to the river, where he gives boat tours. "It's like two countries and it's like one. ... Mexico to me is like Oklahoma. ... We don't look at it as a foreign country."

Surveying challenges
For many years, many looked at this region next to Mexico as a "third country," with its own language of Spanglish and sayings like "sientate down" and "vamos shopping."

But when the federal government made attempts to begin surveying land – meeting challenges with eminent domain threats at the river's midpoint in Eagle Pass – folks here took notice. And they're not giving up.

In McAllen, Mayor Richard Cortez, a business accountant, said he wasn't happy when he first heard the U.S. government wanted to survey land.

"We were not consulted," he says. "We are Americans, and we are part of this country.

"We get criticized by the pro-fence people. But I tell them come to see the reality of the border. A fence won't stop terrorists who come here with legal documents. It won't stop illegals without any documents."

Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner says the agency will meet its December deadline for 670 miles of fencing "whether natural, manmade fencing or technology of some type."

Congress mandated additional fencing and barriers, under the Secure Fence Act. Some 70 miles of "tactical infrastructure" is proposed for the southernmost portion of the border – Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties, home to nearly 1.2 million people, mostly Hispanics.

But it's premature to say that, by December, tactical barriers will extend the length of the Texas border, the spokeswoman said, because of the litigation.

"In Texas, the negotiations are ongoing and the Border Patrol still needs to gain access to land," Ms. Keehner says.

Ms. Keehner notes that the majority of landowners in Texas have allowed access to their property.

More than two dozen property owners will have hearings in two federal courts this Monday and Wednesday.

Eloisa Tamez, who owns three acres at El Calaboz, just west of Brownsville, is among those fighting. Her land is part of the San Pedro de Carricitos land grant, established by Spain in 1747. Officials did not follow an adequate process of consultation and negotiation in planning the border fencing, said Mrs. Tamez, the 73-year-old director of the nursing program at UT-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

And a federal judge has supported part of her plea for further negotiation.

"We were never significant enough for the United States, and now they want to section off a part of the United States behind a wall," Mrs. Tamez says. "Washington now knows that we are different down here."

The Homeland Security spokeswoman, Ms. Keehner, says much consultation has taken place, including individual efforts by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a Harvard-trained lawyer.

In Hidalgo County, for example, "they came up with a workable solution that they wanted some combination of levees and fencing," Ms. Keehner notes.

"They came to us with a viable, workable solution. But the secretary has also said that this is not an opportunity for endless debate."

'They'll get it'
Johnny Shuford of Rio Grande City grows yellow and red onions on 40 of his 240 acres at the Rio Grande. Before his land was part of the U.S., it was "Porcion 79" of a Spanish land grant, which gave him water rights to irrigate from the Great River.

But at 85 years old, he knows that fighting the U.S. government is difficult.

So when they asked to survey his land, he offered no resistance, though "I am against it," he said from his home office, curled U.S. flags behind him.

"It's the U.S. government, and if they want it, they'll get it."

In Brownsville, 82-year-old Fred Perez, Carolynn's grandfather, worries that the fence will cut him off from the family cemetery. Mr. Perez's grandfather, Juan M. Perez, who came to Brownsville from Spain, founded the cemetery

Today, he finds the family plot, near flowering aloe vera and mesquite trees, and narrates the family history for his granddaughter.

His mother, Dolores Perez, died in childbirth when he was just 9 years old. It was her 12th pregnancy.

"This is my father, Cirilo Perez," he says, running his hand over the granite tombstone. "He died in 1947, and I had just come out of the Navy."

He pauses.

"I feel bad," he says. "How are we going to put flowers on my parents' graves?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My Ancestors are of Spanish Origin and also had a land grants I know of 6 direct ancestors that had land in Starr County issued back in 1767. What these anti border fence advocates are not telling you is they want the ability to cross back and fourth unchallenged. I can't wait for that fence to go up and passport requirements to go into effect in 2009. It is ashame the people in these articles are hiding behind stupid cemetery propaganda. I have ancestors buried their too and it is not going to affect a persons ability to visit the cemeteries. The only thing that can prevent that is the physical land owner blocking your ability to visit the cemetery. The Fence our government wants to build is to reduce drug and illegal crossings. It may not be 100% effective but it will help the problem.