Texas Cities Block Access to Border Land

Juan A. Lozano, AP, October 3, 2007

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Mayors in Brownsville, Del Rio and El Paso have denied access to some parts of their city property, turning away federal employees assigned to begin surveys or conduct other preliminary work on the fence meant to keep out illegal immigrants.

“This is exercising our rights. This is our property. We are not going to make it easy for them,” said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, who refused last month to sign documents granting government workers permission to enter city property.

In Eagle Pass, Mayor Chad Foster initially refused the Border Patrol’s request to build 1 1/2 miles of fencing as part of a project that includes light towers and a new road for patrols. Now he is negotiating with the Department of Homeland Security.

“All of us are in opposition to physical barriers, but we want to work with DHS so everybody walks away happy,” Foster said.

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State and local officials have said the fence will destroy ecosystems by cutting off the Rio Grande, the only source of fresh water in the region. They also say it will hurt the cross-border economy and send the wrong message to neighbors in Mexico.

Brownsville, a city of 170,000 people across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico, is considering a lawsuit against the federal government to prevent the fence’s construction on city property. City leaders met with attorneys Tuesday night about that possibility but decided to wait two weeks before deciding.

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Maps released last month by the federal government show the proposed location of about 70 miles of border fencing in south Texas, stretching from Rio Grande City southeast to Fort Brown, next to Brownsville. Maps of fencing being proposed for other parts of the state have not been released.

The maps show nearly 23 miles of fence would be built in and around Brownsville, including some city property. Ahumada pointed out of his office window to land only three blocks away as potential fenced-in areas.

Ahumada said a nearly $40 million dam-and-reservoir project proposed for Brownsville would provide a natural physical barrier and offer better border security than the fence.

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If Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff “is determined to build a wall. I wish Mr. Chertoff would build a wall around his house,” Ahumada said. “We don’t want this wall.”

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