Alicia A. Caldwell, AP, November 8, 2007
A map obtained by The Associated Press shows that the double- or triple-layer fence may be built as much as two miles from the river on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, leaving parts of Granjeno and other nearby communities in a potential no-man’s-land between the barrier and the water’s edge.
Based on the map and what the residents have been told, the fence could run straight through houses and backyards. Some fear it could also cut farmers off from prime farmland close to the water.
The Rio Grande has been the international boundary since the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican-American War. But officials say that putting the fence right up against the river could interfere with its flow during a flood and change its course, illegally altering the border.
The map obtained by the AP shows seven stretches of proposed fence in the Rio Grande Valley, including one section that could cut through the property of about 35 of Granjeno’s nearly 100 houses. City leaders and residents say federal officials have shown them the same map.
Exactly how many Rio Grande Valley residents could lose some or all of their property is unclear. The map does not have a lot of detail, and depicts only one portion of the valley, which has about 2 million people overall.
Michael Friel, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Washington, said the maps are preliminary and no final decisions on the route of the fence have been made. But he said the maps reflect the government’s judgment of how best to secure the border against intruders.
“Our agency, Customs and Border Protection, has an obligation to secure our nation’s border and we take that obligation, or that responsibility, very seriously,” Friel said.
What will happen to the land between the fence and the river is the biggest question for landowners in border towns like Granjeno, a town of three streets and about 400 people situated in a mostly corn-growing region of the Rio Grande Valley.
J.D. Salinas, the top elected official in Hidalgo County, said he can’t get an answer no matter how many times he asks.
“Are we going to lose prime farmland because they are going to build a structure that’s not going to work?” Salinas asked. “You’re moving the border, basically two miles. You’re giving it up to Mexico, and the U.S.-Mexico treaties say you are not supposed to do that.”
Local officials also fear the fence could cut off access to drinking water that is pumped from the river and piped in to 35,000 homes in the Rio Grande Valley. They fear that town officials will not be allowed to set foot inside the no-man’s-land to repair any pumps that might fail.
“They said there’s going to be gates, and I said, ‘That’s wonderful. What kind of gates?’” said Noel Benavides, Cecilia Benavides’ husband. The only specific type described, he said, was an electronic gate.
“That requires power. What happens when it floods?” Benavides said he asked federal officials. He never got an answer.