Unlike other Texas cities along the Mexican border, Del Rio actually welcomes the 15-foot-high steel wall the U.S. government wants to build against illegal immigrants.
Other cities have denounced the barrier as a waste of money, an eyesore, a giveback of hard-won American soil and an insult to Mexico. They have barred government surveyors from setting foot on city property, refused to sell land to Washington, or dug in their heels over the selling price.
But Del Rio’s City Council voted unanimously last month to sell 70 acres to the Department of Homeland Security for $1.2 million. The mayor said the city considers itself lucky; it bought the land decades ago for $90,000 and regards it as useless.
Moreover, Valdez said the existing chain-link fence is too easy for illegal immigrants to jump. And he said he is glad Homeland Security will clear the waterfront land of carrizo cane and other foliage, enabling Border Patrol agents to see the river.
Del Rio, population 34,000, is 160 miles west of San Antonio, next to Lake Amistad reservoir, a popular destination for serious bass fishermen. It sits opposite the Mexican city of Ciudad Acuna, three times its size.
Del Rio is different from other Texas border communities in a fundamental way: While the city limits extend all the way to the river, Del Rio’s city center is miles from the winding, muddy flow that is a centerpiece in other border towns. While other cities grew from the Rio Grande’s edge, Del Rio was built around a natural spring.
The new wall won’t cut through a golf course or anyone’s long-held family land, the way it may in other border communities. And it won’t be visible to downtown shoppers.
In fact, for Del Rio, the government crackdown on illegal immigration has been good for business in some respects.
The city will use the proceeds from the land sale to build a new revenue-generating parking garage across from Del Rio’s federal courthouse, which has been bustling with immigration cases ever since U.S. authorities in 2006 declared the sector a zero-tolerance zone for anyone caught sneaking across the border.
Elsewhere, the government has sued dozens of landowners who have refused to cooperate with the fence plans. And in May, a coalition of border-city mayors and business leaders, including Valdez, sued Homeland Security, saying some landowners were tricked into giving up their rights.