Border towns fight federal fence plans
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency plans to build a nearly 700-mile fence along the southern border of the United States to curb illegal immigration. The fence, which could be completed by year's end, would split border towns and alter the relationships between U.S. border communities and their neighbors in Mexico. Eagle Pass, Texas, Mayor Chad Foster, a proponent of border control without physical barriers, has worked with other border communities on the issue as president of the Texas Border Coalition. American City & County talked with Foster about how a physical barrier could affect his community.
Q: What is Eagle Pass' relationship like with the neighboring Mexican community, Piedras Negras?
A: If there's a fire in Piedras Negras, the Eagle Pass Fire Department responds to it. If there's a fire in Eagle Pass, the Piedras Negras Fire Department responds to our needs. Mexico endured their first tornado in the history of the country on April 24, 2007. I called Piedras to see what their needs were. There was an older neighborhood [that] needed chainsaws and generators to [remove debris]. [The] tornado [came] from Piedras, jumped the river and hit Maverick County, Texas. The governor of Coahuila, Mexico, [went] to Piedras Negras with resources to help [the city] with their cleanup. [Then], he sent manpower and equipment and helped us with our cleanup and never asked for a dime. That's the way we work on the border. We're two countries that have historically worked as one community.
Q: How would the proposed border fence affect Eagle Pass and other border communities?
A: In the lower Rio Grande Valley, there's 69.9 miles of fencing to be done. With that fencing done, we're, in actuality, ceding 2,400 acres to Mexico [that] are going to be on the wrong side of the fence. We're going to see [our historic] Fort Duncan Park, the basis for the existence of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, fenced out. Our municipal golf course, which goes to the river's edge, and our city park will be on the wrong side of the fence.
Q: What alternatives do you propose?
A: We're not advocating doing anything less than securing our border. The Texas Border Coalition [advocates] security as our priority, but one size does not fit all. In Texas, we have a bamboo-like plant that will grow 30 feet high and in some areas of the river, [it] can be as deep as a half a mile from the river's bank. Any illegal activity that gets into that cane is out of sight. So, we're advocating the eradication of [the plant]. That facilitates line of sight for border patrol agents. [Along] the Texas border, we have camera towers along the banks of the river, and we have border patrol boats that are physically patrolling the river. We've seen a 70 percent decrease in apprehensions with no physical barriers. We feel that we can secure our Texas border without the need for any physical barriers.
Q: Why would the fence not be an effective way to secure the border?
A: Border Patrol has admitted [that] this fencing will only slow an illegal entry down three to four minutes. We just don't think that's good enough when the Congressional Research Service [studied] the expense of building 700 miles of fence. Maintaining it for 20 years will cost the taxpayers in excess of $49 billion. It makes no sense, especially when we have technology available to secure our border rather [than using] the antiquated solutions that haven't been used since the 16th century. No one knows our border better than those [of us who] live and raise our families [here.]