Mayors in historic towns along the Texas-Mexico border say the way to thwart illegal immigration is to make the Rio Grande wider, deeper and harder to cross.
The officials in cities such as Brownsville, El Paso and Laredo want feds to halt ongoing efforts to build a 700-mile border fence through their communities.
The fence, many complain, cedes thousands of acres of U.S. land to Mexico, splits historic towns in two, and cuts farmers off from their primary water supplies.
On top of that, the fence won’t curb immigration and sends a bad message to the rest of the world. Widening the river, they maintain, is a more effective and environmentally friendly way to stop illegal immigration and smuggling.
“We want to create a weir dam that would hold river water back to keep it from just flowing out into the Gulf,” Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada tells Newsmax. “It would raise the river’s level and widen it, thus making the river a more formidable, natural barrier.”
The Rio Grande has served as the border between the U.S. and Mexico since 1848. Since then, however, many places along the river have shrunk to little more than a knee-deep, polluted puddle, Texas officials say.
Border officials for decades have had to pay careful attention to areas such as the infamous Neely’s Crossing, 50 miles east of El Paso, where the river is barley a trickle, allowing border jumpers to walk or even drive across.
The mayors of Brownsville and Laredo have suggested using the series of dams to deepen the river to between 10 feet and 24 feet and widen it to 500 feet across.
“The wall will cost over $1.6 billion for 69 miles of wall between El Paso and Brownsville,” Ahumada tells Newsmax. “Our weir dam project would cost just $40 million for 42 miles. We already have the permits and $19.6 million of the funding.
“The river would then become a virtual fence, because it would be wider, deeper and the currents would be stronger. It can be patrolled by high speed boats which would deter illegal activity there, and reduce the number [personnel] needed to patrol the border.”
The remainder of the border area could be controlled with electronic fencing, security sensors and by removing large fields of Carrizo cane, which give illegals a hiding place.
Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition (TBC) and mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas tells the BBC, “We’re only going to have one chance to secure the border and we feel that in this modern age, technology is the way to sincerely secure the border.
“The fence is going to convey a false sense of security and the border patrol has said it will only slow down an illegal entry by three to four minutes,” Foster says.
The border wall will be built largely on top of existing flood-control levees which are due for reconstruction in the near future. “As a result,” an official TBC statement concludes, “the DHS will spend more than $200 million of taxpayers’ funds to construct barriers in the spring of 2008 that will be destroyed…in order to fulfill the flood protection mission of the levees.”
Further, the TBC is concerned that the wall would make it impossible to provide emergency, police and fire-fighting services to communities located south of the wall.
“By placing thousands of acres of U.S. territory on the Mexican side of the border barrier, the proposed project effectively yields territories of the U.S., Texas and our counties to Mexico. This is an abomination to the sacrifices our state and nation’s heroes made to secure the U.S.,” the TBC notes.
“This is sacred ground,” Mayor Ahumada tells Newsmax.
The wall, Antonio Zavaleta, former Brownsville city commissioner and vice president for external affairs at the University of Texas at Brownsville, said, would divide the university’s ITEC campus in half.
“Are we going to have to have passports to get to our campus?” he told the Paper of South Texas. “They’re talking about building this wall, but they’re not talking about maintaining or repairing it. The moment it’s finished, it’s going to deteriorate.”
“The fence is not even continuous,” adds TBC spokesperson Monica Stewart tells Newsmax. People can tunnel underneath it or go around it. In fact, the TBC notes, over 40 tunnels between Mexico and the U.S. have been discovered in the last six years.
The river-widening projects, Mayor Ahumada noted, would also provide valuable water to cities along the border, with 36,600,000 gallons for Brownsville alone.
“I have seen the wall in San Diego,” he told Newsmax. “It is ugly, monstrous and sends the wrong signal about what America is all about. America symbolizes freedom, democracy, free trade and commerce. This wall goes against everything we stand for.”
Despite support for the river improvement project, officials from the TBC and and Texas towns such as Del Rio, Harlingen, McAllen, Mission, Roman and Hidalgo say the Department of Homeland Security isn’t listening.
“Communication is not happening,” the TBC’s Stewart tells Newsmax. “That’s where our major fight is.”
“The TBC has no confidence in the assurances of the DHS that it will work with the communities of the Texas-Mexico border to foster smart, effective border security measures” which will not include “the betrayal of our history and the giveaway of Texas territory,” the TBC wrote.
“We are all against illegal immigration,” Mayor Ahumada tells Newsmax, “but don’t penalize us because you want a wall to please middle Americans, who have no idea how we live here.
“We want DHS to work with the geography and build a virtual fence that will deter illegal activity, which can be done with much less cost than that ludicrous fence.”
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