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Americans who live near border say Trump’s wall is unwelcome

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent passes birdwatchers Rayborn and Nancy Hill along a section of border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The idea of a concrete wall spanning the entire 1,954-mile southwest frontier collides head-on with multiple realities, like a looping Rio Grande, fierce local resistance, and cost.

LOS EBANOS, Texas » All along the winding Rio Grande, the people who live in this bustling, fertile region where the U.S. border meets the Gulf of Mexico never quite understood how Donald Trump’s great wall could ever be much more than campaign rhetoric.

Erecting a concrete barrier across the entire 1,954-mile frontier with Mexico, they know, collides head-on with multiple realities: the geology of the river valley, fierce local resistance and the immense cost.

An electronically fortified “virtual wall” with surveillance technology that includes night-and-day video cameras, tethered observation balloons and high-flying drones makes a lot more sense to people here. It’s already in wide use and expanding.

If a 30- to 40-foot concrete wall is a panacea for illegal immigration, as Trump insisted during the campaign, the locals are not convinced. And few were surprised when the president-elect seemed to soften his position five days after the election, saying that the wall could include some fencing.

“The wall is not going to stop anyone,” said Jorge Garcia, who expected to lose access to most of his 30-acre riverside ranch after the U.S. Border Fence Act was enacted a decade ago.

Under the law, 652 miles of border barrier were built, mostly in Arizona. The 110 miles of fences and fortified levees that went up in Texas are not contiguous but broken lines, some as much as a mile and a half from the river.

Eight years after government surveyors marked Garcia’s land, he and his wife, Aleida, are still waiting to see if the Border Patrol will sever their property.

“This lets me know that whenever they want to build the wall, they can,” said Aleida, holding up a tax bill that shows the nominally expropriated sliver of property.

If a fence or wall goes up, the couple will be paid $8,300. So far, the Garcias and the rest of the village of Los Ebanos have been spared because the erosion-prone clay soil is simply too unstable, she believes.

Geology conspires against wall-building up and down the Rio Grande Valley. So does a boundary water treaty with Mexico and endangered-species laws. Catwalks and tunnels had to be built into existing fences to accommodate endangered ocelots and jaguarundi, two species of wild cat.

The gaps in the border barrier include an entire flank of the River Bend golf club and resort in Brownsville. University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley political scientist Terence Garrett calls them “gaps of privilege” because many landowners were politically connected.

Other landowners fought the Border Patrol in court.

“The wall might make mid-America feel safer, but for those of us that live on the border, it’s not making us feel any safer when we know that people can go over it, around it, under it and through it,” said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, security expert for the Texas Border Coalition, a consortium of regional leaders.

The coalition wants federal dollars to go instead to bolstering security at border crossings, where heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are smuggled in. A poll conducted in Southwest border cities in May found 72 percent of residents opposed to building a wall. The Cronkite News-Univision-Dallas Morning News poll had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.

The wall is popular in distant cities “because you can see, feel and touch it. But politically it just doesn’t make sense,” said J.D. Salinas, the coalition’s chairman.

As commissioner of the border county of Hidalgo from 2007 to 2009, Salinas won public backing for 20 miles of border barrier by reinforcing an existing levee with concrete and topping it with a fence. In 2010, the project paid off. The levee held back flooding from Hurricane Alex. The cost was about $10 million a mile, though.

In the Nov. 8 election, only three Texas border counties — all sparsely populated — went for Trump. The rest are solidly Democratic, at odds with the Republicans who control most state capitals and have been demanding more border barriers.

Rural ranchers worried about drug traffickers and other criminals are less likely to benefit from border walls and fences than city-dwellers, said Adam Isacson, a security expert with the nonprofit advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America.

“What a wall ultimately does is slow a border crosser for 10 to 15 minutes,” Isacson said. “In an urban area, that 15 minutes is crucial.” Border patrol agents can arrive quickly. In rural areas, they may be an hour or more away.

The U.S. side of the border is quite safe, said Weisberg-Stewart. “We are not in a war zone.”

In fact, cross-border trade has been booming. In 2014, more than $246 billion worth of goods and 3.7 million trucks crossed the Texas-Mexico border, according to coalition figures.

Trump needs to remember that Mexico is the second-largest U.S. export market, said Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat whose district includes most of the valley. Only Canada buys more American goods.

“There’s no way in hell he’s going to see his great wall,” Vela said.

The region bears the usual hallmarks of American prosperity: strip malls, well-maintained interstates, prosperous gated communities with hacienda-style McMansions. Cold-storage warehouses proliferate for northbound Mexican okra, avocados and tomatoes while other warehouses brim with southbound used clothing. Cotton, grapefruit and corn fields abound.

Much of the Mexican side of the border has been afflicted by drug cartel-related violence, but crime in the Rio Grande Valley, which is home to 1.3 million people, has been consistently lower than other Texas cities.

If lots of “bad hombres” are crossing the border, as Trump has claimed, they are mostly taking their lawbreaking elsewhere. Further, there’s no record of anyone sneaking across the border to commit acts of terrorism.

The Border Patrol’s buildup after 9/11 is one reason, argues David Aguilar, who was named to the agency’s top job in 2004 by a fellow Texan, then-President George W. Bush, and is now a private consultant. Since then, the number of agents has climbed from 9,500 on the southwest border to 17,500 in 2015.

Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions along the border is down from a peak of 1.6 million in 2000 — when Aguilar said at least as many got away — to 409,000 in the year ended in September. Nearly half were caught in the Rio Grande Valley.

Many analysts believe the Great Recession was a bigger factor than Border Patrol enforcement in making the U.S. less attractive to Mexican migrants in particular.

Since tower-mounted video surveillance cameras began going up in 1999 in the Brownsville area, illegal cross-border traffic in the area “dried up by 85 to 90 percent,” said Johnny Meadors, the sector’s assistant chief for technology. He said the traffic moved west, where there were no cameras.

Seventy-two more of the towers, which are 80 to 120 feet tall, are to be installed in the valley by 2021, and could include motion sensors and laser pointers, Meadors said.

Since 2013, the Border Patrol has also had five blimp-like aerostats that float from 1,000 to 5,000 feet above the valley on tethers. High-flying Predator drones have patrolled vast areas of southwest borderlands since 2011. The agency also has underground sensors along the border. How many, Meadors wouldn’t say.

All the gadgetry has been a bonanza for defense contractors. The government spent $450 million last fiscal year on border security fencing, infrastructure and technology.

“If you had a sensible immigration policy, there would be no need for all this,” said Garrett, the political scientist.

What Trump’s policy will be remains a mystery.

During the campaign, he said he would deport all the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. Days after the election, he appeared to back down somewhat, saying he would expel the criminals among them.

Whether fear of a Trump victory has anything to do with a recent spike in arrivals from violence-wracked Central America isn’t clear. They account for more than half of Border Patrol apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley, where many migrants turn themselves in at frontier bridges.

After processing, released migrants are given court dates in destination cities where relatives typically await. Others are sent to detention centers.

An average of 350 migrants, some adults wearing ankle monitors, now arrive daily at the Sacred Heart parish community center in the border city of McAllen, up from 100 a day in August, said Gaby Lopez, a volunteer at the makeshift shelter that opened in June 2014.

New arrivals get a shower, a hot meal and can pick through donated clothing.

Ingrid Guerra, 21, a Guatemalan who is eight months’ pregnant and bound for Kansas, said she was fleeing an abusive relationship and didn’t tell the father. The father of her other child, a 2-year-old who stayed behind with Guerra’s mother, was killed in a drunken brawl, she said.

Sitting with her is Erika Machuca, a 19-year-old Salvadoran.

Machuca, also eight months’ pregnant, is bound for Dallas, where her husband lives. She says two of her brothers and three uncles were killed in El Salvador in violence she did not understand.

Both women said they merely want to earn a living and raise families in peace.

“Back there,” Guerra said of Guatemala, “they kill at the drop of a hat.”

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  • Here we go again. I have no sympathy for illegal migrants. I sympathize with the migrants who are waiting in line to enter the US legally while others are cutting in line. No different than having ingrates cutting in line to use the bathroom at stadiums, concerts, etc. with limited benjos for one reason or another. The “illegal” migration CRAZINESS needs to Stop or there’s no end. TheDonald needs to draw the line in the sand and not let it blow away or his words would mean nothin like we experienced in Syria. Haven’t we learned nothin yet?

    • No need for a wall. Just arrest illegal immigrants, sentence them to several years of for’ced labor and then kick them out again. Nobody will come. That easy. End of problem.

      • Another rookie poster without a clue, thinking they have solved the immigration problem in seconds. Really?

        And who is going to pay to build all the forced labor camps, food and medical care for those arrested, guards to supervise and monitor them? Can you say “Taxpayers?” And what if they all strike, refuse to work? What do you do?

        So laughable how weak minded people think they have the answer. ROTFL!!!!

    • Trump was never going to build a wall. He used fear and lies to manipulate ignorant, angry voters. He is a master at that. Give him credit: he is a kind of Satanic genius in his ability to lie and get away with it.
      That said, everybody is for enforcing the laws and deporting criminals. Hillary was for that.

    • Evidently not if you voted for him. His words was exactly that and there was no possible way that he was going to fulfill these empty promises. Frankly you’ve been had and you are not alone.

  • Ask the farmers and other thousands of residents who have experienced illegal activity, death, harassment and threats. Amazing how the media can spin any subject including the security of our Nation.

    • mind you all farmers are not Republicans. I bet these farmers are Liberals/Democrats needing cheap illegal alien toilers in the field to make a profit. So there maybe a hidden agenda behind these farmers against a wall. Have we not learned how Democrats and Liberals think/act to get sympathy from people to advance their profits! They’ll lie, cheat, two-faced, etc. to get what they want to get done. Just go ask the residents of inner cities that’s been run by Democrats for decades in the likes of Chicago where Democrats promise lies to make it a better place for their own personal gain. These Democrats spew fear and false hope into their constituents to keep their jobs! What do you all don’t see and realize da facts? “smh”

      • Trump needs a Wall militia. Any volunteers from Hawaii? Poch,sarg,keoni? How about just a shovel and pick crew? Check NO in campaign promise #4. Build that Wall ? Ah No. Also check NO to Lock Her Up! Lol. A lot of uneducated voters took the “anger bait”.

        • Nothing wrong with anger if it’s justified. And unfortunately you naively make the same mistaken assumption that the Clinton campaign made when anticipating the vote count. They expected that the majority of the white, educated population would vote for Hillary and to their chagrin, that turned out to not be the case. But you can keep repeating your false mantra if you wish.

        • Nana-okole, You better rush down to Walmart today. CNN said there is a huge sale on Hellary for POTUS hats and pins. Talk about take the bait? Hellary wins by a landslide garransballbarrins. Hanapaa baby!

  • “A poll conducted in Southwest border cities in May found 72 percent of residents opposed to a wall. The Cronkite News-Univision-Dallas Morning News poll had a 2.6 percent error margin.” The media still wants to use polls. How’d that workout for you this past election?

    • Yup. Polls can be used as a false argument after being selectively and logistically conducted. Sheeple depend on the media and will consider all news as fact.

  • Whenever I see the AP byline under one of this type of headline, I do not bother to read the story. It’s MSM fake news by a sore loser Hillary MSM promotion outfit. AP formerly was a credible news source, now it’s a weak, pathetic ….

    • Seems like you’re the one with bias. Sad you can’t see past your own limited perceptions. If someone doesn’t agree with your views they’re biased? Well, this story quoted from a survey and interviewed people in the area; if you think that’s incorrect or “biased,” you need to present your evidence. You can’t claim a site is “fake news” simply because you don’t like what they say.

      • Former UH student conducts poll at work places in Sand Island area. 72 percent do not favor rail. Fact or fiction? How would you prove or disprove this poll? You believe what you want to believe. Sad you cannot perceive Mythmans’s argument.

  • Of course “American’s” living next at the border might feel this way. These Americans are mostly Mexican-Americans. They have friends and family that easily go back and forth between the two countries with little resistance. Why would they want a wall?

    • BINGO! 90% of the residents along that border are Mexican/Mexican-American. I have personal military friends that lived by the border in TX back in the ’90s and they told me of the massive drug wars, corruption and full mess over there and they are Mexican-Americans! They themselves couldn’t tolerate the massive crime and corruption there so they moved to other states to get away from their own people!

    • Well, there was that murder/suicide in Kauai a few days back. Makes me wonder if that wasn’t Klastri and Ikefromeli as they’re both from Kauai and we haven’t heard from both anywhere in a long time. They must have gone postal after the election results! haaaaa

    • You’re comparing apples with oranges. The Berlin wall separated two sides of the “same country” artificially divided after World War II along political lines — east vs. west, communist vs. democracy. Mexico and the United States of America are separate countries with different languages and customs and their own unique histories. Mexico is a sovereign nation unto itself as is the United States of America.

  • If the U.S.really wants to stop illegals from sneaking into the U.S., create something similar to what they have at the DMZ between North and South Korea – two roles of barbed wire topped fences with mine fields in between and hundreds of thousands of soldiers with orders to shoot anyone coming through the zone. With today’s electronic technology and drones, it can be made impenetrable.

    Of course the U.S./Mexico border is much longer and will require lots more soldiers. Armed robots, however, are available today to lessen the manpower requirements.

    The only question is does the U.S. really want to stop the illegals? It will probably mean a lot of deaths initially and as long as people want to take the risk.

    • Too much work, hassle and expense. Just dump all the nuclear waste along the border. No one in their right mind will cross it unless they want to die from acute radiation sickness within 24 hours.

  • Immigration may be a problem that can never be fixed. If we let all of the current “illegals” stay they will soon be replaced by millions more illegals, then what. I agree that an actual wall will probably never work but what else will work? I’ve always believed that the US should allow more immigration, especially of those people/students we educate but there is a limit. I question, what is a “sensible immigration policy”?

    • To all the cry babies who voted for the Chump. Do not vent here. You are only making yourselves look like as-es. Allie is right because the wall was never going to be built. That was the bait that he was using to get your vote and it worked. Why don’t you just contact him on twitter or YouTube because I hear that the new emergency hotline for his administration.

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