Border fence proposal irks many in area
FERNANDO DEL VALLE
Valley Morning Star, Texas
EL RANCHITO — Like some farmers along the Rio Grande, Pete Leal doesn't want a fence to cut across his land.
"It might cut my land right in half," said the 61-year-old Leal, who farms about 60 acres of okra along the riverbanks near Brownsville.
For Leal, the proposed border fence would also stand between him and his family in Mexico, he said.
"We've got families across the river," Leal said. "It's going to separate us."
Wednesday, the U.S. Senate began to consider a bill that would build a 700-mile border fence. Much of that would be along the Texas-Mexico border with one of its largest spans stretching 200 miles from Brownsville to Laredo.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the bill a critical part of a plan to crack down on illegal immigration.
"The Senate's consideration of the (bill) reflects the consensus of the American public that the federal government must take immediate action to address the porous border," Cornyn said Thursday in a news release. "Clearly we have a crisis on our borders and we must take immediate steps to address it."
John Drogin, Cornyn's spokesman in Washington, D.C., could not provide the cost of the proposal Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, called on the federal government to "immediately address this threat to our national security."
"I have consistently supported and voted in favor of border security efforts such as the installation of reinforced fencing in strategic areas where high trafficking of narcotics, unlawful border crossings and other criminal activity exists," Hutchison said in a news release.
In South Texas, Democratic Party lawmakers like U.S. Reps. Solomon Ortiz and Ruben Hinojosa voted against the bill that passed the House.
The proposal threatens relations between the United States and Mexico, said Cathy Travis, Ortiz's spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.
Instead, Ortiz called for funding to boost the number of Border Patrol agents, she said.
"There's an adage that says fences don't make good neighbors and the fact is that it's a ridiculously expensive proposition," Travis said.
In Hinojosa's office, spokeswoman Ciaran Clayton called Republican's push for a fence "political fodder for November."
Hinojosa called for more money to increase the number of Border Patrol agents, more detention centers and funding for high-tech equipment like motion detection cameras, she said.
"While a physical fence may work for certain parts of the border, at others it would choke off economic prosperity," Hinojosa said in a news release.
Immigrant rights advocates warned the proposal would push illegal immigrants to cross the border at isolated desert regions where many have died.
"It's immoral. It's shameful politics," said Nathan Selzer, co-director of Proyecto Libertad, an immigrant rights group in Harlingen. "It is racist. I haven't seen any proposals to build a fence between here and Canada."
Opposition also comes from environmentalists, who warn that a fence would threaten endangered species like the ocelot and jaguarundi.
"Any physical barrier that gets in the way of any free-ranging wildlife is bound to have an impact (on their ability) to move freely in search of food and resting sites," said Jesus Franco of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
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