Border Fence Nearly Finished : After Millions Spent, Opinions On Barricade Remain Mixed

Border fence nearly finished: After millions spent, opinions on barricade remain mixed

By Ramon Bracamontes
El Paso Times (TX), March 8, 2009

San Elizario — Teresa Castillo has a unique perspective on the $2.6 billion fence being built between the United States and Mexico.

For 20 years, people entering the United States illegally have used her home in El Paso County — without her permission — to hide from the Border Patrol. That is about to change, as the fence just 15 yards from her home nears completion.

The uproar the fence has created nationally means little to Castillo. Her experience is personal.

She says she hopes the fence means she will no longer have to go outside at 4 a.m. in freezing weather to give a family a blanket as the people hunker down between the walls in her backyard.

'Those who are against the fence have not suffered what we have suffered,' Castillo said. 'What we've seen, what we've had to put up with, you wouldn't want to. Some of these people cross with babies, with little children.'

Nearly all of the 89 miles of border fencing planned for the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, is built — at a cost of more than $228 million, U.S. Border Patrol administrators said.

Left to be finished is about a two-mile section in San Elizario, a small town between Fabens and the Ysleta Port of Entry. It expected to be completed by the end of spring.

Since 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been building 670 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border at a cost of $2.6 billion.

Though the fence is not continuous, it will stretch from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. All of the fence in Arizona and New Mexico is complete.

'Waste of money'

In Sunland Park, the fence is in the desert, a half-mile from the nearest homes.

'It hasn't changed anything here and it never will,' Sunland Park resident Juan Martinez said.

From his home near Posey and Hurd streets, he can see Anapra, Mexico, the border fence in the desert and dozens of Border Patrol agents.

'The fence is a waste of money,' he said. 'You can build all the fences you want, and people will still get through them.'

In El Paso County, the fence begins across the street from Asarco and extends east before stopping just before the Downtown.

The fence resumes just east of the Bridge of the Americas, near Fonseca Drive, and will run uninterrupted to Fort Hancock.

Chain-link fences fortified with barbed wire have separated El Paso and Jurez for decades, but this is the first time a fence has been built south of the Ysleta Port of Entry.

In cities and towns such as Socorro, San Elizario, Fabens and Tornillo, only the dry Rio Grande and a 10-foot-wide irrigation canal separate Mexico from the United States.

In these towns, people who live along the border build their own fences for protection.

Castillo, like most other residents of the San Elizario area, said she welcomed the government fence.

For her and other homeowners on the border, it means their property will no longer be trampled on by undocumented immigrants.

'We've never been robbed, harassed or hurt by these people, but they do cross through the houses so they can hide,' she said.

The Castillos built their house in San Elizario 20 years ago. She has watched thousands of people illegally cross in her area.

Border Patrol officials say the new fence consisting of rust-colored wire mesh and heavy support beams, will allow the agency to better control illegal immigration.

In Santa Teresa, where the fence is complete, the total cost of construction of the 4.5 miles of fencing is $22.95 million — more than $5 million a mile, according to the agency.

'To achieve the same level of effective control in that area using agents only, it would cost some $94.5 million per year,' the Border Patrol said in a statement.

Fence not enough

Chris Simcox, president of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, which has sent members to monitor illegal immigration in the El Paso area, said the fence alone is not the answer.

'We have always preferred to have the National Guard or the U.S. military patrolling along the border,' Simcox said. 'But the fence does work, and it does free up Border Patrol agents to do their work.'

El Pasoan Ana Maupin has to live with the new fence and doesn't like it.

The resident of the Cedar Grove neighborhood, which runs parallel to the fence in the Riverside High School area, said she was never bothered by the shorter chain-link fences.

To her, this new fence is an eyesore. She has neighbors whose front doors face the fence.

'They are not against the fence, but they are not for it either,' she said. 'Most people here have relatives over there (in Jurez), and they wish it wasn't there. They don't want to come out and say that, but they don't like it. They don't like the message it sends.

'When I see the fence, it reminds me of the fence in Germany.'

She referred to the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Germany from 1961 to 1989. Thick chain-link fences were part of the multiple barriers between the countries.

Jurez resident Octavio Heres lives in a neighborhood across the Rio Grande from Asarco. He sees the new fence on each day as he goes to work near City Hall in Jurez.

'It looks intimidating,' he said. 'I don't think anyone will try cutting it or jumping it.'

The fence is 18 feet high. It appears impossible to climb because a person's foot cannot fit in the fence.

Even though the fence is almost complete, efforts to stop its construction or tear it down continue.

A lawsuit challenging the federal government's power to waive environmental and state laws so it could be constructed is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The county, the city, the Tigua tribe, an irrigation district and several environmental groups filed a lawsuit in September alleging that laws were bypassed so the fence could be built.