Americans near border say Trump’s wall is unwelcome

Frank Bajak
Associated Press

Los Ebanos, Texas — Forget Donald Trump’s Great Wall.

The people who live in the bustling, fertile Rio Grande Valley, where the U.S. border meets the Gulf of Mexico, think a “virtual wall” of surveillance technology makes a lot more sense. It’s already in wide use and expanding.

Erecting a 40-foot concrete barrier across the entire 1,954-mile frontier with Mexico, as Trump promised during the presidential campaign, collides head-on with multiple realities: geology, fierce local resistance and the question of who pays the bill.

People cackled at Trump’s idea that Mexico would willingly deliver the billions required. Mexican officials say they won’t. So few locals were surprised when the president-elect seemed to soften his position five days after the election, saying the wall could include some fencing.

“The wall is not going to stop anyone,” Jorge Garcia said.

Garcia 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 President George W. Bush. Garcia is still waiting to see if the Border Patrol will put a fence or wall on the sliver of land it surveyed and promised to pay $8,300 for.

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 broken lines, some as much as a mile and a half from the river.

The Garcias believe they and the rest of Los Ebanos’ villagers were spared because the erosion-prone clay soil is simply too unstable.

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

The plentiful breaks in the border barrier, meanwhile, include an entire flank of the River Bend golf club and resort in Brownsville — “gaps of privilege” for the well-connected, according to one critic.

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.

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 margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.

Local politicians have found inventive ways to make wall-building palatable. A 20-mile stretch in Hidalgo County consisted of a fortified levee topped with a fence. In 2010, that levee held back flooding. 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 and back President Obama’s more lenient immigration policies.

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