- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

EAGLE PASS, Texas — Chad Foster, mayor of this Texas border city whose motto is “Where Yee-Hah meets Ole,” isn’t itching for a fight with the federal government over the construction of a 15-foot border fence along the Rio Grande. But if one comes, he’s ready.

As is Efrain V. Valdez, mayor of Del Rio, Texas, located 56 miles upriver from here, who also has vowed to challenge a $1.2 billion plan by the Department of Homeland Security to build security fences along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a 65-mile stretch on the western edges of Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

“I’m speaking for 45,000 people when I say that those who want this fence don’t understand the border, don’t understand our sense of community,” Mr. Valdez said. “We are loyal, devoted Americans. We are not against border security, not against the construction of fences where it makes sense.”

Even Maverick County Judge Jose A. Aranda Jr., a former mayor of Eagle Pass and an outspoken critic of the border fence proposal, thinks Homeland Security’s much-ballyhooed efforts to build a border fence is nothing more than a “knee-jerk reaction” to the failure by Congress and the Bush administration to pass a meaningful immigration reform package.

“The fence is a way for the politicians in Washington to convince the American people that they’re doing something about illegal immigration,” Judge Aranda said. “But it’s simply an illusion.”

They are not alone in their opposition. Similar concerns are being expressed all along the south Texas border, where many civic and community leaders, along with private landowners, have been threatened by the federal government with eminent domain challenges or served with lawsuits.

Nearly 400 municipal officials, community leaders, private landowners and others have been given 30 days to decide whether they will give federal officials access to their properties or face the legal consequences. Lawsuits are being sought against those who refuse.

More than two dozen landowners or public officials, 11 in Texas alone, have been ordered by federal judges, urged by U.S. attorneys appointed by President Bush, to grant the access. Many of those targeted have pledged to block efforts by Homeland Security to survey the proposed fence sites or to begin construction.

“They came in here from Washington like storm troopers, dictating what we were going to do and how we were going to do it,” said Mr. Foster in describing Homeland Security efforts to explain its fence project. “They steamrolled us. We tried telling them that in building a fence on this border, one size does not fit all.

“Instead, we found out they had no idea of what life is like on the border, and many couldn’t find the Rio Grande with a map,” he said.

Mr. Valdez, a former city council member and a Del Rio teacher and coach for 35 years, said Homeland Security proposed 65 miles of fencing along the border from just north of Del Rio to south of Eagle Pass. He said the department put the plan into motion “without consulting anyone.”

“Congress passed a law mandating construction of a border fence here without any input from anyone who lives along this river,” he said.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said “there should be no ambiguity about the department’s top priority — securing the homeland.” She said the department has “championed” the combination of traditional fencing, manpower and technology to help meet the goal.

“We have been steadfast in our commitment to building 370 miles of pedestrian fence and 300 miles of vehicle fence by the end of this year,” she said.

“At the direction of our leadership, our Customs and Border Patrol agents have been working diligently to reach out to and work with state and local officials, leaders and landowners all along the Southwest border,” she said, adding that Homeland Security officials held more than 18 town hall meetings and more than 600 meetings with landowners.

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