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Unguarded border bridges could be route into U.S.
ACALA, Texas (AP) — On each side of a towering West Texas stretch of the $2.4 billion border fence designed to block people from illegally entering the country, there are two metal footbridges, clear paths into the United States from Mexico.
The footpaths that easily could guide illegal immigrants and smugglers across the Rio Grande without getting wet seem to be there because of what amounts to federal linguistics. While just about anyone would call them bridges, the U.S.-Mexico group that owns them calls them something else.
“Technically speaking, it’s not a bridge, it’s a grade control structure,” said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission, which maintains the integrity of the 1,200-mile river border between the United States and Mexico. The structures under the spans help prevent the river — and therefore the international border — from shifting.
Ms. Spener said the river was straightened years ago to stabilize and prevent a shift during high river flow. Without the structures, which also help slow the flow of water in the river, she said, it could erode its banks, wash out the river bed and degrade natural habitats.
Whatever they’re called, there are fresh sneaker tracks on the structures, indicating they’re being used as passages into the country.
“This is outrageous and yet another example of the federal government failing miserably in its duty to secure the border from those who wish to do us harm, and they need to take immediate action to address this situation,” Katherine Cesinger, spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said in a statement Wednesday.
The realization that a section of the border fence is sandwiched between two footbridges comes at a time of heightened alarm along the U.S.-Mexico border as the drug war in northern Mexico continues unabated. President Obama ordered thousands of National Guard troops to the border, but Mr. Perry has railed that the federal government isn’t doing enough to keep Americans safe and illegal immigrants out.
The steel fencing that dots about 600 miles of border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California was built under former President George W. Bush's administration amid a national outcry for border security. The steel fencing appears in urban areas, while more rural areas have shorter, concrete vehicle barriers.
“If we are spending so much money on a fence, why not put some into cutting (the bridges) out, eliminating an easy access at a place that is not a port?” said Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition.
On a recent visit to a bridge west of the fence line near Acala, Border Patrol Special Operations Supervisor Ramiro Cordero spotted an hours-old adult-sized sneaker print in the soft sand at the foot of the bridge facing into the United States.
In a border tour with the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office in March, Associated Press journalists happened upon the bridge moments after a man with a bicycle used the bridge to cross the river from Mexico. The border crosser, who told authorities he was only trying to fish from the north side of the river, was promptly arrested.
“If he can do it, so can drug cartels with loads of narcotics of any kind,” Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Wilson said. “Even a terrorist could pass here with weapons of mass destruction and be in the United States and up on the interstate and gone in a short time.”
It’s unclear how often the bridge is used, but it’s common to see people on the Mexican side lingering around the crossing or others playing in the river in the area.
The bridges may have made sense decades ago when they were built, Lt. Wilson said, but times have changed, and the once-quiet area across the border from rural Hudspeth County has been enveloped in Mexico’s drug war.
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