- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Mayors along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas have begun a quiet protest of the federal government’s plans to build a fence along the border: They are refusing to give access to their land.

Mayors in Brownsville, Del Rio and El Paso have denied access to some parts of their city property, turning away federal employees assigned to begin surveys or conduct other preliminary work on the fence meant to keep out illegal aliens.

“This is exercising our rights. This is our property. We are not going to make it easy for them,” said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, who refused last month to sign documents granting government workers permission to enter city property.

In Eagle Pass, Mayor Chad Foster initially refused the Border Patrol’s request to build 1½ miles of fencing as part of a project that includes light towers and a new road for patrols. Now he is negotiating with the Department of Homeland Security.

“All of us are in opposition to physical barriers, but we want to work with DHS so everybody walks away happy,” Mr. Foster said.

Del Rio and El Paso granted workers limited access, said Monica Weisberg Stewart of the Texas Border Coalition, a group that represents local officials.

Congress has authorized $1.2 billion to put up 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The project would include about 330 miles of so-called virtual fence — a network of cameras, high-tech sensors, radar and other technology. The remaining 370 miles, primarily in more urban areas, are expected to have an actual fence.

State and local officials have said the fence will destroy ecosystems by cutting off the Rio Grande, the only source of fresh water in the region. They also say it will hurt the cross-border economy and send the wrong message to neighbors in Mexico.

Brownsville, a city of 170,000 people across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico, said the city was considering a lawsuit against the federal government to prevent the fence’s construction on city property.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Brad Benson said the federal government has not responded to the cities yet, but officials expected some landowners would refuse.

“We will work with everybody. We plan to accommodate any credible concerns with regard to the environment,” Mr. Benson said. “Our mission at the end of the day is to secure the border.”

David Crump, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said for now, landowners can keep anybody out of their property for any reason, but a legislative body could override that right.

“Either the Texas Legislature or Congress can give power to an agency to do it,” said Mr. Crump, who specializes in real property law.

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