Sunday, March 7, 2010

In Eagle Pass, divided view of border fence

Many see 2-mile barrier as an eyesore and waste of money; some say it helps quality of life.

By Jeremy Schwartz


Updated: 1:07 a.m. Sunday, March 7, 2010

Published: 10:55 p.m. Saturday, March 6, 2010

— As the sun dips toward the horizon, Shelby Park becomes an idyllic place, a rare patch of manicured green along the Texas-Mexico border. Kids practice soccer on the expansive sports fields, and joggers make their afternoon revolutions. A couple of Border Patrol trucks hover in the parking lot alongside the dense stands of cane that hide the Rio Grande from view. Above, two international bridges funnel traffic between Eagle Pass and its Mexican counterpart, Piedras Negras, Coahuila .

Jose Luis Zuniga, watching his two sons practice soccer kicks, takes in the park's newest addition: an $11 million, 14-foot-tall black metal fence.

This part of the fence, finished in October, has roiled emotions like little else in this fast-growing city of 50,000. Like many of his neighbors, Zuniga is bewildered and angered by the placement of the fence, which cuts through nearly two miles of downtown and leaves the city's golf course and premier parkland in what some see as a no man's land between the fence and the river. Illegal immigrants and drug traffickers will simply go around, reasons Zuniga, an engineer at a plant that builds Mossberg shotguns.

"I don't know why they did it," Zuniga says in Spanish as he watches his two sons practice under the lengthening shadows of the international bridge. "Imagine, all that money for nothing."

As construction of 670 miles of fencing along the Southwest border nears completion, at a cost of at least $2.4 billion, border communities like Eagle Pass are struggling to come to terms with their new reality. Is the barrier an effective way to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs across what was an inadequately protected border? Or is it, as Zuniga contends, the physical symbol of a misguided — and expensive — policy that ignores the unique dynamics of the border?

Local Border Patrol agents say the fence plays a vital role in driving immigrant and drug smugglers to the city's edges, where agents have more time to catch them out in the brush — people crossing near downtown can quickly vanish into crowds.

No comments:

Post a Comment