July 22, 2008
EDINBURG, Texas — As construction begins on a fence along the Texas border, the federal government faces a backlash.
Among the opponents: Local governments, environmental groups, and property owners.
In other states bordering Mexico, much of the land is already owned by the government. In Texas, it's private property, and some homeowners will end up on the wrong side of the fence.
Chanting, "We don't need no border wall; liberty and justice for all," opponents of the fence refer to it as a "wall." Critics are quick to list the many reasons they don't want it built.
"My perspective is the environment as much as anything," said Sue Sill of La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, "but it's also going to be a eyesore. It's going to ruin our relationship with Mexico."
Some residents, like John Neck, even doubt the fence is really about border security. "It's not about Osama bin Laden," he said. "It's about Lupe and Carlos. Make no mistake."
Nowhere is fence opposition stronger than in the Rio Grande Valley.
"It's going to affect our economy, and it's going to affect our lives," said Christian Sanchez, a student at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.
But this is also where the impact hits closest to home. Pamela Taylor's home is just a block-and-a-half from the border.
"This is where we live here, right here," she said. "It's the stupidity of our government at this time putting the fence up there and not asking what it's doing."
The plan calls for building the fence away from the banks of the Rio Grande, a flood plain. In some cases, that distance is a mile from the border.
The Taylor family and others will be caught in a buffer zone between the border and the barrier.
The Taylors are distributing these buttons. "People are just saying we're on the Mexican side; we're going to be Mexicans from now on, so we had these buttons printed, and we give them to everybody," Taylor said.
It's not that these border residents don't care about protecting the country; they just don't believe the federal government's fence will work.
"This is where they failed. They just sat in Washington, they looked at a map and said, 'Hey, this would be a real good idea,'" Taylor said.
In Texas, much of the border land along the Rio Grande belongs to private property owners. For some families, that ownership dates back centuries to Spanish land grants.
Now, these U.S. citizens say the federal government is trampling on their rights and ignoring the concerns of communities up and down the river.
Now a widow, Pamela Taylor's husband was a Texan with deep roots along the Rio Grande. She's a war bride from Great Britain who made the border her home in 1946 and quickly became a proud U.S. citizen.
"We are Texans," she said. "I'm a Texan. I'm a very firm American citizen. I believe in that. I fly my flag out there."
That flag now flies over a frontier at the center of controversy and — soon — to be surrounded by a fence.