Where Donald Trump’s Border Wall Would Start

The Santa Ana refuge. A 2017 photo of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent passing along a section of

Opposition on and off a Texas wildlife reserve highlights the barrier’s challenges

ALAMO, Texas—Set on the winding Rio Grande, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is home to 400 species of birds, an endangered wildcat and, if President Donald Trump gets his way, a towering border wall.

The refuge has been identified by federal officials as the first construction site for Mr. Trump’s wall, if it gains funding from Congress. That’s not because the nature reserve is a particular hot spot of illegal crossing of either migrants or drugs, but because the federal government already owns the land.

“It’s an easier starting point,” said Manuel Padilla Jr., the Border Patrol chief for the sector.

Border agents say walls slow down people trying to make their way into the U.S. undetected. But local opposition to a new barrier is mobilizing, showing the challenge to building the structure even if Mr. Trump gets funding. Area politicians, business leaders, environmentalists and farmers call such walls destructive, expensive and ineffective. Last month, hundreds rallied in opposition next to the Santa Ana refuge.


Any new barriers must be built on the U.S. side as much as a mile from the serpentine river that marks the entire Texas-Mexico border. That traps U.S. property between the wall and the river—including most of the 2,100 acres of the nature reserve. It’s a mecca for birdwatchers who flock to see both migrating and native species: the Green Jay, Peregrin falcons, five types of Kingbird and the seldom seen Crested Caracara.

“Anyone who loves nature would be sad about this,” said Bonnie Hill, 65, a retired physician who was visiting the refuge in January from Minneapolis.

“There are places they need a wall,” said Robert Draper, a volunteer at the center. “But this is a refuge.”

Border patrol sector boundary

Note: Due to the scale of the map, some gaps in the border fence may not be visible.

Sources: Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and OpenStreetMap contributors (border fence); Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s LandScan data (population density)

Within the nature reserve is a levee—an elevated road with sloping dirt banks—-built to guard against floodwaters from the river. The administration wants to convert that into a 15- to 18-foot vertical span of concrete, topped by 18-foot high, tightly packed bollard fencing. Inside the Santa Ana, the levee wall would be yards from the visitor center, with nearly the entire refuge on the other side.

That would mark the start of the administration’s quest to convert 60 miles of levees into walls across the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a vast, flat delta home to farmland, teeming towns and nature preserves. The most direct route through Mexico for migrating Central Americans, the valley is the busiest spot in the nation for illegal crossings, accounting for 15% of the southwest border land but 45% of apprehensions.

Today, the Border Patrol guards the valley with 3,100 agents and 46 camera towers. Also in place: 55 miles of thick fencing, often topping concrete wall, but with large gaps.

Mr. Padilla said he first wants more agents, followed by more technology. He put additional fencing as third priority. But he said he needs all three.

“There’s no singular solution,” he said.

The Border Patrol says existing fencing slows down many illegal crossers, who dash from the river through farmland, heavy brush and bramble, trying to make it to a road where smugglers can carry them away.

“Once you cross the road, there are no cameras,” said border agent Robert Rodriguez.

He pointed out an area in Hidalgo, a town west of the refuge, where the high fence tops a levee separating wooded river bottom from streets. Before the fence was put up about a decade ago, Mr. Rodriguez said, migrants could spring across the levee and disappear into a flea market. “It was a real, real hot spot,” he said.

Still, about a dozen crudely made ladders lay piled nearby, underscoring one of the ways migrants overcome the fence. Mr. Rodriguez said agents had collected them in just a week.

The nature reserve’s neighbors are uniting against the border-wall expansion. They don’t want a wall across their property and don’t want their homes or fields located behind it. The Bush administration was forced to file hundreds of eminent-domain lawsuits when it tried to take private land for fencing. It won most, but the suits delayed construction, sometimes for years.

“It will split our farm in half and turn the area south of the wall into no man’s land,” said Frank Schuster, whose family has farmed thousands of acres of cotton, vegetable and sugar cane fields flanking the Santa Ana refuge for more than 70 years. “A technology-based fence with boots on the ground keeps the border at the river,” added Mr. Schuster, who voted for Mr. Trump.

Becky Schuster Jones, Mr. Schuster’s sister, traveled to Washington to lobby against the project. She worries about her property values, the ability to access land on the other side of the wall and about drug smugglers attacking farmworkers in hopes of getting the code needed to open an access gate. She also frets about how emergency services would reach the land south of the wall.

“This is the most un-American thing. People locked out of their own country,” she said.

It was partly this sort of local opposition that blocked building in Texas during the Bush years. A 2006 statute mandated construction of 850 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile border, but Texas’ GOP senators got that pared back to 700 miles a year later.

Eventually, 654 miles were built—115 of them in Texas.

Scott Nicol, a local activist, worries that in the case of a flood, even a fence would become clogged with debris and trap water in the refuge. That could be deadly to Santa Ana refuge animals, particularly the endangered ocelot, a small wildcat whose movement would be curtailed by a fence.

“Nothing that walks or crawls gets over this, except people,” Mr. Nicol said, standing next to an existing levee fence at the nearby Old Hidalgo Pump House, upriver from the Santa Ana refuge. He points to dirt prints on the 18-foot bollard beams atop the wall. “Find a bollard that doesn’t have a hand print on it.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal



Author: Michael

Handsome Devil..... and Smart too.

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Handsome Devil..... and Smart too.

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