Border Fence May Destroy Wildlife Habitat

U.S. Fish and Wildlife services spent $80 million to reclaim wildlife habitat in South Texas. Now Homeland Security is ready to wipe that out.

"There is a deep emotional resentment at the notion of land condemnation. Secondly, there's questions about fair value, about how it would be done, and there's many people who simply do not want to part with their land under any circumstances," McClung says.

"There is so much negotiating to be done. My understanding is that DHS has at least 40 versions of what a physical barrier might be."

McClung isn't sure he's sold on a virtual or "smart" fence either, although he still likes it better than a physical fence.

The Chamber of Commerce's Steve Alhenius thinks the fence is a backlash against illegal immigration and is not really about terrorism.
Margaret Downing
The Chamber of Commerce's Steve Alhenius thinks the fence is a backlash against illegal immigration and is not really about terrorism.
The U.S. side of the Rio Grande in Mission is crowded with restaurants and clubs...
Photos by Margaret Downing
The U.S. side of the Rio Grande in Mission is crowded with restaurants and clubs...

"If it means lighting and additional roads and, most importantly, if it means Border Patrol running up and down those roads every five minutes 24-7, then you may have just as big a problem in terms of environmental damage and agricultural access."

By profession, Steve Ahlenius, president and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, is a pretty upbeat kind of guy. The fence really bothers him, though, and like a dog with a bone, he can't let it go, even as his wife cautions him not to come across like some kind of radical.

"We keep hearing DHS talk about possible terrorists' attacks coming from the southern border, and I finally went back and said, ‘Okay, I'm going to look [at] historically since 1999 what's been the things that happened in the United States. Did we have someone coming in from the southern border and planning a terrorist attack?'"

What his research shows, he says, is that since 1999, all known terrorist activity has involved U.S. citizens, naturalized citizens or citizens who are here on visas or alien residents — or who have come in from Canada.

Reflecting on the burgeoning Muslim population in Canada, Ahlenius thinks the greater threat for terrorist attacks on the United States is going to come from the northern border.

He is also frustrated by hints from the federal government about all sorts of threats from the south. "We have these threats, and yet they don't want to share those with us, tell us what they are, so that reasonable people can make reasonable decisions about, well, is this legitimate?"

His office spends an average of $250,000 a year promoting McAllen as a retail and weekend destination for folks out of Monterrey. "They make up 35 percent of our retail trade. They're a big part of our market here. If DHS thinks that there are terrorists coming in the United States, they need to tell us. You need to tell us and be up-front with us."

Nancy Millar is vice president and director of the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and an ardent wildlife supporter. She opposes the fence on all sorts of grounds.

"This sends such a horrible message to Mexico especially, but all of Central and South America really. Here we are trying to build bridges, and the government is building a wall instead.

"We are the No. 1 shopping destination for the country of Mexico in the United States. There's more money spent here than in Dallas, New York, any city you can name. Those of us who've been marketing all along the border to Mexico to come here, shop here, spend your money here, we love you and now we're saying: But we're going to build a wall to keep you out."

Bridge crossings for the past year are down close to 10 percent. Ahlenius says that's not because of the new laser US visa IDs for Mexicans (which the Border Patrol has admitted it isn't often checking because doing so would cause too many delays), but because of the perception that Mexicans are not welcome.

In the current climate, legitimate business people are staying away, he says, carefully distinguishing this from the illegal immigration issue. In a few months, he expects to see this reflected in retail sales.

His initial reaction at seeing the fence map? "They were lying to us again. Because they told us they would meet with us, that we'd have discussion about this before anything was decided.

"We've gotten to such a point that no one from this area is trusting the federal government."

Although the fence was initially talked up in terms of protection against terrorism, Ahlenius is one of many South Texans who believe it has morphed into something else.

"I honestly believe it is a backlash against the illegal immigration and not about terrorism. The fence is not going to stop illegal immigrationÉThis is bordering on being a racist issue. It's a sad day when this country, founded on immigration, has to build walls to stop people."

Allen and others have talked about filing lawsuits against the federal government over the fence. "I think everything's in play," Ahlenius says. "I wouldn't be surprised that we'd see cities along the border saying that they're sanctuary cities. That they're not going to enforce the immigration laws of the United States. I wouldn't be surprised if I saw that happen if the fence is built.

"This is being driven by folks in the Midwest and East Coast who don't understand the dynamics of two cultures, two languages, how interwoven everybody is."

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