Some South Texas residents already living with border fence
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — The construction of a border fence on Jose Manuel Reyes' pristine lawn really ticked him off.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports as a laborer and sheet metal worker, the 66-year-old Brownsville native took the land grab along the U.S.-Mexico border personal and argues its futility. The more than 20-foot, rust-colored bollard fence peeking above his green John Deere tractor and through laundry hanging from an outdoor clothesline, doesn't constitute safety or security for him, he said.
"How many people are involved in that?" Reyes asked as he pointed toward his backyard from his garage. "Who helped build that wall? These guys made a lot of money — that's what it is. It's not for protection. It's for somebody to make a lot of money."
For Reyes, living with the fence in his backyard wasn't his choice. Reyes and two of his 12 siblings live separately on a strip of eight homes on Oklahoma Avenue, about a mile north of the Rio Grande. The property was inherited from their now-deceased parents. About .05 of .4 acres in Reyes' name were condemned. Neither he nor his brothers put up a legal fight. Reyes received $2,200, according to court records.
Reyes was among the Texas property owners whose land was condemned and is occupied by segments of about 700 miles of fence erected as part of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed by then-President George W. Bush. The fence was built at designated high-threat and high-traffic areas. Reyes said he's seen people squeeze drug packages through the fence's partitions and argues the code-protected gate entrance to the south isn't the best-kept secret.
The gate opens to his favorite fishing spot behind his childhood home. But the only time he punches in a code to get to the other side is to mow the lawn, he said.
Reyes doesn't hide his distaste for the situation but said he's learned to deal.
"When they came with the dredging excavator I couldn't pull out my 12-gauge (shotgun) and ask them to leave," Reyes said. "I felt violated. You can't do anything about it, but I learned to live with it, cope with it. That's all we can do."
The Cameron County Appraisal District appraised Reyes' .4 acres of land in Brownsville at $26,566. Although improvements to the property have increased by $1,509 since 2006, the land market value of the property has decreased from $11,991 in 2006 to $9,714 this year, according to the appraisal district's website.
It's not actually one continuous fence throughout the U.S.-Mexico border. Rio Grande Valley Sector agents patrol over 320 river miles, about 50 of which are straddled by the border fence. The fence was strategically constructed in areas that would force illegal crossers into more rural areas, where Border Patrol agents have a tactical advantage.
"The border infrastructure in place was prioritized based on smuggling patterns and tactical needs on the ground," said Carlos A. Díaz, the Customs and Border Protection chief of the southwest border branch.
Reyes mentioned one of the gaps bitterly, the 319-acre River Bend Resort & Golf Club.
The resort's general manager, Jeremy Barnard, said his father and uncle took over the business in 2015. That was years after the fence was erected at the east and west ends of the property. He's privy to what led to the resort's exclusion and assured past owners didn't receive special treatment. Despite drug smugglers being spotted on the property on a weekly basis during peak times of the year, the area was too geographically complicated for the undertaking, he said.
"This property was not approached," Bernard said. "They stuck to areas that were simple. They intentionally put a gap here because they saw how complicated it was."
The resort's namesake and charm have all to do with its geographical location, Bernard said. The River Bend Resort literally sits where the Rio Grande bends at an almost 90-degree angle. It's scenic and the perfect location for a cluster of $200,000 townhome subdivisions, Bernard said of expansion plans.
The resort's previous owners could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bernard said if the fence would've been built north of the Rio Grande on the property, 75 percent of the 319 acres would've ended up on the south side of the barrier. Its fate may have been similar to the now-shuttered Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course, Bernard said.
The property was wedged between the fence and Mexico, which created a no man's land of sorts and led to a sharp drop in club membership, according to reports. Fort Bend, which opened in the mid-1950s, closed its doors in May 2015.
Winter Texans are a South Texas golf course's bread and butter, Bernard said. Fort Brown is a prime example of the bullet River Bend dodged and what could happen if President Donald Trump's push for a "big, beautiful wall" becomes a reality, Bernard said.
"(Customers) still had access (to Fort Bend) but the entire course was behind a prison fence," Bernard said. "That is one of the big questions if the wall gets built: Can we continue to operate? Or are we going to get bought out and completely jump out of the golf course business?"
Although a physical border fence is nonexistent at River Bend, the hot spot has been contained through enhanced collaboration on security measures with local Border Patrol, Bernard said. Overgrown shrubs, or "hiding spots," on the north side of the Rio Grande were cleared on River Bend's dime as part of those efforts. Border Patrol agents who oversee the area are at full liberty to operate a boat ramp on the property to patrol the waters and the agency installed cameras in strategic places throughout the property.
Altogether, the efforts have resulted in an effective alternative to a border fence, Bernard said
"Doing all those things on our limited budget, we've seen a dramatic decrease in activity," Bernard said.
"We recognized we have a border issue here," Bernard said. "We support what the president is trying to do in trying to secure our borders and we feel the wall is a tool that can be used in some areas."
River Bend Resort & Golf Club is not one of those areas, Bernard said.
"We feel in an area like this there are more efficient tools that can be used," he said. "We've seen that with the boarding ramp and (Border Patrol) having an active presence on the property."
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com