Friday, 20 August 2010

Unguarded Border Bridges Could be Route into U,S,

ACALA, Texas – On each side of a towering West Texas stretch of the $2.4 billion border fence designed to block people from illegally entering the country, there are two metal footbridges, clear paths into the United States from Mexico. The footpaths that could easily guide illegal immigrants and smugglers across the Rio Grande without getting wet seem to be there because of what amounts to federal linguistics. While just about anyone would call them bridges, the U.S.-Mexico group that owns them calls them something else.

"Technically speaking it's not a bridge, it's a grade control structure," said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission, which maintains the integrity of the 1,200-mile river border between the U.S. and Mexico. The structures under the spans help prevent the river — and therefore the international border — from shifting.

Whatever they're called, there are fresh sneaker tracks on the structures — indicating they're being used as passages into the country.

"This is outrageous and yet another example of the federal government failing miserably in its duty to secure the border from those who wish to do us harm, and they need to take immediate action to address this situation," Katherine Cesinger, spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said in a Wednesday statement.

The realization that a section of the border fence is sandwiched between two footbridges comes at a time of heightened alarm along the U.S.-Mexico border as the drug war in northern Mexico continues unabated. President Barack Obama ordered thousands of National Guard troops to the border but Perry has railed that the federal government isn't doing enough to keep Americans safe and illegal immigrants out.

The steel fencing that dots about 600 miles of border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California was built under former President George W. Bush's administration amid a national outcry for border security. The steel fencing appears in rural areas, while urban areas have shorter, concrete vehicle barriers.

"If we are spending so much money on a fence, why not put some into cutting (the bridges) out, eliminating an easy access at a place that is not a port?" said Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition.

The footbridges were built in the 1930s as part of a treaty with Mexico, Spener said.

On a recent visit to a bridge west of the fence line near Acala, Border Patrol Special Operations Supervisor Ramiro Cordero spotted an hours-old adult-sized sneaker print in the soft sand at the foot of the bridge facing into the United States. In a border tour with the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Office in March, Associated Press journalists happened upon the bridge moments after a man with a bicycle used the bridge to cross the river from Mexico. The border crosser, who told authorities he was only trying to fish from the north side of the river, was promptly arrested.

"If he can do it, so can drug cartels with loads of narcotics of any kind," Hudspeth County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Wilson said. "Even a terrorist could pass here with weapons of mass destruction and be in the United States and up on the interstate and gone in a short time."

It's unclear how often the bridge is used, but it's common to see people on the Mexican side lingering around the crossing or others playing in the river in the area. The bridges may have made sense decades ago when they were built, Wilson said, but times have changed and the once quiet area across the border from rural Hudspeth County has been enveloped in Mexico's drug war.

Cartel fighters have overrun a series of small towns in the Valle de Juarez, about 50 miles east of Ciudad Juarez, ground zero in the bloody drug war. Residents have been forced to flee north to Fort Hancock after cartel fighters burned down houses, tried to torch a local Catholic church and
threatened to kill anyone who stayed.

"It made a lot of sense for flood control when the boundary commission built them," Wilson said. "Now with the way things have progressed, it's pretty silly there are no controls here."

Cordero insists agents in the area pay close attention to the bridges and other areas easily crossed on foot or by car. He said there also are numerous underground censors around the bridges that alert agents to area traffic. But patrols in such an open area can appear to be sporadic to the average observer as marked Border Patrol trucks cruise up and down a river
levee road along the border.

The crossings are owned by both the United States and Mexico and are needed for workers to maintain and occasionally fix cement structures that support the bridge, Spener said. Any changes to the structures, she said, would have to be approved by officials in both countries. And no one has ever asked to secure the bridges or remove them, she said. "We would be happy to work with Border Patrol if they have security concerns they've identified," Spener said. "It would be a challenge, but we'd be happy to discuss it."

Cordero said he's not aware of any requests by Border Patrol or the Department of Homeland Security to secure the crossings. But still, he concedes, it would be nice if there was more security around the remote crossing. "Obviously this is where technology and the experience of our agents come into play," Cordero said. "Do we have to pay more attention here? Yes, because we're talking seconds that they can get in."

This article was interesting to me on a personal level. I know more people than I care to think from previous jobs who came to the United States illegally and in time ditched the made up identification and went through the difficult, arduous and chancy route of becoming legally authorized to work in the United States and eventually become naturalised citizens. I appreciate the fact that they are not illegal immigrants lobbying for rights they should not have. I don't agree for all that I may be a liberal bleeding heart case that we should grant them any kind of boons or benefits. None. No putting your kids into special school grants. No special favours of any kind. That would be crazy.

It's funny, a friend of mine, Joe, and I mock-argue all the time about the long U.S. borders and how we should be keeping them well-patrolled to keep out the immigrants who will fill up our country. Wiring the fences to make them electrical, keeping guys at the borders ready to sharp shoot whatever poor hapless person is trying to escape a country that now more mirrors Colombia and its drug issues. Can you really blame the person? I'd be trying to sneak out over and over again until I finally did it. Then I'd hole up somewhere and work on my English until I could pass for truly being bilingual. That is half the problem, you know, around here... immigrants move into towns or cities like Kearney which is now completely Hispanic. The street signs are in Spanish!

I will tell you right now that people are much more successful if they can pick up better than passable Spanish. We have some excellent examples in many places of work, where employees look more into improving their English; being more proactive in getting into casual English conversation.

Anyway, this article reminded me of our good-hearted bickering over this very ongoing issue.

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