McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The chief of the U.S. Border Patrol told angry mayors, businessmen, and environmentalists Friday the 700-mile border fence was law, and if his agency and local officials reach an impasse on where the fence should go, “then it’s up to someone to make a decision.”
Chief David Aguilar’s address to the Texas Border Coalition _ which was hastily arranged late Thursday after numerous cancellations by Homeland Security officials _ was sprinkled with conciliatory “ifs” and “mays” about the location of the fence. But Aguilar made clear that the federal government would have the final say.
“The mission of securing this country is mission one,” he said.
When David Guerra, an executive with a bank that does a lot of business with Mexicans, asked what recourse local leaders would have if the government went against their concerns, Aguilar said, “I think as a banker you know that sometimes things come to an impasse _ and then it’s up to someone to make a decision.”
Local officials have been fuming over what they consider the secrecy concerning a fence they say will cut farmers off from water, harm wildlife, ruin recreational areas and send a hostile message to Mexico, Texas’ biggest trading partner.
Within months of getting Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s assurances that decisions on the fence’s location would not be made without their input, coalition members intercepted a confidential U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo that included a map of the fence.
Customs and Border Protection has since said things were badly handled and that the map is preliminary.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican who voted for the fence, got an amendment passed in the pending Senate immigration bill that would require Homeland Security to take locals’ concerns into consideration when siting the fence.
But local leaders told Aguilar on Friday that poor communication persists, with all their information so far coming from intercepted memos, including a request for proposals for the fence contract.
“What is your plan in Texas? Where is the fence going to be built?” coalition leader Mike Allen asked.
“I can’t tell you today,” Aguilar said. “If I told you where the fence was going that would mean we’d never partnered with you.”
He said there were “no confidential memos.”
But John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association who attended a separate fence meeting Friday between landowners and the Border Patrol, said agents rolled out maps of private property marked with lines showing exactly where the fence was being considered. The lines were drawn on the levees, which can be as much as 1 1/2 miles inland from the Rio Grande.
“When you listen to the chief of the Border Patrol say this morning that this all is subject to consultation with localities and then you go to a site meeting and you see big rollout maps with lines drawn on it you begin to wonder what their definition of consultation is,” he said.
Allen, former president of the McAllen Economic Development Corp., said he was insulted to learn that the Border Patrol was not publicizing the landowners’ meetings.