Safety and Practicality, or Government Intrusion?

A fence along the Mexican border. It may seem like a good idea in Washington and other points north in America, but consider that any fence along the border is also a fence across Texas.

And that has some Texans furious at the construction project that is already grinding its way through the state.

In 2005, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security to build a fence -- some call it a wall -- across large swaths of the border. CLICK HERE to learn more.

The fence, 15 to 18 feet high, is already up for miles along the west, but it hasn't yet made its way to east Texas, toward the southernmost tip of the state.

People there are still protesting the intrusion of the government onto their land.

"I was approached by the Border Patrol back in August that my land was in the path of the proposed wall," said Eloisa Tamez, a professor of nursing at the nearby University of Texas-Brownsville. "I was taken aback because I had no idea that they were going to build a wall north of the levee."

That's because north of the levee is not only on her property, but in her backyard. If built, the fence would separate her from the rest of her land, which sits along the banks of the Rio Grande.

"They called me at work, and I was on the telephone in my office and I said, this sounds like pretty serious business," she said. The Department of Homeland Security wanted her to sign a waiver that would allow surveyors access to her land for 12 months, to best determine where to build the fence.

"They said, you know, 'Have you heard of eminent domain?' And I said, 'Yes, I've heard of eminent domain.' And he said, 'The law has been passed, the wall will be built, and we need to get onto your land to survey,'" said Tamez.

She refused to sign the waiver, twice. The government is now suing her for access to her land.

Tamez won the first round, but even she said she probably won't be able to stop the fence. That's in part because Congress granted Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff permission to waive any laws that would interfere with the erection of the fence.

"Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," Chertoff said in a statement last week. "Congress and the American public have been adamant that they want and expect border security. We're serious about delivering it."

To Tamez, "the building of this wall is the erosion of our democracy. It is the tearing down of our democracy. And where we in America have stood for democracies and going over to countries and saying, 'You're not a democracy, we need to help you. We need to tear down those walls that you have,'" she said, referencing President Reagan's famous demand that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev "tear down" the Berlin Wall.

Racist or Practical?

That argument, that the fence carries with it a dangerous symbolism, is one also made by Pat Ahumada, the mayor of nearby Brownsville, Texas. "It's racist," he said bluntly.

Ahumada is angry about what he thinks the fence will do to his city: slice off a piece of land along the waterfront. While the Department of Homeland Security has promised there will be some kind of access to the land on the southern side of the fence such as gates, or manned entrances, Ahumada says Brownsville still stands to lose out.

"We plan to build a river walk here, on both sides, both Mexico and the United States. We have investors from San Diego, who are putting in about $180 million for a project to revitalize downtown. We expect a first-class hotel with convention center," he said.

But that proposed development would be on the southern side of the fence, separated from the rest of downtown. "If you have a development here that would be inside the fence, that's going to hurt us," Ahumada said. "It'll kill it."

In addition to his economic concerns, Ahumada worries about how the fence will be seen from the other side of the river.

"You're fortifying our city. That's what you're doing to us. You're sealing our city. And this is the wrong message to send to our partners [in Mexico]. I hear the resentment on the other side, big time. [They say] that we're crazy. That it's ludicrous."

But to those who police the border, the fence is about practicality, not symbolism.

Tom Rudd, patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol post in Brownsville, says the fence will be just one tool his team uses. It already monitors a network of cameras that are linked to sensors that alert the Border Patrol when someone is moving along the river.

"[The fence] is going to put a perimeter out where we can monitor the crossings coming through there, via our cameras. And basically it's setting up a timeline so we can affect the arrest," Rudd said. In other words, the fence will give the Border Patrol more time to get to someone crossing the river than it would otherwise have.

"In those areas we have a lot of traffic because they try to cross and blend in really quickly, within that 10- to 15-second time frame, and blend into the traffic, which we call a vanishing point," said Rudd. "Here in the Brownsville area, we have a short vanishing point, if you will. Once they get into a vehicle, they're gone before we can effect or deter an arrest. So it makes sense, as an enforcement rule, to put that obstruction there, the fencing."

Texas Golf Course to Be Divided by Fence

But that's cold comfort to Bob Lucio, who runs Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course in Brownsville. The course, at the southernmost tip of Texas, is so close to the river you can hit a golf ball into Mexico. The proposed wall would slice it off from the rest of the United States, leaving Lucio and his golfers on the south side of the wall.

"It's going to cut off our entrance, which is right over there," he said, pointing to the clubhouse. "So what we have is just a complete blocking off of the golf course area. Is there going to be an entrance? Is there going to be a gate? I don't know. I don't know."

Lucio admits that people cross the border onto this golf course. He said at one point in the early 1990s, during the civil wars in Central America, they sometimes numbered in the hundreds on a given night.

"I came out one time and it was about 2 in the morning," he said. "And I came out to the back of the golf course ? and I would say I saw 75 to 100 people at one time. Just walking, just walking through."

He said those numbers have slowed considerably, and now he might see a few people crossing a week. Lucio points out that the fence likely won't stop those immigrants from making it across the golf course -- they'll just be blocked from moving from the manicured greens into the gritty streets of downtown Brownsville.

But he's anxious about what the fence will mean for his revenues. "It really hit me about a year ago," when he read about the impending fence in the newspaper. "When they started talking about Brownsville, and then you're looking at the map and you see that it's your business that they're cutting off from the city."

Lucio said the fence doesn't have to scare that many golfers to affect his business. "Five [percent], 8 percent is your profit margin, and if I were to lose 5 [percent] or 8 percent of our revenues for some reason, that would be a devastating impact."

A Brownsville native, Lucio said he supports the Border Patrol, even though he opposes the fence. And if the fence comes to his town, he said he will tackle it with a frontier spirit.

"We're going to make it work, whatever happens."