Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Border Patrol has installed razor-sharp, curled wire atop a fence on the Mexican border, saying it has contributed to a sharp drop in attacks on its agents by assailants hurling rocks, bottles and bricks.
The barbed wire on a violent, 5-mile stretch separating San Diego from Tijuana, Mexico, resembles a prison fence, riling critics who say it is a heavy-handed move and a menacing eyesore.
The Border Patrol began firing tear gas and powerful pepper-spray weapons last year into a hardscrabble Mexican neighborhood where some pelted agents, catching innocent families in the crossfire.
Those attacks have stopped - according to some residents in Tijuana's Colonia Libertad - as the more formidable fencing appears to have discouraged border crossers, heralding a welcome calm for many who live in the shanties.
"(The United States) is just protecting its private property," said Tijuana resident Jose Arias Martinez, 75, whose pregnant daughter-in-law fainted last year when tear gas fired by the Border Patrol seeped through his walls. "If I had the money, I would build a fence around my home, too."
But Jose Ramirez, 58, said the razor-wire fence that he can see from the kitchen window of his Tijuana home will only push migrants to less guarded - and more dangerous - terrain.
"It's very ugly," said Ramirez, who keeps a tear-gas canister from last year's attacks amid the cactus in his backyard. "How sad that it has come to this."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last month that attacks on agents were an "unhappy" consequence of heightened enforcement. The Border Patrol said its agents were attacked 1,097 times during the fiscal year that ended in September, an 11 percent increase from 987 a year earlier.
Many occurred in the San Diego area, but the Border Patrol said attacks dropped in the 5-mile stretch where the razor-wire was installed. It counted 90 attacks on agents in the 11 months after construction began in December, compared to 184 the preceding 11 months.
"Our enforcement strategy has worked in that area," said Border Patrol spokesman Mark Endicott, who also credited cooperation from Mexican authorities.
Mexico's consul general in San Diego, Remedios Gomez Arnau, said she urged the Border Patrol to stop installation of the razor wire, but the agency refused. She said migrants may get injured and the wiring was inconsistent with being good neighbors.
Gomez said efforts by Mexican authorities to prevent attacks may explain the drop in violence, not the razor wires.
Border crossers attack agents with rocks, trying to distract them long enough to make a dash for the United States. In San Diego, the razor wire has made it more difficult to clear the 16-foot barrier.
Esther Arias Medina, whose backyard abuts the fence in Tijuana, said some still attempt to cross with tools that carve holes in the fence, but fewer people appear to be trying. Arias, whose home was hit with tear gas last November while she was caring for a 3-day-old granddaughter, is not bothered by the razor wiring. She just wants peace.
Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, a group that assists migrants, said the wiring resembles the Berlin Wall and reminds him of thousands of migrants who have died trying to cross the border since more U.S. border enforcement in cities pushed migrants to remote mountains and deserts.
"No one condones the violence (against Border Patrol agents), but the razor wire is immoral, it's wrong, and it symbolizes the worst of the American spirit," he said.