Wall of shame

The town of Granjeno is two miles north from the Rio Grande, separating Mexico and the United States. It is just two levees away and neighbors a bird and wild life refuge.

The historic town was founded a decade before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The cemetery bears testament to the town’s long history. People in the area with names like Anzaldua and de la Garza are living links to long-disappeared Spanish colonial land grants. Their pedigrees are as consequential as those of the Mayflower descendents.

Granjeno is near the construction for the new Anzaldua border-crossing bridge to Reynosa, Mexico, scheduled to open in 2009. Also planned is The Wall, the barrier that has been sold to the nation as how “securing our borders” will take place.

The town, just 500 people strong, is part of the valley metroplex of Mission, McAllen, Edinburg and Pharr. They all arose at the beginning of the last century from irrigation agriculture and railroad transportation. Now the region is on top of a residential and commercial real-estate boom.

You would think Granjeno residents would seek protection if illegal entries pose the danger the rest of the nation believes they do. Instead, a group calling itself No Border Wall submitted testimony two days after Christmas countering the Department of Homeland Security’s 23-page document arguing for it.

The Wall, some believe, will displace about a hundred area residents. But even a fraction of that number would probably mean the town’s demise. Ricardo Cardoza, who owns Granjeno Country Store, isn’t as sanguine. Construction workers for the bridge and maybe later those building The Wall provide him a brisk trade, along with that coming from Border Patrol agents. But even he isn’t happy about it.

Guadalupe Segura, a homeowner for the last 23 years, with two sons in college, sees it all like a charade that’s going to slice the town in half. Before, she explains, “There’s already an invisible wall. Now they want to make it visible. ” “They” are the officialdom of the federal government.

Not that people are insensitive to security. In fact, Mayor Alberto Magallan has worked with U.S. Customs. But he suggests there ought to be some correspondence between a threat and measures taken.

I met him at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s encouragement as part of looking into border issues,.

Like so many border matters, there’s a gulf here between public perception and living actuality. Sometimes it’s like reading fiction — only it’s the rest of the U.S. that’s autistic about accepting reality.

The mayor and I drive out the two miles from town to the river, across the double-levee floodway built in the aftermath of Hurricane Beulah back in 1967. Some property owners lost “two, three, four, five, six acres” that time, according to Ricardo Cardoza. Now, others could lose more land, even their homes, should the government’s plan prevail. Two families, with their homes inside the no-man’s-land between the proposed wall and the river, will actually get walled out of the United States and in the buffer zone, creating border insecurity for them.

The buffer zone, the no-man’s-land, makes no sense to the mayor. Why would the planners want an undeterred, two-mile intrusion area into the United States before placing the deterrent barrier?

To Guadalupe Segura, who understands sensors have an ability to detect up to one mile, why not just use them instead of building a wall that will displace her neighbors?

Yes, of course, people enter illegally, and Guadalup Segura points to a small wooded area through which they are guided by paid traffickers, the so-called coyotes.

But the transit can be like a non-vehicle, pedestrian corridor, where some travelers are local, others long distance voyagers. The Great Wall solution might play with national audiences as needed for their protection, but it seems silly and wasteful to many people living here.

“I don’t know why they are doing what they’re doing, says Mayor Magallan. He still hasn’t received a satisfactory explanation from Homeland Security.

“Why over here?” he asks.

(Josi de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books, 2003) writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)yahoo.com)