As current Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher described to a congressional committee in June, there's a stretch in Southern California that includes two layers of fencing with coils of razor wire on the second and an all-weather road for patrols. Towers provide 24-hour surveillance. Ground sensors alert agents if anyone tries to cross.
While most of the land for the border fence in California, Arizona and New Mexico was already in public hands, the opposite is true in Texas. The existing border fence already left hundreds of acres of farmland between the fence that runs in relatively straight lines and the winding Rio Grande. Condemnation cases filed in 2008 for the fence are still in court.
In June, a government lawyer told a federal judge in Brownsville that he planned to amend the original 2008 condemnation documents for one strip of land in the city to include more than 250 additional parties.
"We're a little bit behind the curve," Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Hu told the judge. "We've built the fence on land we actually haven't finished taking."
But while the rest of the Southwest border has seen fewer immigrant arrests, authorities in the Rio Grande Valley are busy.
It's unclear how much of the surge in arrests is what Aguilar termed a "deflection" from a tightened border at points west. More than half of the Border Patrol arrests in this sector are Central Americans, who have historically taken this more direct route into the U.S.
What is certain is that the arrests here are more than 50 percent higher through the first 10 months of the fiscal year than the same period last year. The Border Patrol sector is on pace to surpass longtime leader Tucson.
Still, for perspective, the 365,000 arrests at the border last year were a far cry from the high of 1.2 million in 2005. Most observers attribute the precipitous drop to the U.S. recession.
Los Ebanos, a community of about 300, is best known for having the only hand-pulled ferry on the border. Every day, the ferry carries three vehicles and a few people at a time across the river.
Garcia remembers when the Rio Grande overwhelmed its banks in 2010 and flooded most of her property, stopping just short of her home. She fears the fence would clog with debris, enhancing the flood risk. The U.S. side of the International Boundary and Water Commission shared that concern, but dropped those objections last year after a new round of hydraulic modeling suggested it would not be a significant obstruction.
Just up the street, Julie Garcia — no relation to Aleida Garcia — thinks the fence would run along the back of her father's property, about 100 feet from the riverbank. On a recent afternoon she traced the route immigrants take across her father's property and noted the large rusted propane tank they scramble up to clear a fence.
"I think it will be a great thing," said Garcia, who works in the oil fields. She knows that many of her neighbors don't want the fence. But, she said, "It's like the same thing at your house — you build a fence to keep people out."
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