U.S. plans long border wall in south Texas
HOUSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government said it plans to build 70 miles of 16-foot-tall (5 meter) border fencing in southern Texas, including a section through a sensitive wildlife refuge, but local opponents vowed on Tuesday to keep fighting the wall.
The plans were unveiled late on Monday in the first detailed look at the barrier the government says it must build to slow illegal immigration along the 1,200-mile-long (1,920-km) Texas-Mexico border.
In a request for public comment on the environmental impact of the fence, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said construction could begin next spring.
The fence, to be built in 21 segments at strategic points along the Rio Grande, must be able to withstand a crash by a 10,000-pound (4,545-kg) vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour (64 kph), but also be "aesthetically pleasing," the agency said.
The wall is part of a federal plan to build 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The border protection agency said the wall would mostly be built on river levees, but also would cross private land and encroach on state parks and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is considered one of the most biologically diverse wildlife sanctuaries in the nation and environmentalists say the fence could harm endangered species such as ocelots and jaguarundi found there.
"The fence, even though it's not continuous, is an unmitigated disaster for wildlife along the river," Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club chairman Jim Chapman told the Houston Chronicle.
Many local leaders in southern Texas, which is heavily Hispanic and has strong economic and cultural ties to Mexico, have criticized the border wall as unnecessary and an affront to Mexicans.
There have been a number of protests, and lawsuits against the project have been threatened. Opposition will continue, said local rancher and anti-wall activist Betty Perez.
"It sounds like it is not going to be built now until the spring of 2008 which gives us a little bit more time to fight it," she told Reuters by telephone.
A local spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection referred questions to the agency's Washington office, but a spokesman there was not available for comment.