A U.S.-Mexico Commission Fears Border Fence May Flout 1970 Treaty
HARLINGEN, Texas -- A planned, much-debated fence along the U.S.-Mexico border designed to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the Rio Grande river could skew the border and violate a 1970 treaty, a binational commission said.
The treaty declared the international boundary at the midpoint of the river and prohibited construction of anything that could deflect or obstruct the water flow and harm the other side.
An impermeable fence anywhere between the river and levees, which can be as far as 1 1/2 miles from the river itself, also could cause flooding, said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission.
"If you have a structure that is going to alter the river channel, then you are in effect altering the boundary between the United States and Mexico," she said.
Congress last year passed a law requiring about 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) of fencing along the 2,000-mile (3,218-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border. Of the $1.2 billion Congress approved, at least $400 million has been released. The Department of Homeland Security has said it is committed to erecting 370 miles (595 kilometers) of fencing by the end of 2008.
Russ Knocke, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the fence could be built in several varieties, depending on the land. Some proposed fences -- such as solid steel landing mats -- would be impermeable to water.
Environmental issues were part of the decision-making process, Knocke said, "but that does not change the fact that we also have a mandate to secure our borders and a legitimate need to move forward quickly with border infrastructure efforts."
The United States and Mexico established the commission in 1889 to regulate water use and apply boundary treaties for the shared Rio Grande and Colorado rivers.
The commission is waiting for the government to submit proposals for the fence's location and materials, Spener said.
The commission has not received any documents, including a widely circulated U.S. Customs and Border Protection map showing 153 miles (246 kilometers) of planned fencing along the Texas side of the Rio Grande, she said.
Customs and Border Protection has since said that the map was preliminary.
Source: Associated Press