Photo: Pamela Taylor - caught between the U.S. and Mexico
The Rio Grande, which once marked the international boundary, now sandwiches the house that Pamela Taylor and her husband built more than fifty years ago and a tall steel barrier erected by DHS last year a quarter mile north of the Rio; the Taylor’s two acres now lie on a strip of land that neither belongs to Mexico or the United States; Taylor and other residents believe that the government has not accounted for an estimated eight houses stranded on the other side of the fence.
While the border fence almost everywhere else divides Mexico and the United States, here it divides parts of the city. In and around Brownsville, the fence slices through two-lane roads, backyards, agricultural fields, citrus groves and pastures for more than twenty-one miles, trapping tens of thousands of acres, according to some property owners’ estimates. Narrow gaps in the fence allow back-and-forth access for cars and tractors, pedestrians and Border Patrol agents, but they are spaced as much as a mile apart.
“We feel abandoned here,” she said. “That’s why we refer to it as the Mexican side of the fence.”
Eloisa Tamez, 75, who lives on land granted to her ancestors by the king of Spain in 1767, rejected the government’s offer of $13,500 for a 50-foot-wide strip across her three acres west of Brownsville. Despite her rejection, the government seized the land and built the fence anyway. Now, three-quarters of the fallow acreage where her family once grew tomatoes, squash and okra is south of the barrier.
“It represents my heritage. This land here is what gave me life. I didn’t have riches or luxuries, but we had food that was good for us,” said Tamez, who is in a legal battle with the federal government over the seizure of her land. “I didn’t want to let the government have it to build this monstrosity.”
At the Loop farm on the outskirts of Brownsville, dozens of citrus trees were bulldozed to make way for the fence, which splits the family’s 900 acres. On the Brownsville side, Debbie and Leonard Loop tend groves of oranges and grapefruit; on the “Mexican” side, their son, Ray Loop, cultivates soybeans, sunflowers and watermelons.
Things could get more complicated soon. The government is planning this year to install gates at 40 of the gaps, the family wonders about access. Residents will be provided with access codes, according to border authorities. But they have also heard that the gates would be locked during a high national security alert. Debbie Loop, 69, wonders how her young granddaughters would get through to the Brownsville side of the fence under that scenario.
“It’s an eerie feeling crossing that,” Loop said, as she drove with her husband through the fence line onto her son’s farmland. “In the past, if you needed to get out in a hurry, you could. Now you have to find a gap.”