Special Report: Rio Grande Valley residents talk about living with the wall

While Washington lawmakers debate whether or not to build new walls on the border, some Rio Grande Valley residents say nobody is listening to them -- the people who live with the existing wall every day.

President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act on Oct. 20, 2006, which authorized hundreds of miles of fencing on the southwest border.

That's when Granjeno resident Vicente Garza hung a black-and-white sign on his fence that reads: "No Border Wall."

"We put that since then," Garza said. "We have not taken it off."

The tiny town of Granjeno sits south of McAllen near the Rio Grande. It's among the oldest settlements in the Valley.

Garza said the wall doesn't work and doesn't make him feel any safer.

"It's a very, very sound, structured wall," Garza said. "But you have people coming over it. They still climb it. They're prepared to do so."

Talk about building walls isn't anything new for Monica Weisberg-Stewart of the Texas Border Coalition.

During the past decade, Weisberg-Stewart met with countless politicians and government officials who wanted a firsthand perspective on border security.

"When we look at a wall, we see people going over it, under it, around it and through it," Weisberg-Stewart said, adding that building a wall simply isn't the best way to spend border security money.

Weisberg-Stewart wants the federal government to bolster staffing at border bridges, where thousands of trucks enter the United States every day.

Adding more U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers would reduce wait times for travelers and truckers, lower costs for businesses and improve security.

An analysis by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration determined most narcotics smuggled across the border pass through the ports of entry.

"We of all people truly want security because we're on the front line of defense. But we don't want security that's this big wall -- and that's going to ‘secure us’ -- when we know it's not going to."

Hidalgo County struck a compromise with the federal government during the last round of wall-building. Along with a wall, construction workers built levees to protect the Valley from flooding.

When then-candidate Donald J. Trump started talking about a new border wall during campaign stops, the conversation brought back memories for Valley residents.

Aleida Flores Garcia is a lifelong resident of Los Ebanos, a community of about 350 people surrounded on three sides by the Rio Grande.

After doctors diagnosed her with cancer, Flores Garcia found solace on her riverfront ranch.

"We lived it. We work it. We build it up," Flores Garcia said. "And then here comes people from the higher ups -- I will not mention any names -- higher ups, and they're eventually going to come down and say 'Hey, you're nobody. Get out of the way."

The federal government wanted to take part of Flores Garcia's property, leaving her without access to the river.

The offer? $8,800.

While the government wanted less than an acre, the wall would run through her property -- cutting off access to nearly 28.6 acres of her land.

"Let's suppose one of these days we were to decide to sell," Flores Garcia said. "I feel that our property values are going to go down, but nobody takes that into consideration."

Eventually, the federal government decided against taking her land for the wall.

Flores Garcia said she thinks an environmental analysis, which found the soil wouldn't support the wall, convinced the government to leave her alone.

Some Valley residents support new walls, but many hold a more nuanced view of the potential barrier.

Dan Jones lives in Progreso Lakes, a small, wealthy city on the Rio Grande.

Jones said he moved from Weslaco to Progreso Lakes -- closer to the existing wall -- because he was concerned about crime.

"It's a middle-aged solution to a 21st Century problem," Jones said. "It doesn't address the problems of poverty in Central America and our country's thirst for drugs."

Border residents who spoke with CBS 4 News said they think a defense-in-depth strategy would work better than a wall.

They want more Border Patrol agents on the ground. More boats on the Rio Grande. More aerostats in the sky.

"You've got the means to do it: I mean, you've got sensors. You've got everything. They've got everything. You don't need a wall," said Garza, the Granjeno resident.

If the federal government wants to stop drug smuggling, the focus should be on ports of entry, Weisberg-Stewart said.

"Invest in our ports of entry. And invest in the men and women in blue," Weisberg-Stewart said, referring to Office of Field Operations officers who work at border bridges.

And in Los Ebanos, Flores Garcia said she supports hiring more Border Patrol agents, who would be more effective than any wall.

"All I want to do is just sit down outside and enjoy the beautiful nature that's around the area," Flores Garcia said.

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