What it's like to live in the shadow of the US-Mexico border fence

Mexico border fence 6REUTERS/Shannon StapletonThis is one of the barriers at the US-Mexico border crossing in Brownsville.

Perhaps no debate in the US has been as heated in the past decade as the one over control of the US-Mexico border. At the center of the argument are cities like Brownsville, Texas, which is so close to nearby Mexican cities that local residents can see them from their backyards.

Unlike many other towns in Texas, Brownsville and Mexico are divided by a natural border — the Rio Grande. While many might think that this would make building a border fence simpler, it has had the opposite effect.

A decades-old treaty with Mexico prohibits building in the Rio Grande floodplain, forcing the US government to build its border fence more than a mile north of the river, effectively cutting into thousands of acres of property owned by Americans.

A house in front of the border fence at the US-Mexico border in Brownsville:

Depending on where you live, you could end up on the “Mexican” side of the border, even though you are still in the US. Many Texans had their property split in half by the fence or, worse, seized by the government.

Crystal Ibarra, 23, lives in a house facing the border fence, which she can see from her backyard.

Even with the border fence, the divide between Mexico and the US can be hazy. Here is a sign in Spanish on the US side of the border in Brownsville.

The border fence is 18 feet high and made of steel and concrete; it cost American taxpayers $US6.5 million per mile. In the Rio Grande Valley there are 54 miles of border fence broken up into 18 sections.

Here’s what the fence looks like up close:

The border fence is anything but seamless. There are mile-long gaps in the fence, which the government says it plans to close with 15-foot gates, with keypads and codes for each landowner.

The border fence has been criticised as an ineffective deterrent that jeopardizes the health of not only those seeking illegal entry but also entire animal habitats. The border fence prevents numerous species from reaching watering holes and following migration patterns.

Proponents say it funnels would-be illegal immigrants toward the few openings in the fence, like this entry point at the border crossing in Brownsville.

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