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Border Fence Would Slice Through Private Land

In at least some cases the landowners' stubbornness appears to be paying off: For Daniel Garza, 74, who lives with his wife in Granjeno, a one-road town of fewer than 500 residents about 55 miles east of Tamez's home, the fence would require demolishing their modest two-bedroom ranch. The prospect had kept Garza pacing at night. Though the town cemetery holds the graves of his ancestors, by the time Garza was a young man, the family no longer owned enough property from which to make a living. So for the next 35, years he and his wife traveled to California every season to work as migrant farmers, harvesting and canning vegetables. Yet they never considered settling there.

"This is my home," Garza said recently, crinkling his weathered face in a sad smile as he stood on his front porch, a few feet from the exact spot where he was born. "How can I ever leave it?"

A week ago, homeland security officials announced that Garza will not have to. Under a compromise brokered by local officials, the department will help build up levees in the area to 18 feet high -- eliminating the need for 22 miles of the proposed fence, including the stretch that would have run through Granjeno.

Still, that plan does nothing for most other South Texas landowners, including siblings Nydia and Fred Garcia. The fence would mean that 25 acres of the 80 acres of farmland that they and another brother jointly own would be on the Mexican side.

"Look at all this," said Nydia, 41, as she drove in one of the family's white pickup trucks through a field of sprouting sugar cane that stretched to the horizon. "All this would be behind the fence."

The Garcias, who work as project manager at a construction company and as manager of an Internet phone network at a hospital, acknowledge that they derive only a small portion of their income from the rent they charge a farmer to raise crops on their land. Like Garza, their opposition to the fence, they said, is ultimately rooted in something much deeper than economics. It is about preserving the Mexican American border culture that is their heritage.

Reminders of that way of life abound in the boxes of sepia-tinted photographs of sober-faced forebears they keep stacked in one of the family's garages. And despite the intrusions of modern life, the Garcias, like Tamez and the Garzas, have managed to keep up many of the old rituals.

Every Sunday they crowd into their tiny Catholic church, where parishioners whose family trees have been intertwined for generations join in the Spanish service under the benevolent gaze of a coffee-skinned statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. And when the Garcias walk their land, every step seems to bring back a memory.

"Over here, this is where we used to ride our horses when we were kids," said Fred, 38, pointing. "Oh, and that palo blanco tree is where we still hold our annual Labor Day barbecue and dove hunt. . . . And there, that's where we used to swim in the river. Right on the other side, that's Mexico."

Their anger at being asked to sacrifice all that, Fred said, is that much greater because they believe the fence would deter neither terrorists nor illegal immigrants -- who many here are convinced would simply tunnel under the fence, climb over it with ladders, or avoid it by heading for the sections of the border, including large stretches of South Texas, that will remain un-fenced.

"People in the rest of the U.S. just don't understand the reality of what's going on here," he said.

In addition to building up the levees, local officials have suggested a variety of alternatives to the fence, including deepening the Rio Grande with dams so that it is more difficult to cross and can be patrolled by boat.

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