Border renovations threaten Calexico mural

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EL CENTRO — The Imperial Valley has received national attention for being among the first locations to see President Trump’s border wall project start, but pre-planned upgrades to the current fencing near Calexico’s Gran Plaza has some concerned that a historic mural may be lost, possibly as soon as early 2018.

Assistant Chief Border Patrol Agent David S. Kim announced during the Imperial County Board of Supervisor’s regular meeting Tuesday, July 11, that the current border fencing located west of the Calexico West Port of Entry near the New River and the Gran Plaza will be replaced. That section of the border, according to Kim, experiences high traffic, and the current fencing makes it difficult for agents to monitor who may be scaling the fence.

“What we’re proposing is to replace the old landing mat fence, which has the painting on it, with an upgraded, see-through type of fence,” said Kim.

Border Patrol agents prefer a see-through fence over a paneled fence so agents can see anyone who might approach from the other side. But the section in question is decorated with a mural in which volunteers in the community put many hours of work. The mural represents unity between Calexico and Mexicali which, despite the construction of the fence, represents ties that many families share despite being on opposite sides of the international border.

Yet the older fence had been scheduled for an upgrade, even before Trump indicated funding would be provided for additional border improvements and expansion. Ironically, though the original barrier was seen as a divide between two communities, the mural and fence stretching along for hundreds of feet now stands for a symbol of international community.

Alternatives to tearing down the fence, including building a second fence, have not been seen as viable.

“At this time we don’t have current plans for double fencing,” said Kim, “but eventually what we want to do in that area near the Gran Plaza is create an enforcement zone, and that may include lighting and double fencing.”

Although improvement had been seen in recent years, Kim said the fencing near the Gran Plaza has been problematic, with high traffic from those attempting to illegally cross the border.

“That continues to be the biggest problem area,” said Kim, “with the number of agents assaulted in that area.”

Kim said the improvement would help keep those crossing from running into the New River, which poses severe health threats to both themselves and agents. The Border Patrol is currently awaiting a green light from Washington to proceed with an engineering solution for security at the New River.

“It’s needed,” said Imperial County Supervisor Raymond Castillo. “If it’s going to boost security, absolutely.”

Supervisor John Renison asked for the mural to be preserved.

“We may be able to donate some of those panels to the city or the county,” suggested Kim, noting that the final design for the new fence had not been determined and possibly may allow for some of the mural to be incorporated.