On US-Mexico border, Trump's wall stirs mixed feelings

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People walk and drive across the international bridge on the US/Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, on January 13, 2019

People walk and drive across the international bridge on the US/Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, on January 13, 2019 (AFP Photo/SUZANNE CORDEIRO)

Laredo (United States) (AFP) - Mexico is just minutes away on foot, the time it takes to walk across one of the bridges that span the Rio Grande, intimately connecting Laredo, Texas to its Mexican sister Nuevo Laredo.

The wall Donald Trump promises to build would slice through that, and here as elsewhere in America opinions are divided over whether it's needed.

Already, the raging national debate over the president's demand for $5.7 billion to build the wall has provoked the longest government shutdown in US history, one now in its fourth week.

It's a sensitive subject in a city that is more than 95 percent Hispanic and many Laredo inhabitants politely decline to comment.

But Manuel Garcia Jr is happy to say what he thinks, pausing to render his opinion before attending mass at the San Agustin cathedral in the city's historic center.

"I agree with Trump 100 percent," the businessman says.

"I think building the wall is great, yes. I think it would help everybody in the United States bring the cost down because we are spending too much money with a lot of border patrols going up and down."

"I know that a lot of people disagree on it but you gotta be honest about it, we need it," Garcia said.

His ancestors came from Mexico "legally," he says, adding that that's how all immigrants should come into the country.

Nowadays, he says, there is "a lot of crime" -- although he acknowledges he hasn't experienced that personally in Laredo.

Laredo-born Mateo Gravena, 47, also believes a border wall is needed.

"It is the appropriate thing to do," he said, his eyes shielded by sunglasses. "It's a presidency protecting its borders from foreign invaders."

An emergency services contractor, Gravena says the wall is needed to stop traffickers who send women across the border with drugs.

And besides, he says, why should the United States take in the overflow of people from other countries.

"Why does it have to be the United States?"

- 'Mixed feelings' -

Views of that nature exasperate Jennifer Fanelli, an otherwise good-humored 27-year-old bus driver.

She doesn't hesitate to attribute them to "racism," even when they come from people who are themselves of Mexican descent.

The wall? "I'm against that," she said. "In any case they are going to find a way to come here and they come here to earn a better future."

"They don't pose a threat," she added. "We have to be more human."

Fanelli was born in Minnesota but after her father died she moved to Laredo, her mother's hometown.

"Minnesota is pretty but there is a lot of racism, and I thought it would be different here because we are all Latinos," she said.

"But it doesn't end. We as Latinos dump on the Mexicans. It just doesn't end."

Homero Resendez, a 51-year-old who has lived half his life in Laredo, sees the city as a twin of Nuevo Laredo.

"What we need are bridges to cross over, not walls," he said. "What the president is doing is ridiculous."

A woman comfortably seated, fishing pole in hand, on the banks of the Rio Grande silently considers the issue.

She asks not to be quoted by name as she weighs her feelings.

On the one hand, she says, she fears "overpopulation" and thinks American citizens should be the ones benefitting from the country's bounty.

But she admits that migrants take jobs Americans do not want.

"I really have mixed feelings," she sighs, looking out across the river to the other side -- where just like her, local Mexicans have come to fish on a sunny afternoon.