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Border Patrol herbicide plan opposed

Some fear the effort to eradicate foliage where illegal immigrants and smugglers hide poses a threat to nearby populations in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

March 25, 2009|Associated Press

HOUSTON — Critics are protesting a Border Patrol plan to poison vegetation along a 1.1-mile stretch of the Rio Grande riverbank to eliminate dense foliage used as hiding places by illegal immigrants and smugglers.

Some opponents of the action compare it to the Agent Orange chemical spraying program during the Vietnam War.

The $2.1-million pilot project is due to begin this week. If successful, it could be expanded along as much as 130 miles of river in the patrol's Laredo Sector, as well as other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Opponents are concerned that the spraying will occur near Laredo, Texas, and its counterpart across the border, Nuevo Laredo.

"We don't believe that is even moral," said Jay Johnson-Castro Sr., executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center at Laredo Community College, adjacent to the planned test area. "It is unprecedented that they'd do it in a populated area."

The Border Patrol and Environmental Protection Agency officials say the herbicide planned for the test is safe for animals. The program is intended to keep Border Patrol agents safe and make their jobs easier, officials say.

Members of the Laredo City Council have raised concerns and called on Mexico President Felipe Calderon to intervene. Mexican officials are worried that the herbicide, imazapyr, could threaten the Nuevo Laredo water supply.

Imazapyr was registered in the U.S. in 1984. The EPA concluded after tests that "there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to the general population, and to infants and children from aggregate exposure to imazapyr residues."

A U.S. government outline of the project indicates the Border Patrol is going to test three methods to rid the riverbank of carrizo cane, which has thick stalks. Trails through the cane can be all but invisible from higher up on the bank.

The cane is a nonnative plant introduced by Spanish explorers. Johnson-Castro said he had no issue with removing the cane, just the method.

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