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Texas landowners tell McCain: Don’t fence us in

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Thursday he supports a U.S.-Mexico border fence and dismissed landowners’ concerns that it would cut off their access to water from the Rio Grande.

The Arizona senator said he “hopes they would have access to water and other things, but the farmers in my state are very upset because the constant trafficking of people across their land.

“It destroys their land and their crops, so ranchers in my state very much want the movement of people across their land to stop,” said McCain, considered a top-tier candidate in the Republican primary. “And I think that they would do a great deal in order to prevent that from continuing to happen.”

McCain, a co-sponsor of a bipartisan immigration overhaul struggling for support in Congress but backed by President Bush, was in Texas on Thursday for a fundraiser at the home of San Antonio attorney and longtime Republican donor John Steen.

One critic of a border fence said that it might make sense in Arizona, but in Texas, “it’s crazy.”

“The biggest issue that we have with the fence is the fact that the bulk of the Rio Grande, the land on the riverbank in Texas, is in private property,” said Eddie Aldrete, vice chairman of the Texas Border Coalition and a senior vice president of International Bank of Commerce in San Antonio.

“If you put up a physical structure and it’s on a cattle ranch, how do cows get to their primary drinking source? If you’re a farmer and it’s an irrigation source, how do you get to your primary irrigation source?”

Congress last year passed a law requiring some 700 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Of the $1.2 billion Congress approved, at least $400 million has been released. The Department of Homeland Security has said it is committed to erecting 370 miles of fencing by the end of 2008.

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