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Real Estate & Property Law

: Kelo and Beyond

How the Rest Live

By Greg Alvarez

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Last year, all you heard about was how the United States was going to rethink its immigration policy, and start clarifying what had become a looney, and sometimes dangerous path many people risked taking to join us here on the other side of the Border. Sure, it's a great country, but how many of us today would be willing to tread from where our forebears came and forge a new life like they did? Learning a new language alone precludes me from that group of hardy go-getters. Okay, it's a question that shouldn't be taken quite so lightly. But looking around, maybe it's an easier issue than the media, and our ancestors, have made it out to be. And the world of land use highlights this point.

Take for instance the phenomenon happening in Texas, where Mexican citizens are living in their second homes in the major metropolitan areas of the Lone Star State to forge their own version of the American dream. Granted, we're talking about the wealthy elites of our neighbor to the south, who are seeking refuge from the violent crime and kidnappings that they fear in their native land. Many are using the "business visa" route to entry, which grants visas to foreigners, and their immediate families, who are making a large investment in an American company, or a Mexican company doing business in the U.S. And the homes they buy tend to be large, and within a gated community. As one member of this exclusive group notes, "I really want to stay in the States. . . . My main reason is my kids. In Mexico, you can get kidnapped pretty easily. You can't take them to the supermarket or grocery store because you maybe turn around and lose them." Pragmatism drives this segment of the housing market, which runs contrary to many Americans' refocus on homes located in "friendlier" (meaning, denser) types of communities. For these newcomers, the higher the fence, the better it is. And its effect on the landscape cannot be ignored.

On the other side of the extreme is the way in which the desolate reaches of the American southwest are becoming the new battleground in the ever-changing paths people take to cross our borders. In the San Ysidro Mountains, east of San Diego, the U.S. Border Patrol's elite Air Mobile Unit patrols the terrain -- five miles inside of California. They must brave some of the most difficult areas to navigate through with the aid of helicopters and superior training. Imagine the hell the immigrants must withstand. In any event, people are using this ground as a pathway to hope and success. The definition of this land has changed, as the politics of border patrol have pushed the entry points away from the obvious, and into the land that most would rather forget. Who knows -- ten years from now this stretch may be a tourist spot, or maybe even a site of the latest housing development touted as a convenient, cheaper option for people looking to buy in the San Diego area.

And what about a different kind of turf war over immigration happening in the unlikely burg of Bogota, New Jersey? The confrontation pits brother against brother, over one of the most reviled scars caused by land development: the infernal billboard. Last year, mayor Steven Lonegan led a crusade to remove a McDonald's billboard written in Spanish. Twenty-one percent of Bogota residents are Hispanic, so it seemed like a reasonable idea for the Golden Arches to market to this demographic. Not so for Mayor Lonegan, a conservative Republican. On the other side of the aisle is immigration advocate Bryan Lonegan, a lawyer and Steve's brother. They no longer speak to one another. In the process, the tiny Borough has become a battleground over the immigration issue, with Mayor Steve currently on the winning side. Residents favored his initiative by a three to one margin. And then he tried to push for English as the official language of the town. With his large personality, he has turned his section of the world, deep inside America, into another patch of ground knee deep in the immigration issue. Once the realm of the zoning board, Mayor Lonegan brought the issue of billboards into a whole new realm.

Everywhere you turn, the immigration battle continues to rage, even if Congress has lost interest. But not only does it split people down ideological lines, it plays a role in shaping our built environment, and the way we use the land. Whether it be the suburbs of Houston, the San Ysidro Mountains or Bogota, New Jersey, these places have been altered because of the way in which our nation addresses how to allow others not fortunate enough to live here to join the fun. Wherever one falls on the issue, the fact remains that all it takes is a closer look around you, and you'll see what's going on.

Full post as published by Kelo and Beyond on September 20, 2007 (boomark / email).

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