Cat Fight

In late summer, the U.S. Border Patrol initiated "Operation Rio Grande," a measure aimed at decreasing illegal immigration in and around Brownsville, Texas. At the start of the program, about 60 protesters objected, claiming that the effort--including the hiring of 55 extra border cops and the stringing of high-intensity lights along the border--would surely lead to civil rights abuses of legal immigrants and workers. Those fears have yet to materialize, and most observers grant that the program has succeeded in slowing illegal entries in the Brownsville area.

But Operation Rio Grande is not in the clear yet. It faces a new protest--from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with making sure that federal projects comply with federal environmental laws. Wildlife officials claim that the same lights that keep illegal immigrants at bay are also disrupting the migration patterns of ocelots and jaguarundis, two indigenous species of cats covered by the Endangered Species Act. Currently, only one half-mile of the border is illuminated, but Operation Rio Grande calls for lighting up a 31-mile stretch. Because the wild cats are nocturnal, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman told the press, "their activities may be disrupted by the floodlights."

Untroubled by the impact of the lights on human migration patterns--and over the objection of the Texas senatorial delegation, which apparently objects to border-crossing felines and humans with equal fervor--the Border Patrol has nonetheless pledged to hire a consultant to develop a lighting plan that would not disturb the cats' late-night wanderings.

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