San Antonio Express-News
September 23, 2008
WASHINGTON – Congress approved a shift of $400 million from technology accounts to construction of the U.S. border fence despite a Customs and Border Protection admission that it cannot be completed by year's end, officials said Monday.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security agreed to a CBP proposal to transfer funds from other accounts to build the remainder of the 670 miles of border fence.
Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, voiced disappointment over Congress' decision to continue to fund “the border wall.”
“It won't work. It is lethal to people and wildlife and eventually will be torn down,” Foster said.
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the homeland security subcommittee, notified the Bush administration that the funds would be reallocated, a spokeswoman said.
Price also directed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to revisit border areas where there is dispute and work with local officials to improve consultation and assessment.
In a letter to Chertoff, Price said the committee would not stand in the way of the department's attempt to build the fence, “even though I have serious doubt about its ability to accomplish its stated goals.”
The government has built 344 miles of fence, but lawsuits and legal squabbles with landowners in the Rio Grande Valley and in other Texas locations have delayed most construction in the Lone Star state.
Ralph Basham, the CBP commissioner, told Congress earlier this month that the federal government could not meet President Bush's goal of building the fence by the time he leaves office.
Basham also told lawmakers that he needed an additional $400 million, citing the cost overruns from the rising price of steel, materials and fuel.
Customs and Border Protection asked Congress for permission to shift funds from other accounts, most notably high-technology surveillance projects, to the border fence.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, in a letter to Price, asked House appropriators to block the shift in funds. Other Texas border lawmakers signing the letter were Reps. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.