Only half-mile of pedestrian part finished in Texas
October 10, 2008
WASHINGTON — The federal government has completed just a half-mile section of the 110 miles of pedestrian border fence promised along the Texas-Mexico border.
Texas' incomplete portion, about 109.5 miles, accounts for about a third of the 316 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers that remains to be built along the border that officials had hoped to complete by the end of President Bush's term in January.
The delays in completing the politically charged project, designed to stem illegal immigration, have been blamed on politicians' resistance, landowners' unwillingness to sell, shortages of materials, soaring costs and unforeseen construction problems.
"The Department of Homeland Security pontificates about how they're securing the border when they're not. They have no credibility on border security," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, a staunch supporter of the fence.
Some Texas officials who opposed the barrier exercised "political clout and thwarted the law," Poe said, adding that "the federal government does not need to get permission from local officials to secure the border of our country."
But Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, the chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, a leading opponent of the project, said the next president and Congress will weigh the fate of the fence and, he hopes, replace it with "a more responsible and effective border security strategy."
Border crossings by illegal immigrants have dropped 56 percent over the last four years without a fence, according to Foster's organization.
Opposition to the fence springs from concerns about impediments to businesses and families along the border, the image of a Berlin Wall-style barrier and an assessment that the fence won't help deal with a broader immigration problem.
The administration's project called for 370 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers, for a total of 670 miles. Another project using a high-tech blend of ground sensors, towers and integrated communications technology was planned to monitor a total of 81 miles in Arizona.
'Well on our way'"Our goal remains the 670 miles, and we're well on our way," said Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
In addition, the Bush administration has beefed up the Border Patrol. About 18,000 agents will police the country's borders by Jan. 20, when the administration leaves office.
W. Ralph Basham, head of the border protection agency, told Congress last month that construction of all 670 miles of the fence would be completed or under contract by the end of December. But he did not promise to complete construction — a commitment Bush administration officials had previously made on Capitol Hill.
"We face many challenges in meeting our goal," Basham told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Land acquisition has posed a complex problem in Texas, where federal authorities had to acquire property to build parts of the pedestrian fence. A recent report to Congress by the Government Accountability Office said that 97 landowners in the Rio Grande Valley refused to sell plots for the fence.
Land acquisition was easier in New Mexico, Arizona and California where federal authorities held control of a 60-foot swath of land on the U.S. side of the border.
Costs have soared, too. The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the amount spent for pedestrian fencing has jumped 88 percent since February to $7.5 million per mile.
The costs for vehicle barriers have increased 40 percent to $2.8 million per mile, according to the GAO.
De Rocha said that progress on fence construction along the Texas border ranged from completion of 0.4 miles of pedestrian fence near the Ysleta port of entry on the border to mere preparations in Laredo.
''We do not keep a running total of miles as they are completed,'' she said.
''Some projects are obviously nearer to completion than others.''
Here at a glance are statistics about the fence:
• 1,933 miles: Length of the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
• 670 miles: Planned length of the entire border fence.
• 370 miles: Total length of fencing to impede pedestrians.
• 200 miles: Portion of pedestrian fencing completed.
• 300 miles: Total length of barriers designed to impede vehicles
• 154 miles : Portion of vehicle barriers completed.
• $3.1 billion: Total cost since 2006.
• 1,241: Mileage of state's border with Mexico
• 110 miles. Total length of pedestrian fencing planned in Texas.
• Half-mile: Portion of fence completed.
• Ysleta: Location of completed section of fence.
• $575.6 million: Cost of fence in Texas.
Sources: U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency; U.S. Government Accountability Office