Tuesday, October 7, 2008

As border fence rises, so does ire in southern New Mexico

Las Cruces Sun-News
October 7, 2008

LAS CRUCES — West of Sunland Park, a controversial barrier is rising.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has finished building about 3.3 miles of pedestrian fence in Doña Ana County along the international border, said Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C.

Another 3.5 miles remain to be built in the county before January.

The total cost of all pedestrian fencing in Doña Ana County is about $22 million.

In total, 110 miles of fencing are planned for the U.S. Border Patrol's El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico and the two westernmost counties of Texas.

The project has prompted plenty of controversy. City of Sunland Park officials have voiced opposition in the form of a council resolution.

Doña Ana County Commissioner Dolores Saldaña-Caviness, whose district encompasses Sunland Park and Santa Teresa, said the border fence isn't the right solution to immigration problems. She said she's not certain what the solution should be, but said it rests in the hands of federal officials.

"For me, the fence is an ugly barrier," she said. "It really bothers me that things are happening or aren't happening in Washington, D.C., and I don't think the fence is the answer."

The pedestrian fence under construction is east of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. It consists of metal, mesh-like panels that are roughly 15 feet to 18 feet tall.

In addition to pedestrian fencing, 20.8 miles of vehicle barriers — concrete-filled piping aimed at stopping cars from crossing the border — are slated to be built in Doña Ana County, according to de Rocha. The cost is $21.3 million.

In Luna County, 12.8 miles of vehicle barriers are under construction and contracts have been awarded for an additional 11.3 miles. In Hidalgo County, 12.7 miles will be built. Construction of vehicle fencing in Hidalgo and Luna County will cost $46.8 million.

Asked if the fence is working to reduce illegal immigration, Martin Hernandez, a spokesman with U.S. Border Patrol, said it's part of "a multi-year plan to gain operational control of our nation's borders by using the right mixture of technology, infrastructure and personnel." He cited a decline in numbers of immigrants being caught.

"Apprehensions this year are at a 60-percent decrease from last year — 28,000 apprehensions compared to 75,500 last year," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Sunland Park resident Trinidad Lozano, 83, said she's doubtful how successful the fence will be.
"I know the government does things for the best, but I don't think it's going to keep (immigrants) from coming back and forth whenever they want," she said. "That thing is costing the people a lot of money, just for nothing. Maybe it helps a little; I don't know."

Homeland Security is working to complete 670 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of this year. About 340 miles of fence has been built and Congress has approved $2.6 billion for construction. But Homeland Security officials recently told Congress the project might not be finished on target and asked to re-route $400 million from other projects toward the fence construction.

Some pedestrian fencing in Anapra and vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa already existed before Congress approved the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized the recent construction.

De Rocha said the old fencing was part of 78 miles of fencing along the entire U.S.-Mexico border that had been erected over the years. That construction wasn't part of a comprehensive project and occurred piece-meal, she said.

Border fencing has met perhaps the stiffest opposition in Texas, where Homeland Security has faced legal challenges and loud protests from border residents and community leaders.

Last month, El Paso County decided to take its case against the DHS to the Supreme Court. The lawsuit — which the city, the Tigua tribe and other local groups joined — challenges the constitutionality of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's use of waivers to bypass dozens of laws and build the barrier quickly.


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