San Antonio Express-News
October 10, 2008
WASHINGTON — Texas congressmen, citing skyrocketing costs to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, said Thursday they would push the next presidential administration for more cost-effective measures to control drug smuggling and illegal immigration.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, made the comments after a Rio Grande flyover to view efforts on the ground by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“Let's regroup and provide border security in a smart way and not just waste the taxpayers' dollars,” Cuellar said.
McCaul called for more state and local funding to bolster law enforcement efforts, saying, “What spills across our border is a problem for every community in Texas.”
A report released by the Government Accountability Office just before Congress adjourned in September said the cost of building pedestrian fencing has shot up to $7 million per mile from estimates of $4 million per mile in February.
Ralph Basham, the CBP commissioner, has said the cost overruns are the result of rising prices for steel, materials and fuel.
Cuellar said the increased cost should prompt a serious review by the next Congress and the incoming administration.
Local officials agree.
Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, said he wants comprehensive immigration reform, not just fencing, to stop unauthorized immigrants.
“We look forward to working with the new administration, whoever it may be, to provide real solutions that will finish the job of securing our borders and reforming a broken immigration system,” Foster said.
A goal to build 670 miles of fence this year under the Secure Border Initiative, undertaken by the Department Homeland Security, cannot be met, officials concede.
Lawsuits have contributed to the delays, particularly in Texas, where cities and citizens along the U.S. side of the border object to the fence construction, according to the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
Of the 122 border landowners who have refused to sell their U.S. property to the government for fence construction, 97 are located in the Rio Grande Valley, a GAO report said.
In addition, 20 of the Rio Grande Valley landowners are defendants in lawsuits filed by the federal government, on advice of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, for condemnation or taking of property, according to the GAO.
Richard Stana, GAO director for homeland security issues, said in the report, “Costs are increasing, the life-cycle cost is not yet known, and land acquisition issues pose challenges to DHS in meeting the goal it set.”
Of the 670 miles of border fencing planned, 109.5 miles are located in Texas. A short stretch of fence near El Paso is completed, and other sections are under construction in Hudspeth County and Eagle Pass.
To date, fencing costs in Texas have reached $575.6 million, said DHS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso; Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; and Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, have also urged a complete review of fence construction.