Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cuellar: CBP halts border fence construction in three Valley segments

Rio Grande Guardian
November 7, 2008

LOS EBANOS, November 7 - The Bush Administration has decided not to move forward with construction of the border fence in three parts of the Rio Grande Valley for the rest of the year, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has announced.

Customs and Border Protection had wanted to erect almost four miles of “movable” fencing in Roma, almost nine miles of fencing in Rio Grande City, and just less than two miles of fencing in Los Ebanos.

“It’s not going to happen. Customs and Border Protection has decided not to move forward with their plans for the rest of the year. The reason they gave was engineering and hydraulic concerns,” Cuellar told the Guardian on Friday evening.

Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos are in Cuellar’s district. Other border counties in Cuellar’s district, such as Zapata and Webb, were not slated to get a border fence. Asked for his reaction to the news, Cuellar said: “This is a big victory.”

The reason CBP wanted to erect movable fences in Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos was due to concerns that a permanent fence could cause flooding on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande during a hurricane or tropical storm. If that had happened an international treaty with Mexico would have been violated.

Cuellar said that before his untimely death in a plane crash in September, Carlos Marin, head of the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, had insisted that CBP do not proceed with any fencing in Roma, Rio Grande City, or Los Ebanos that would have increased the chances of flooding in Mexico.

“Carlos Marin, may he rest in peace, spoke about this often to me and his argument has prevailed. He was pretty adamant that no fence be built that could cause flooding and his words have come ringing through now,” Cuellar said.

“The IBWC wanted assurances that a physical barrier could be moved at short notice during the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane. He was concerned about flooding on the Mexican side.”

Cuellar said CBP’s decision not to proceed with fencing in Roma, Rio Grande City or Los Ebanos would allow he and other border lawmakers an opportunity to sit down with the next U.S. president and the next secretary of the Homeland Security to talk about alternatives to a border fence.

“Although, CBP says it will not move forward with the fence for the rest of this year, it really means they will not move forward until after the Obama administration is in office. They are going to wait,” Obama said.

Cuellar is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He said he asked CBP to hold off on awarding contracts to build the border fence until the next administration takes office when agency officials appeared at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in September.

“Perhaps they have taken notice. We need to revisit the whole issue of border fencing again. We were told the fencing would cost $3 million per mile and now we learn it is going to cost $7 million a mile,” Cuellar said.

“It is time to look at alternative proposals and I plan to meet with Border Patrol on Monday to talk about sensors, cameras, more Border Patrol agents.”Asked if CBP should look again at its border fencing plans in the districts of other border members of Congress, Cuellar said: “Absolutely.”

Scott Nicol, a spokesman for the No Border Wall group, applauded CBP’s decision not to proceed with border fencing in Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos.

“It is our hope that this will be made permanent by the new administration,” Nicol told the Guardian. “We believe that Cameron County and the rest of the border which is slated for wall construction before the end of Secretary Chertoff’s tenure should also be spared.”

Nicol pointed out that the border fence plan has already led to the condemnation of farmland and municipal property. He said the “walls” that are currently under construction are “devastating” wildlife refuges and “destabilizing” South Texas’ flood control levees.

“$3 billion has been wasted on walls that the Border Patrol says only slow crossers by a few minutes,” Nicol said. “With two wars, a deepening financial crisis, and trillions of dollars of debt, our nation cannot afford to throw more money into this bottomless pit.”

Nicol said the No Border Wall group is hopeful that the decision to spare the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos signals the beginning of a “sane” border policy on the part of the Department of Homeland Security and the Bush administration.

“The border wall is nothing more than a political prop, a backdrop for politicians who want to look tough on national security. With the election behind us, it is time to move beyond hollow symbols,” Nicol said.

Nicol said the No Border Wall coalition is now calling on President-elect Obama to appoint a new secretary of Homeland Security who will “reject Michael Chertoff’s failures and refuse to play politics with the lives and property of border residents.”

Obama should enact a moratorium on further border wall construction until a non-partisan organization such as the Government Accountability Office can review both the impacts of the walls that have already been built and the foreseeable impacts of proposed walls, Nicol added.

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