Thursday, November 6, 2008

What will Barack’s victory mean for border fence?

Brownsville Herald
November 5, 2008

Will the presidential administration of Barack Obama derail the border fence set to soon run through Brownsville's backyard?

Probably not, according to academics and former policymakers. But South Texas landowners have not given up hope.

With the country embroiled in two wars and a devastating financial crisis, Obama - who voted for the fence in 2006 - is unlikely to upend the project, experts said. Construction will likely drag into the early days of Obama's administration.

"It's not politically palatable to say you're no longer for a fence," said Veronica Vargas Stidvent, director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas' Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and former assistant Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush. "And it's difficult to stop a train once it gets going."

The fence's Congressionally mandated deadline is Dec. 31. If the barrier remains unfinished by that date - as appears increasingly likely - a new administration could theoretically step in to amend the project.

During a debate in Austin before the Texas Democratic primary, Obama spoke about the importance of consulting with communities along the border, "whether it's on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier."

When he spoke at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College on Feb. 29, he reiterated that point, saying the Bush administration had done a poor job of consulting with landowners, giving hope to those who have fought to keep the barrier off their properties. Since then, Obama rarely discussed the border fence during his run for the presidency.

"When he does begin to deal with this situation, I want to be treated fairly," said Eloisa Tamez, a landowner in El Calaboz. "I want him to appoint someone (as Homeland Security Secretary) who is willing to come talk with us."

Amending plans for the barrier's construction would require attention from a president whose resources will likely be spread thin, Vargas Stidvent said.

But that shouldn't preclude a revision of the border fence's flaws, opponents of the barrier say.

"While we are in the middle of a financial crisis and fighting two wars abroad, it is absurd to spend billions more on a border wall that does nothing to enhance our national security," said Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall group. "(The fence) instead necessitates the destruction of homes, farms and wildlife refuges, and causes the deaths of hundreds of migrant men, women and children each year. "

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