January 5, 2008
Border communities from Tucson, Ariz. to Brownsville on Saturday will celebrate the end of Michael Chertoff's term as Homeland Security Secretary with piñatas, music and a retirement cake.
There's only one catch: Chertoff isn't invited.
Some of the secretary's most vocal critics will gather at Brownsville's Galeria 409, just a few yards from where the fence will be constructed, to commemorate what they consider Chertoff's disastrous tenure.
"This is not a protest disguised as a party - this is a party," said Scott Nicol, of the No Border Wall Coalition. "Chertoff has only been secretary for three years but he has managed to do a tremendous amount of damage. Texas will be glad to see him gone, and it can't come soon enough."
A group in El Paso will also host a Chertoff sendoff party on Jan. 10, which will include a border fence limbo.
But before groups celebrate Chertoff's departure, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will begin preparing for the fence's construction in Brownsville.
In a letter to Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. last week, DHS officials wrote that clearing and grubbing will begin in two city locations where the barrier will be erected - in the La Muralla area and on a stretch near River Bend Resort. The two segments total 5.2 miles.
Though the government's deadline to complete the project passed on Dec. 31, plans to build 17 miles of fencing in Brownsville remain unchanged.
"We're still headed toward our goal," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling. "The contracts that were awarded (in Cameron County) still stand."
Ahumada hopes to add the City of Brownsville to an amicus brief filed by the Texas Border Coalition expressing opposition to the fence. He'll broach the issue at the Jan. 6 City Commission meeting.
The border fence has made Chertoff a household name in South Texas, as DHS's influence has grown. Created in 2002, the department has become the third largest cabinet in the federal government, overseeing U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
(For more information on the Chertoff Retirement Parties in Brownsville and El Paso, go to: