April 21, 2009
by Jared Janes
WASHINGTON — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano committed Tuesday to completing the final unbuilt miles of border fence, most of which is in the Rio Grande Valley.
Napolitano, once a vocal critic of the fence when she was governor of Arizona, said she intends to complete the original 670 miles Congress mandated in 2006. But she also didn't rule out building more fencing in combination with technology and manpower as a way to secure the border.
The homeland security secretary's comments came in response to a question McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez posed on the effectiveness of the fence during an international conference sponsored by the Border Trade Alliance, an organization that advocates policies to improve border affairs and trade relations.
About 620 miles of the 670 miles of planned fence are complete, and work is in progress on the remaining sections. Napolitano said she hadn't made a decision yet on whether more fencing would be needed.
Most of the work left do under the current mandate is in Cameron County, where crews have already started construction despite protests from some officials hoping to stall the work.
The combined levee-wall barrier in Hidalgo County is effectively complete.
Napolitano, who quipped as Arizona governor that a 12-foot fence would be conquered with a 13-foot ladder, now says the fence is effective "if it's done right as part of a system."
In some areas, such as the San Diego-Tijuana crossing, the fence makes sense, she said, but only as part of a comprehensive solution.
"You cannot build a fence from Brownsville to San Diego and call that an anti-immigration, anti-illegal-drug strategy," the secretary said.
Her challenge, she said, is identifying the right procedure for security along both the southern and northern borders of the United States.
Mayor Cortez attended the conference in Washington, D.C., with other officials from Hidalgo County and said he found Napolitano's statements refreshing. She understands the border region, he said, noting she made frequent comments to the effect that security would not be pursued at the expense of business.
"She said we're going to secure our borders and work in a way that doesn't impede legitimate trade," Cortez said. "She's going to be someone good to work with."