May 7, 2009
by Stewart M. Powell
Rep. Green applauds move, calling barrier ineffectiveWASHINGTON — President Obama’s budget blueprint Thursday shelved extension of the controversial border fence beyond the 670 miles already completed or planned — rejecting the much-heralded security approach orchestrated by former President George W. Bush.
The Obama administration’s turnabout left funds for roads, lights and so-called tactical infrastructure — but not a dime to extend the pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers erected along roughly a third of the nation’s 1,947-mile border with Mexico.
As a Democratic senator representing Illinois, Obama joined 79 other senators in 2006 to support construction of the barrier system, intended to keep immigrants from crossing into the United States illegally.
The top financial officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Peggy Sherry, and her team told reporters Thursday that the Obama administration would not extend a barrier network that has irked neighboring Mexico and raised concerns among immigrant advocates.
Some Texas’ landowners have stubbornly challenged the fence project, denying or delaying federal access to survey their property in legal warfare that prolonged construction along some parts of the border.
As recently as last October, the federal government had completed just a one half-mile section of the 110 miles of pedestrian border fence promised in Texas.
Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass and head of the Texas Border Coalition, welcomed the decision. “We’ve always wanted to stop the fence right where it is,” Foster said.
The Obama administration asked Congress for $779 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 for border security-related expenses that included installation of technology, tactical infrastructure and completion of some of the remaining 46 miles of barriers.
That represents a significant drop from the $1.9 billion spent on the same activities by the Bush administration in fiscal 2008 and the $926 million set aside by the outgoing administration for the current fiscal year.
“There are additional funds for implementation, some additional (money for) roads, lights some additional tactical infrastructure,” said one official. “In terms of any particular set (number of) additional miles of fence, there’s nothing specifically identified as money for further miles of fence.”
Cheers and jeers
The Obama administration will continue efforts “to finish up the fencing to get as close to the 670 miles of fence that has been previously identified,” the official said.
Claude Knighten, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, said contractors had completed 322.2 miles of the 370 miles of planned pedestrian fencing and 302 miles of the planned vehicle fencing.
Democratic Rep. Gene Green of Houston applauded Obama’s move, describing the barriers as “a small deterrent and not very effective.”
Others were disappointed by the measure, including Republican Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, and Michael McCaul of Austin.
Culberson said it amounted to “more proof that the new administration will not truly secure our borders.”