Monday, July 13, 2009

Activists say senator deceived public over double-layer border fence issue

Rio Grande Guardian
July 13, 2009

WESLACO, July 12 - A U.S. senator has been accused of causing unnecessary distress to border residents by claiming an amendment he passed would increase double-layer border fencing.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, did get an amendment added to the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill on a 54-44 vote last week but it does not mention anything about more double-layer fencing.

“In a state of shock over the double fence, I called on every activist I know to protest the double fence outside Congress members' offices,” said Adrienne Evans, founder of the No Wall-Big Bend Coalition. “I had to retract my request when I got the real scoop… the amendment that DeMint sponsored has no language whatsoever about a double fence.”

A July 8 press release by DeMint’s office started off: “Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint made the following statement after the Senate passed his amendment requiring the completion of 700 miles of double-layer physical fencing along the southern U.S. border by December 31, 2010.”

DeMint argued that the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus spending bill requires 700 miles of reinforced double-layer fencing to built along the southern border, with a deadline of 370 miles of fencing to be completed by December 31, 2008.

To this date, DeMint’s news release said, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has only constructed 34.3 miles of double-layer fencing, leaving more than 660 miles of required double-layer fencing remaining to be built.

“The American people were promised a secure border fence three years ago and it’s time to make it happen,” said Senator DeMint. “Our southern border has become a battleground for illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human trafficking, and it’s vulnerable to terrorists.”

DeMint said that, unfortunately, the federal government has “dragged its feet for years” and tried to use untested and un-secure ‘virtual’ fencing instead of actual, physical fencing.

“Our first priority must be national security, and we can only achieve that goal with secure borders. I’m pleased with the strong bipartisan vote in favor of a finishing a real border fence next year. I will work to ensure no one cuts or weakens this important provision in conference.”

As New York filmmaker Ricardo Martinez pointed out in a You Tube video, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff opposed double-layer fencing in many parts of the border because, he said, it was not what Border Patrol wanted.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, voted for DeMint’s amendment. She has also successfully offered an amendment in the past to give Border Patrol more flexibility in how it secures the border.

In an e-mail to anti-border wall activists on Sunday, Bill Guerra Addington, of the Sierra Club in Sierra Blanca and El Paso, pointed out that Hutchison has, in the past, opposed the widespread building of double-layer fencing. In a Jan. 2008 news release, Hutchison said it was a “myth” that double-layer fencing is the only way to secure the border.

“FACT: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has indicated that double layer fencing is not the most effective in all cases. Coyotes and drug runners are moving their trails based on designated fencing locations. Therefore, CBP needs flexibility to place new fencing where new routes are appearing to achieve operational control of the border. In a number of meetings with Senator Hutchison’s staff, Border Patrol officials asked for the flexibility to locate the fence in places along the border that represent the highest threat,” Hutchison’s news release stated.

Current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said she wants flexibility on the issue, just like the previous administration.

No Wall-Big Bend leader Evans said DeMint’s news release misled a lot of people. She speculated that the news release may have been “designed to dupe the anti-immigrant faction to get them to quit calling his office.”

Evans pointed out that U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, filed an amendment that did call specifically for double-layer fencing but it was never voted on. She said border residents should still be alarmed by the DeMint amendment.

“The DeMint amendment is a great cause for concern because it builds ugly 18-foot-high pedestrian fence in places DHS has determined that a vehicle barrier or virtual fence would do, and it adds more border wall because 700 miles of barriers have not been built yet,” Evans said.

“According to their Web site, DHS says these vehicle barrier walls will be replaced in California, Arizona, New Mexico and the El Paso Sector. But, new pedestrian border walls will most likely be built in Texas where no border wall exists in order to fulfill the 700-mile requirement.”

Scott Nicol, of the No Border Wall coalition, agreed.

“It is important for Texans to realize that even though Kyl's amendment mandating double-layered walls failed, unless the DeMint amendment is stripped from the DHS appropriations bill that President Obama signs, at least 40 miles of new border wall will be built,” Nicol said.

“With California, Arizona, and New Mexico mostly walled off, there is a good chance that they will be built along the Rio Grande.”

On behalf of the No Border Wall coalition, Nicol issued a news release on July 8 highly critical of DeMint’s amendment that was based on the senator’s news release. “I made the mistake of listening to what he said on the floor and in his press releases rather than reading the text of the amendment. I should have been more careful,” he said.

Nicol said roughly half of the 660 or so miles of the current border wall are vehicular barriers. The final result of DeMint's amendment will be 700 miles of pedestrian wall, he said. “Vehicle barriers and virtual walls do not count (under the DeMint amendment),” Nicol said.

DeMint’s amendment does not specify whether the current 330 miles of vehicle barriers must be converted to pedestrian walls, or if new pedestrian walls must be built somewhere else.

“My guess is that if it goes into effect, a lot of the mileage would come from converting vehicle barriers to pedestrian walls,” Nicol said. “That would still leave 40 or so miles of new pedestrian walls that would have to be built. The amendment does not specify where. My guess would be Texas, but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would probably have discretion to decide.”

The DHS appropriations bill, with DeMint’s amendment was passed by the Senate but DeMint voted against it. The U.S. House has already passed its DHS appropriations bill without the DeMint amendment. So, the differences between the two bills will have to be settled by a conference committee.

“It is still possible for the DeMint amendment to be stripped in conference committee. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez is likely to be part of the committee,” Nicol said.

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