July 17, 2009
by Gary Martin
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from Texas and other border states are trying to scuttle a Senate plan to build 700 miles of double-layerfencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the funds would be better used to support “our understaffed, crowded and overburdened ports of entry.” In an interview, Cuellar called the border fence “a waste of taxpayer's money.”
The Senate wants to continue the Bush administration's push to extend the border fence, but the House passed its version of the Department of Homeland Security spending bill without any money for the fence. The matter now goes to a joint House-Senate panel to iron out the differences.
House Democrats from Texas, Arizona and California argue that requiring pedestrian, double-layered fence, instead of using vehicle barriers and technology, “represents wasteful spending that could alternatively be used for multitude of valuable security purposes.”
They are asking Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., to remove the fence funding in negotiations with the Senate.
Both senators OK'd funds
But the author of the Senate provision, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he would work “to ensure no one cuts or weakens this important provision in conference.” DeMint's plan was approved, 54-44, on July 8 .
Six of the eight border state senators, including Texas Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, voted to fund the fence expansion. New Mexico's senators were the only dissenters.
Congress authorized 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Secure Fence Initiative of 2006. DHS has 370 miles of fence under contract, with the remainder to be secured with vehicle barriers, and technology and sensors to create a “virtual fence.”
More than 630 miles of the fence and barriers have been completed, said Claude Knighten, a Customs and Border Patrol spokesman. Some of the remaining portions of the uncompleted fence face legal challenges.
DeMint's amendment would require that pedestrian fence account for all 700 miles of barriers, eliminating vehicle barriers and “virtual fence.” The amendment also calls for completion by Dec. 31, 2010.
The Secure Fence Initiative left it up to DHS and CBP to determine the types of barriers and structures to use along the 1,952-mile border with Mexico.
A report released last year by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the cost of pedestrian fencing has increased from $4 million a mile to $7 million a mile over just a year's period.http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/immigration/6535100.html#