July 22, 2009
by Laura Martinez
While construction on the border fence in Cameron County is at a standstill because of pending lawsuits, at least one local landowner is surprised by a California congressman’s introduction of legislation that calls for more fencing construction along the United States-Mexico border.
The bill, known as the Unlawful Border Entry Prevention Act and introduced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, gives Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano discretionary authority to build 350 miles of additional reinforced fencing where she deems is necessary. More than 650 miles of fence have already been approved along the U.S.-Mexico border.
If approved the legislation would amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
The location of the proposed fencing would be up to Napolitano, said Joe Kaspar, spokesman for Hunter. He added the DHS would also have the option to decide if it would be second-layer fencing or an additional 350-miles of fence.
Kasper said the legislation has bipartisan support.
Co-sponsoring the legislation are Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Ed Royce, R-Calif. and Brian Bilbray, R-Calif.
"How ridiculous" this additional fence legislation is, said Cameron County landowner Pamela Taylor, whose home on Nogales Road will be affected by the border fence that has already been authorized for construction.
"If the first fence didn’t work what makes him (Hunter) think two fences are going to work?" asked Taylor.
Taylor wonders how much money is being spent on the initial fence and where funding would come from for additional fencing should the legislation be approved.
"There are so many things we need to put the money into," such as health care, Taylor, 80, said. "We worry too much about the (activities in) Mexico. We need to worry about the United States."
Hunter cites the ongoing border violence and illegal drug and terrorist activity for his sponsoring of the legislation. The current fencing mandate does not provide the DHS with the authority to construct additional fencing, after Dec. 31, 2009, the bill states.
"As the last few remaining miles of border infrastructure are completed and we work to strengthen our overall security presence on the Southwest border, it is important that DHS continue to receive and retain the necessary tools to do its job," Hunter said in a press release. "This includes the authority to gain immediate and operational control of the border through the construction of additional infrastructure."
Hunter said enforcement along the border has been strengthened because of the border fence and has allowed the U.S. Border Patrol "to refocus its efforts as needed. Simply put, fencing works."
U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, said he plans to monitor the bill closely, as it makes it way through the Committee of Jurisdiction, which will review the bill.
"The process for a bill becoming law is long and uncertain; nonetheless, those of us who represent congressional districts along the U.S.-Mexico border know firsthand we don’t need 350 additional miles of fencing," Ortiz said in a prepared statement. "I strongly stand against this bill, and should the bill make it to the House floor, I plan on voting against it."
The current fence’s construction is part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which is part of the government’s comprehensive immigration reform that includes securing the nation’s border. DHS is overseeing the fence’s construction.
In Cameron County, 34.8 miles of fencing is planned. While some portions of fencing are in place on South Oklahoma Road, some are pending because of ongoing lawsuits. The lawsuits are scheduled to be addressed July 31, before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen.
Additional fencing in the county is visible along Military Highway, also known as Highway 281. Much of the fencing in this area was constructed earlier this year.