October 8, 2009
by Gary Martin
WASHINGTON — A provision to build an additional 300 miles of pedestrian fence along the U.S.-Mexico border has been stripped out of a $42.8 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.
The provision by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., was removed at the behest of House members from Texas, Arizona and California who called the fencing a waste of taxpayer money and an ineffective way to secure the border.
“We need to invest and secure our border and our land ports without being tied down to an amendment that is out of touch with border needs,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who spearheaded the effort to remove the provision DeMint tucked into a Senate spending bill earlier this year.
The provision, approved 54-44 in the Senate in July, was supported by both Republican and Democratic senators from Texas, California and Arizona. New Mexico's two Democratic senators opposed the additional pedestrian fence.
The House version of the bill did not contain the provision.
This week, the House and Senate negotiators writing the final bill chose not to include DeMint's provision, prompting a protest from Sen. John Cornyn.
“I'm very concerned with anything that sends a signal that we're not serious about continuing to provide security along our border,” said Cornyn, R-Texas, who supported the DeMint provision.
But the Texas Border Coalition, a collective of border mayors and county officials, applauded the move. They had urged Democratic leaders in the House to remove the provision from the bill, saying the money could be better used to upgrade busy ports of entry that routinely see traffic congestion and delays.
Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, the Texas Border Coalition chairman, said the decision is the first time community leaders “have been able to defeat an effort in Congress to require fence construction.”
Congress authorized 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Secure Fence Initiative of 2006. The Homeland Security Department has 370 miles of pedestrian fence under contract, with the remainder to be secured by vehicle barriers, sensors and other high-technology equipment to create a “virtual fence.”
More than 630 miles of fence and barriers have been completed, according to a DHS spokesman. Some portions of the uncompleted pedestrian fence in Texas are under court challenge.
The DeMint provision would have required that all 700 miles of barriers authorized by Congress in 2006 to be pedestrian fence, eliminating vehicle barriers and virtual fences. It called for the pedestrian fence to be completed by Dec. 31, 2010.
DeMint argued that the government had dragged its feet on securing the Southwest border.
Criticized as wasteful
Border lawmakers in the House called the DeMint provision wasteful after the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that costs to build a pedestrian fence had escalated to $7 million per mile.
“I say those dollars are better invested into supporting the manpower and resources at Customs and Border Patrol and local law enforcement,” Cuellar said.