October 9, 2009
by Christopher Sherman
McALLEN, Texas — Members of Congress have stripped a provision requiring 300 more miles of tall fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border from a Department of Homeland Security appropriation bill, saying the funds needed to build the barrier would be better spent on alternative security measures.
If the amendment by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint had remained in the bill, tall fencing to stop illegal immigrants and smugglers on foot would have been installed along 700 miles of border — a plan that many officials and residents along the Southwest border have opposed.
DeMint's provision, which was dropped this week, said 300 miles of low-rise vehicle barriers and virtual fencing planned for the area could not count toward the 700 miles of barrier the U.S. government had promised to build. Virtual fencing includes technologies such as cameras and sensors.
"The DeMint amendment represented an unproductive and inefficient border security strategy," U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said in a prepared statement Thursday. "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."
Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, said DeMint's proposal would have cost $6.5 billion, money Cuellar said was better spent on other border security measures.
At the end of June approximately 633 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers had been completed along the 2,100-mile border. Many of the gaps in the fencing are in Texas where landowners continue to fight the government.
A federal judge was scheduled Friday to hear updates on several cases that are expected to go to trial next year to determine how much compensation the government would have to pay landowners for using their property.
The provision by DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, was not included in the House version of the $42.8 billion spending bill and was expected to be stripped during conference when the two bills were melded.
Seven border state congressmen asked the House leadership in July to strip the amendment from the final bill.
The General Accounting Office reported last month that maintaining the border fence would cost $6.5 billion during the next 20 years. That would be on top of the $2.4 billion spent to build it.