The Texas Observer is a left-leaning publication with a pro-amnesty bent, but this piece on the politics of the border fence gives some useful insight into the DHS decision-making process on where and why there are so many holes in the wall.
Most border residents couldn’t believe the fence would ever be built through their homes and communities. They expected it to run along the banks of the Rio Grande, not north of the flood levees—in some cases like Tamez’s, as far as a mile north of the river. So it came as a shock last summer when residents were approached by uniformed Border Patrol agents. They asked people to sign waivers allowing Homeland Security to survey their properties for construction of the wall. When they declined, Homeland Security filed condemnation suits.
In time, local landowners realized that the fence’s location had everything to do with politics and private profit, and nothing to do with stopping illegal immigration.
In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, authored by Republican Congressman Peter King from New York. The legislation mandated that 700 miles of double-fencing be built along the southern border from California to Texas. The bill detailed where the fencing, or, as many people along the border call it, “the wall,” would be built. After a year of inflamed rhetoric about the plague of illegal immigration and Congress’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the bill passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and a few Democrats. All the Texas border members of the U.S. House of Representatives, except San Antonio Republican Henry Bonilla, voted against it. Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn voted for the bill.
On August 10, 2007, Chertoff announced his agency would scale back the initial 700 miles of fencing to 370 miles, to be built in segments across the southern border. Chertoff cited budget shortages and technological difficulties as justifications for not complying with the bill.
How did his agency decide where to build the segments? Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass, says he thought it was a simple enough question and that the answer would be based on data and facts. Foster chairs the Texas Border Coalition. TBC, as Foster calls it, is a group of border mayors and business leaders who have repeatedly traveled to Washington for the past 18 months to try to get federal officials to listen to them.
Foster says he has never received any logical answers from Homeland Security as to why certain areas in his city had been targeted for fencing over other areas. “I puzzled a while over why the fence would bypass the industrial park and go through the city park,” he says.
Despite terse meetings with Chertoff, Foster and other coalition members say the conversation has been one-sided.
“I think we have a government within a government,” Foster says. “[This is] a tremendous bureaucracy—DHS is just a monster.”
The Observer called Homeland Security in Washington to find out how it had decided where to build the fence. The voice mail system sputtered through a dizzying array of acronyms: DOJ, USACE, CBP, and USCIS. On the second call a media spokesperson with a weary voice directed queries to Michael Friel, the fence spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. Six calls and two e-mails later, Friel responded with a curt e-mail: “Got your message. Working on answers…” it said. Days passed, and Friel’s answers never came.
Since Homeland Security wasn’t providing answers, perhaps Congress would. Phone conversations with congressional offices ranged from “but they aren’t even building a wall” to “I don’t know. That’s a good question.”
But, hey, no matter. We’re going to fork over $1.4 billion to Mexico so they can build a fence on their southern border.
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