Texas border mayors carried a clear message Wednesday to federal policymakers: Walling off the United States from Mexico is a costly, foolish idea that will harm commerce, travel and foreign relations.
The seven mayors, representing cities that stretch from El Paso to Brownsville, raced from meeting to meeting on Capitol Hill, urging Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and lawmakers to abandon Congress' mandate to build 700 miles of fence and instead rely on other border security measures.
"It's a united front: No to the wall," said Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas. "It's just money misspent."
Instead of fencing off more than 300 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, the mayors recommended that Chertoff and Congress improve border security by using technology such as motion detection sensors and lighting as a "virtual" fence, or by adding more Border Patrol manpower.
The Texans offered "very practical, very realistic views about what has to happen with border security," Chertoff said after a closed-door meeting with the mayors, organized by Texas Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. The senators support a fence as a part of an overall border security plan, but insist that local community concerns must be taken into account.
"Everyone wants border security -- they just want to do it effectively," Hutchison said.
With Democrats newly in control of Congress, the fence's prospects may be waning. Although President Bush last October signed into law legislation mandating 700 miles of fence, Congress hasn't fully appropriated money to build it.
A $1.2 billion appropriation for "strategic fencing" permits the Department of Homeland Security to use the money for other things, and department officials have not committed to using all the money for fencing.
"You might have a law, but if there is no appropriation to fund it, it doesn't really exist," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.