June 01, 2007
Stop the damn fence!

Will the feds ever listen to the people who will be directly harmed by the stupid and useless border fence?

Mayors, county judges and others up and down the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border are pressing the Department of Homeland Security to delay construction, saying community concerns are being ignored.

But the government's sense of urgency could intensify because the fence has become enmeshed with the push for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.


"Absolutely, we have a concern," said Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, head of the Texas Border Coalition. The group of elected leaders is fighting the fence on grounds it is unnecessary, will harm flood-control systems and wildlife habitats, cut livestock off from watering places and harm relations with Mexico.

"We've just got such a wonderful relationship on the border, that's why we hate to see some yahoo in Washington impact it, not having ever seen the Texas border," Foster said.

Politicians embrace the fencing in Texas for political, not enforcement, purposes, said Brownsville Mayor Eddie Trevino, who also worries the fence is on a fast track.

"There is such a mismatch and smoke-and-mirrors that's been utilized in order to scare the American public into thinking that the building of a wall will, in some shape or form, answer the problem of illegal immigration," he said.

Trevino, Foster, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas and Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas offered a similar complaint: Homeland Security officials are moving behind the scenes to finish fence construction plans despite promises to consult with local authorities first.

After they were promised consultation, Texas officials learned in April of a secret Homeland Security memo pinpointing fencing locations in great detail. Though Homeland Security officials have since dismissed the document as premature, the Texans found out the government already is asking private contractors for bids.

The Senate last week approved an amendment by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, saying the department "shall" consult with local authorities in fencing decisions. But it doesn't give Texas cities any actual power to block the plans.

In other words, no, they won't listen. I attended the same conference call on the immigration reform bill as Jonathan Singer, and I asked about the border fence, which is clearly being pushed as a way to make the Senate bill more acceptable to Republicans. I did not hear anything to contradict my thesis about the fence, or to indicate that there's any push to change the basic parameters of this beast. It's very depressing.

The Houston Press has a great story about the effect the fence will have on the environement, and in doing so to the local economy.

In the last 20 or so years, the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife Services has spent $80 million in taxpayer money buying up old farmland, empty lots and any other property for sale along the Rio Grande. Then, with the help of volunteers -- including classes of schoolchildren -- they've gone about replanting native vegetation on it to create a wildlife corridor with a series of refuges. The area is about as biologically diverse as it gets.

It's a top birding destination -- and when there are birds, there are 150,000 to 200,000 birders bringing an estimated $150 million a year in trickle-down economics to the area.

The corridor is not only home to many bird species year-round, it is a major flyway for migrating birds moving up and down from North America to Central and South America. It is No. 1 in reptiles and No. 2 in mammals, and it is home to some of the few remaining ocelots and jaguarondi in Texas and the United States.

Now much of that same tract of land is going to be handed over for a fence, wiping out years of restoration work, say a chorus of critics that includes environmentalists, conservationists, farmers and city leaders. Yes, they support secure borders with ground sensors, cameras and whatever high-tech gizmos the feds want to trot out. They want more "boots on the ground." They are 95 percent with their federal government on this.

But what they don't want is a "physical" fence, and the construction work and brush-clearing that would accompany it.

They don't like the symbolism, the stay-out message it sends to their No. 1 trading partner, Mexico. They want to know why the Canadian border isn't getting a fence. They are disappointed that their senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, voted for the fence, but say they hope the two will work to temper the plans to something more reasonable.

They don't like its reality. Besides the fact that they believe it's going to wreak devastation on the environment, they say it's bad for business, both for tourists and for the farmers who may be cut off from their pump stations and water sources in the Rio Grande. They compare it to the Berlin Wall.

They don't like the fact that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can circumvent the same federal environmental studies they would have to undergo if they wanted to put in a road or a bridge. He has specially granted waiver powers, and if he wants a fence, he gets one -- no matter how many dead birds and ocelots are left behind to clean up.

They can't stomach the representatives they've met in the Department of Homeland Security, from Chertoff on down, who seem to them to be unreasonable, untrustworthy creatures, arrogant in manner and not always inclined to truthfulness.

Most of all, [economic development official Mike] Allen and others want to know why the same federal government -- the one that for years ignored their repeated requests for an interstate ("We're the only area with 1 million population that doesn't have an interstate"), $10 million to repair their levees ("We'll be like New Orleans when Katrina hit) and money to help them improve their public schools -- all of a sudden has untold millions of dollars to plunk down on a fence that none of them want.

Oh, and they don't think it's going to work, either.

Why isn't Homeland Security listening to these people? Why are we wasting this money?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 01, 2007 to National news
Why isn't Homeland Security listening to these people? Why are we wasting this money?
This is a rhetorical question, right? Posted by: mark on June 1, 2007 8:53 AM

What I don't understand is why they are obsessed with running a fence along the precise border, rather than north of there linking up with the frontier zone checkpoints.

Posted by: Blue on June 1, 2007 10:21 AM

Why isn't Homeland Security listening to these people?

Maybe for the same reason METRO doesn't listen very well to the folks most affected by their whimsical changes to corridors approved by voters?


Fun how government works, huh, and the sorts of things that get different people excited at different times?

Of course, if immigration is purely a federal matter -- as I'm pretty sure some people assert when defending Houston's sanctuary policy -- then I don't know how those same people can be upset when the feds make immigration a purely federal matter by disregarding parochial concerns. It's also kind of fun how empty -- or perhaps Nietzschean -- some political rhetoric can be. :)

Posted by: Kevin Whited on June 2, 2007 12:10 PM

On the surface there are some parallels. But there are also some key differences. For one, Metro has actually had open-house meetings to solicit public feedback on their plans. Moreover, this was done before they picked a route. Homeland Security decided where the fence would go, and is telling people about it rather than having a dialog.

Also, despite the noise that Richmond rail opponents have been able to generate, there's a large amount of support among the Universities line stakeholders for a Richmond alignment. Local opposition to the DHS border fence plan is pretty much unanimous.

So while your claim that the two situations are analogous has some surface truth, it's overly simplistic. Nice try, though.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 2, 2007 1:04 PM