Despite earlier reports about construction beginning by September, the Texas portion of the border fence will not get underway until 2008.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle this week, said he expects some work to begin in Texas before the 2007 fiscal year ends Sept. 30. But department officials have encountered stiff opposition from towns and cities along the border and don't plan to begin the Texas segment until 2008.
The Army Corps of Engineers, working under the supervision of Homeland Security, plans to complete 70 miles of fencing this fiscal year in New Mexico, Arizona and California, department spokeswoman Laura Keehner said Friday. An additional 225 miles, including 153 miles in Texas, would be erected in 2008 under current plans, Keehner said.
The Texas portion has been embroiled in angry protests by local leaders and property owners, who say the fencing would create economic, cultural and environmental chaos along the Rio Grande, which separates Texas from Mexico.
"There is no place where we are initiating construction without an agreement of the local landowner," Keehner said.
Keehner said Homeland Security officials have been in contact with "Texas landowners who are willing to move forward on the construction process." But border-city mayors Chad Foster of Eagle Pass and Raul G. Salinas of Laredo said Friday that they are unaware of any agreements that would clear the way for construction.
"The mayors along the border in Texas, Democrats and Republican, are in agreement that we don't need a fence," Salinas said. "When all the mayors along the border are in agreement, that really says something."
Which brings me back to the question I raised previously: What, if anything, will John Cornyn do if DHS proceeds without local input? He's on record saying he'll fight such a situation, but he hasn't said how far he'll go. Will Cornyn follow up his words with actions, or is this all just so much hot air?
We also have to consider what "local input" actually means.
[Local officials] expressed outrage on newly released reports by Secretary Michael Chertoff that he would talk to local communities on the fence design, but would give them no veto power.
"Well then what the heck are they going to talk to us about? Are they going to ask us what color do we want the fence. Do we want brick and mortar," said Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos, who met with federal lawmakers last week to discuss the issue.