Apparently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has decided that the way to get the border fence done is to demonize the opposition.
Chertoff, speaking during an interview with the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle, pitted the safety of Border Patrol agents against the efforts of environmentalists to stymie Bush administration plans to complete a border fence before leaving office in January. Some 670 miles of pedestrian fencing or vehicle barriers are planned along the 1,947-mile U.S.-Mexico boundary.
Chertoff, who has set aside some environmental restrictions to speed fence construction, said he didn't want to "get enmeshed in endless litigation" with environmentalists who he said opposed fencing, lighting and other improvements along the border that would help the Border Patrol seize undocumented immigrants, smugglers and drug traffickers.
"I've gone to too many memorial services where agents were killed in rollover accidents pursuing smugglers because there wasn't an all-weather road," Chertoff said. "I have to tell you in all honesty as between the sensitivity of an owl and having to look a family in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry you lost a loved one because we can't build a road.' I'm going with protecting the family and protecting the Border Patrol agent."
The Border Patrol lists eight officers who have died in the line of duty since Chertoff took office in 2005. Wayne Bartholomew, executive director with Frontera Audubon, a nonprofit conservation organization in Lower Rio Grande Valley, called Chertoff's comments "disingenuous, false and misleading."
Bartholomew said the federal government had short-cut the environmental review process with the border fence project, failing to fully consider the potential impact on other public safety issues, including air and water pollution.
"This isn't about building an all-weather road," Bartholomew said. "It's about following a process, and that process includes over 100 years of laws established by the United States Congress. He has put communities at risk by waiving these laws and unilaterally charging ahead without any oversight at all."
Secondly, how exactly is a fence going to make Border Patrol's job safer? I suppose you could believe that its mere presence will be enough to deter immigrants and especially smugglers; if that describes you, I've got some property in Berlin I'd like to sell you. South Texas Chisme notes that "Some people think that the fence will endanger agents by trapping them". I have no idea if that's true, but I do know that we have some existing fencing in urban areas like San Diego - surely there's some way of evaluating these claims. But Chertoff doesn't come equipped with that kind of empirical evidence. He goes straight to the scaremongering, which suggests to me either the evidence is against him or he just doesn't care one way or the other. Either way, it's pretty reprehensible.
Finally, the subtext to what he's saying is anyone who opposes what he wants to do - which remember isn't just to build a fence, but to brush aside existing environmental regulations in order to build it as fast as possible - is putting Border Patrol agents' lives at stake. This is old-fashioned "you're either with us or you're against us" crap, through which large numbers of American citizens have been branded as America-haters by the Bush administration and its enablers. I don't really need to go into all the ways this is wrong and disgraceful, do I? I just hope that the Chron's editorial board, to whom Chertoff delivered these repugnant remarks, has the courage to call it like it is on their pages.
If you want to know more about what Chertoff has to say, you can listen to him in all his glory in this uncut interview by KTRK's Tom Abraham. I haven't gotten to it yet; maybe it's not as bad as I fear it is. Give it a listen if you think you can handle it and let me know what you think.Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 08, 2008 to National news