Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Chertoff says sites for border fence still undecided

This is ridiculous. -Dra. Valenzuela

By MICHELLE MITTELSTADT
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau / Oct. 1, 2007, 8:53PM

WASHINGTON — Trying to dampen a furor along the Rio Grande, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff insisted Monday that the federal government has not yet made a final decision on where to build 70 miles of border fencing and said the maps issued last week were preliminary.

Communities along the border are up in arms, with officials in Brownsville, McAllen and elsewhere weighing legal challenges to the fencing on environmental and other grounds. But Chertoff, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, said his department has just begun the assessment phase.

"Some people, I think, are getting a little bit ahead of themselves," he said. "It may turn out for a variety of reasons that there will be some changes in the final laydown based on the environmental and engineering issues. Although we've mapped out certain areas, that simply means those are areas we are going to look at."

Already, the department has shelved plans for fencing in Laredo, deciding instead that eradication of the thick Carrizo cane that obstructs views of the river suffices for now.

But with government surveyors offering Rio Grande Valley property owners $3,000 to examine their land, some believe the fencing decisions are final.

"It seems to us that the location of fence has already been determined," said Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. "We hear what the secretary is saying, but what he's saying isn't necessarily matching with what we are seeing here."

The plans revealed last week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — mainly around Brownsville, Rio Grande City, Harlingen and McAllen — refer to 16-foot fences backed by a single-lane patrol road.

Chertoff said double-layered fencing, with a fence on each side of the patrol road, will not be used in all locations.

"The idea that there's a cookie cutter is completely wrong," he said. "So we're going to tailor the particular type of infrastructure to what the actual facts are and what the actual landscape is as opposed to some preconceived notion that everything has to look like a particular visual image."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who has long championed fencing as a deterrent for illegal immigration and drug smuggling, bristled at what he views as Chertoff's defiance of a 2006 law that mandates a double-layered fence along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Mr. Chertoff's idea that the law of the United States is voluntary and is some sort of a goal that he may comply with or may not comply with depending on his mood at the time is unique, to put it mildly," Hunter said. "The law says that he shall build double fencing."

Chertoff said congressional appropriators, in a bill winding its way through Capitol Hill, had given the department flexibility on fencing decisions. But Hunter noted the fiscal 2008 funding bill for the department has not yet become law.

Hunter, who is running for president, questioned the effectiveness of a single layer of fencing. "If you only have a primary fence it never works as well as having two fences," he said.

michelle.mittelstadt@chron.com



http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/nation/5179926.html

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