Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gov't dismisses call for more Texas border fencing

Gov't dismisses call for more Texas border fencing
By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN (AP) – 20 hours ago
BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Members of Congress have stripped a provision requiring 300 more miles of tall fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border from a Department of Homeland Security appropriation bill, saying the funds needed to build the barrier would be better spent on alternative security measures.
If the amendment by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint had remained in the bill, tall fencing to stop illegal immigrants and smugglers on foot would have been installed along 700 miles of border — a plan that many officials and residents along the Southwest border have opposed.
DeMint's provision, which was dropped this week, said 300 miles of low-rise vehicle barriers and virtual fencing planned for the area could not count toward the 700 miles of barrier the U.S. government had promised to build. Virtual fencing includes technologies such as cameras and sensors.
"The DeMint amendment represented an unproductive and inefficient border security strategy," U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said in a prepared statement Thursday. "We need to invest and secure our border and our land ports without being tied down to an amendment that is out of touch with border needs."
Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, said DeMint's proposal would have cost $6.5 billion, money Cuellar said was better spent on other border security measures. Among those who voted for the DeMint amendment in July were Texas' Republican senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison is running for Texas governor.
The provision by DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, was not included in the House version of the $42.8 billion spending bill and had been expected to be stripped during conference when the two bills were melded.
Seven border state congressmen asked the House leadership in July to strip the amendment from the final bill.
The General Accounting Office reported last month that maintaining the border fence would cost $6.5 billion during the next 20 years. That would be on top of the $2.4 billion spent to build it.
DeMint voiced his disappointment Friday.
"Democrats are gutting the best tool we have to secure our borders," DeMint said in a prepared statement Friday. "Virtual fencing won't solve the problem and we need a real fence to deter the real problems of illegal immigration, terrorism, drug trafficking and human trafficking."
On Friday, a federal judge in Brownsville said he sympathized with property owners whose land condemnation cases have dragged on as the government continues to tweak its plans for the border fence. Attorneys for some of the more than 200 south Texas landowners who have not settled their condemnation cases with the government complained that each change in the government's plans costs their clients money because of the delay and the need for new appraisals.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said his inclination was to deny the property owners' request to dismiss the government's cases, but he would look at any other proposals that would allow property owners to recover some of their expenses. Hanen also, in spite of government pleas to the contrary, left in place an order suspending the government's possession of several pieces of property, preventing construction of one of the final fence segments east of Brownsville.
The first compensation trial for one of the Texas border fence land condemnation cases is scheduled for December.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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