Chertoff Leaps Legal Barriers in Race to Finish Border Fence Before Year’s End
The Bush administration will use two waivers to skirt barriers that have thwarted its plans to finish building 670 miles of fence along the southwest US border by the end of this year.
The project is nearly half finished, with 309 miles completed mid-March, but laws, regulations and environmental challenges have prevented 267 of the total 670 miles to be finished.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Congress has given the power to waive federal law so they can build the fence quickly. "Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," Chertoff said. "These waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward."
The waivers were necessary in part because government has been impeded by some property owners who have refused to allow surveys in areas where a border fence is planned.
Other roadblocks have been put up by environmentalists who say the fence will put some animals, such as the ocelot and the jaguarundi, in increased danger of extinction.
Chertoff has said the fence is good for the environment because it will prevent immigrants from trashing the desert with litter and human waste when they sneak illegally into the country.
One waiver addresses the construction of a 22-mile levee barrier in Hidalgo County, Texas. The agreement to construct a levee along the Rio Grande River instead of a fence was brokered this February in what appears to be a win-win agreement between county officials, who had opposed a fence, and the Federal Government. The 18-foot concrete structure will serve both as flood control protection, which the County sorely needed, and as a barrier to illegal immigration.
In this plan, the structure will use existing right of way and landowners will not have to give up their property. The structure will help secure the border without putting up a fence that would be detrimental to wildlife on the river and trade relationships with Mexico.
The second waiver is more controversial as it would affect envionmentally sensitive areas and would bypass some administrative processes, as it places fencing, towers, sensors, cameras, detection equipment and roads along a 470-mile stretch of the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
The Sierra Club says the waivers will affect ecology in a range of federally protected lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, forests and wilderness areas.
Chertoff said the department will conduct environmental assessments when necessary, but the waivers allow the department to start building before completing the assessments.
Tags: US Mexican Border , Border Relations , Border Fence , Immigration , US Mexican Politics
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