Spending Bill 'Guts' Border Fence, Critics Say

July 7, 2008 - 7:23 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The House passed a large omnibus spending bill late Monday that included a provision which some conservatives say would "gut" plans to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The provision would eliminate requirements for a double fence and would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) more discretion on where and how the fence can be built.

"By eliminating the double-fence requirement, the Democratic Congress is going to make it easier for drug and human smugglers to cross our Southern land border," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) in a statement. "This goes against the interests of any family that has been touched by illegal drugs or any American who has seen their job taken by an illegal alien.

"The success of the San Diego Border Fence demonstrates the overall effectiveness of the double-layered approach and the importance of extending this infrastructure across our Southern land border," said Hunter, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination. "Vehicle barriers that are five feet high will do little, if anything, to stop illegal entry."

The double-layer fence in San Diego runs 14 miles along the border with Tijuana, Mexico. The primary layer is a high steel fence, and the secondary layer is a high anti-climb fence.

The double-fence has produced some improvement in the area, according to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report that said illegal alien apprehensions along the fence region dropped from 202,000 in 1992 to 9,000 in 2004.

Concerning the proposed 700-mile fence, Hunter also noted that "pulling back from the double-fence mandate is a prescription for failure that will only allow more smugglers, criminals and illegal aliens to enter the United States through our land border with Mexico. If enacted, this legislation would represent a significant step backwards in the effort to secure our borders."

Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter, told Cybercast News Service that DHS should have control of building a border fence but should not impede the process.

"Congressman Hunter supports giving the [Homeland Security] Secretary the tools and resources he needs to secure the border," said Kasper. "Obviously some level of consultation is necessary, but it shouldn't slow down fence construction, nor should it impede the construction of infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border - that's a legitimate concern."

The conservative grassroots organization, Grassfire.org, however, took issue with a section of the bill introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), which states: "Nothing in this paragraph shall require the Secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location."

"The Hutchison amendment gives DHS virtually total discretion over how and where the fence is built," said Steve Elliott, president of Grassfire.org, in a statement. "In fact, DHS would not be required to build fencing in any particular location - and the double-layer mandate is totally gone.

"I find it odd that such an important amendment which releases DHS from specific requirements of an existing law would be passed by a simple voice vote in the Senate and then buried in the massive omnibus bill," said Elliott. "The American people reasonably expect that a double-layer fence will be built but Congress has always had other plans."

But Matt Mackowiak, Hutchison's press secretary, told Cybercast News Service that Grassfire.org's claims are "factually inaccurate."

"Sen. Hutchison supports the border fence and voted for the Secure Fence Act," he said. "Sen. Hutchison recognizes that the federal government has limited resources, and border patrol agents manning the border know best where to put fencing to prevent illegal immigration and to thwart drug cartels."

Mackowiak added that the Senate had approved the language of the amendment three times this year and, "We should rely upon the expertise of local Customs and Border protection officials."

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