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Border fence delay challenged

A California congressman yesterday called on Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to override a ruling by a federal judge ordering the delay of construction of security fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, in a letter, expressed concerns over the ruling this week by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington and called on Mr. Chertoff to exercise his authority to waive all laws impeding the completion of necessary border infrastructure.

"Environmental groups filing lawsuits to prevent the construction of critical border infrastructure comes as no surprise," Mr. Hunter said. "For years, a stretch of border in San Diego identified by the Border Patrol as 'Smugglers Gulch,' which federal law requires be fenced, has been left open and unprotected due to unrelenting legal action initiated by environmental groups.

"This has created unnecessary complications in local efforts to secure the border and prevent illegal immigrants and drug smugglers from making their way into the San Diego community," he said.

On Thursday, Judge Huvelle ordered a temporary halt on construction of a border fence along a 1.5 mile stretch between Mexico and Arizona, on grounds the federal government had not thoroughly performed an environmental impact study.

The Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club had asked for a 10-day delay, claiming the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies had failed to conduct a thorough study of the fence's effects on the environment.

Judge Huvelle granted the request, saying the government had not adequately explained why it hastily performed an impact study and quickly began building the fence.

"The reasons for urgency have not been sufficiently explained," she said, adding that studies done before the construction of border fences in Texas and California took longer and were done more thoroughly.

The government has acknowledged that the land where the Arizona fence is to be built is a wildlife conservation area, but that it is overrun by illegal aliens, which is causing major environmental damage. It said the foot traffic alone, along with tons of trash left behind by illegal crossers, was worsening the environment and that the proposed fence would actually enhance the environment and wildlife preservation by inhibiting illegal traffic.

Mr. Hunter said Mr. Chertoff possesses broad waiver authority to guarantee that dilatory legal requirements and lawsuits will not interfere with the timely construction of border infrastructure.

"Secretary Chertoff rightfully announced that he would use this authority to complete the 'Smugglers Gulch' location, just as he has at other locations along the border, and this most recent delay should be treated no differently," he said.

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