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Border fence is in the eye of the beholder
The border security deal senators struck this week does not call for 700 miles of new fencing, but rather for 700 miles in total — a figure the Homeland Security Department already claims it’s near to completing.
But what that fencing means, and whether it ever actually has to be built, is now a subject of heated debate as senators prepare to vote on the proposal Monday evening.
Analysts who have looked at the new 1,200-page piece of legislation, which was presented to the Senate Friday afternoon, say it gives the administration a waiver to decide not to build the fence. But senators who wrote the deal say they believe the full fence will be built.
“I don’t know how to make it any clearer. If the Hoeven-Corker amendment becomes law, 10 years must pass and there must be 700 miles of pedestrian fencing and 20,000 additional border patrol agents along the southern border before a Green Card is issued,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.
It’s the latest round in what’s been a decade-long fight to wall off parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.
When Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006 it called for a double-tier fence to be built along 700 miles of the border. But a year later, senators slipped language into a spending bill to water that requirement down, giving Homeland Security officials the leeway to determine how much and what type of fencing.
As of early this year, the department had built just 36 miles of two-tier fencing, 316 miles of single-tier fence, and another 299 miles of vehicle barriers that still allow pedestrians and wildlife to cross, but is meant to keep out smuggling vehicles.
Late last week, senators working on a compromise border security deal announced a plan that had promised what seemed to be an additional 700 miles of fencing
“DHS must build 700 miles of fencing. That is double the amount required in the underlying bill, which calls for 350 miles of fencing. So 700 miles of fencing — that compares to about 42 miles of fencing we have in place right now,” said Sen. John Hoeven, chief sponsor of the new proposal.
But the legislation they wrote only calls for 700 miles total — chiefly by going back and rebuilding areas where there are already vehicle barriers or single-tier fence.
The legislation now reads: “The secretary will certify that there is in place along the southern border no fewer than 700 miles of pedestrian fencing which will include replacement of all currently existing vehicle fencing on non-tribal lands on the southern border with pedestrian fencing where possible, and after this has been accomplished may include a second layer of pedestrian fencing in those locations along the southern border which the secretary deems necessary or appropriate.”
Some of the existing vehicle barriers are in remote desert regions where the Border Patrol says pedestrian fencing doesn’t make sense, and where environmentalists say it would be disastrous for wildlife and for the fragile terrain.
But backers say the fencing is part of the price that’s necessary to gain trust that the government is serious about stopping a new wave of illegal immigration.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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