- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Department of Homeland Security says that no final decision has been made on where a southwestern border fence stretching 370 miles through four states will be built and that the plans — which angered many residents after being released last week — were just a “starting point” for further discussions.

In letters sent to 33 local leaders in Texas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham said a clarification was necessary because the plans did not “adequately represent” the department’s approach to the fence issue and had raised many questions and concerns.

“As you know, Congress required construction of fencing along certain portions of the Southwest border,” Mr. Basham wrote. “Taking into account the provisions of the Secure Fence Act as well as initial analyses conducted by Border Patrol staff, U.S. Customs and Border Protection developed a list of potential fencing locations.”

But Mr. Basham said that maps were drafted from that list to serve as a “starting point” for a dialogue and that the department was “intent” on honoring commitments by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff “to work with you and other members of the community to address relevant fencing issues and concerns.”

Many community leaders along the border said they had been assured by Homeland Security that they would have input into fence locations and were outraged when the plans were released. Those plans — which went to “Texas Homeland Security partners” — showed 370 miles of fencing — 153 in Texas, 129 in Arizona, 76 in California and 12 in New Mexico.

But Mr. Basham said that nothing had been decided and that Border Patrol officials from each of the agency’s Southwest sector offices would be meeting with community leaders, landowners and law-enforcement officials to discuss the project.

The plans circulated last week caused some landowners and civic leaders, along with state and local law-enforcement officials, to suggest that the proposed fencing would encroach on property rights and hurt the environment. Others expressed concern that the federal government would use its power of eminent domain to seize land for the fencing.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, said they would insist that Homeland Security officials respect the rights of private landowners and consult with community leaders and law-enforcement authorities beforehand.

Mrs. Hutchison said she was given “every assurance” by Homeland Security months ago that state and local officials would be consulted on the location of the border fence and “we expect DHS to honor their commitment.”

Mr. Cornyn said an open dialogue on the implementation of security measures on the border will “ensure that we achieve these goals in the most-effective manner.’

President Bush went to Yuma, Ariz., last month to urge Congress to pass his comprehensive immigration-reform plan, which includes the construction of fences, after initially approving a bill promising to build about 850 miles of fences.

The immigration debate is to be revisited this month in Congress.

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