- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday rebutted accusations by city and county officials on the Texas-Mexico border that the department had failed to consult with them about the construction of a border fence, but he said he is not willing to debate the issue “endlessly.”

“Now in building this fence, you know, we seek the cooperation of landowners, state and local leaders and members of the border communities,” Mr. Chertoff said. “We do interact. We are willing to listen to concerns. We’re willing to have suggestions.

“On the other hand, as I’ve made clear, we’re not willing to have endless debate. We’re not willing to kick the can down the road indefinitely,” he continued. “We have made a commitment to the American people to get the job done, and we are going to live up to that commitment.”

Mr. Chertoff made the comments during a press conference to report on border security and immigration-enforcement reforms he ordered in the wake of Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform. He said 302 miles of pedestrian fences and vehicle barriers had been built along the border, with 670 miles expected by the end of the year.

He also said the first “virtual fence,” which features radars and surveillance cameras, is ready for service on a 28-mile stretch in Arizona.

“I have personally witnessed the value of this system, and I have spoken directly to the Border Patrol agents … who have seen it produce actual results, in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who were illegally smuggling across the border,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Earlier this week, city and county officials in Texas complained in The Washington Times that the Homeland Security Department was focused solely on building a fence and had not responded to their concerns about its location, its effect on the environment or whether landowners would lose access to their property.

They also said the department had failed to consider any alternatives to the fence’s construction.

“We met with Chertoff and other department officials but were never given a chance to express our views,” said Efrain Valdez, mayor of Del Rio, Texas, a city on the Rio Grande about 145 miles west of San Antonio. “They really didn’t want to listen to us.”

Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, on the river 56 miles south of Del Rio, said Homeland Security “came in here from Washington like storm troopers, dictating what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. They steamrolled us. We tried telling them that in building a fence on this border, one size does not fit all.”

Similar concerns were expressed by other civic and community leaders, along with private landowners, in south Texas. Many of them have been threatened by the government with eminent-domain lawsuits.

However, Mr. Chertoff said department efforts to meet with city officials and others on the border has been a “win-win” situation. He noted that earlier this year he traveled to Hidalgo County, Texas, to talk with county leaders, who were concerned about the fence but also knew they needed to build a levee at the river for flood-control purposes.

“We were able to reach an agreement with local leaders to design our fence plans in a way that meshed with the local flood-control needs. So that we are now going to produce basically a 16-foot wall at the border that will serve both to protect against possible floods from the river in that area of Texas, but will also serve as a very powerful barrier against drug smuggling and human smuggling in Texas.”

He described the compromise as a “great example of how those who are willing to engage with us will find receptive ears and a willingness to have creative solutions.”

“But I have to say this: This is not an invitation to endless amounts of discussion about it or endless amounts of complaining,” he said. “That will not deter us from completing the job that we have promised the American people we will complete this year.”

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