Friday, October 28, 2011

Lawmakers seek waiver for border lands

Helena Independent Record
October 28, 2011
by Mike Dennison

As a fight brews in Washington, D.C., over a bill giving the U.S. Border Patrol unfettered access on federal lands near international borders, the issue also has become a political football in the campaign between U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Rehberg is a co-sponsor of the House bill, which says the Department of Homeland Security shall have access to “any public land managed by the federal government” for activities to secure the border.

The bill also enables the department to “waive” a whole host of environmental protection laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Wilderness Act and more than two dozen others.

Rehberg says the bill is no big deal, and merely attempts to resolve a “turf battle” between Homeland Security and the departments of Interior and Agriculture, so the Border Patrol can have access to national forest, national park and other federal lands without having to ask permission.

“We’ve got pretty good access to the border on state and private lands, but face serious challenges on federal lands,” he says. “So, guess where the criminals set up their operations? On federal lands.”

Tester, as well as other Montana Democrats and Democratic groups, have roundly criticized the bill and Rehberg’s sponsorship, saying the measure gives too much power to Homeland Security, allowing the agency to use federal lands any way it chooses, with no public input or recourse.

“Rehberg’s proposal has very little to do with border security and everything to do with allowing the government to trample on rights, nullify existing laws and ignore public accountability in order to meet its own definition of homeland security,” says Aaron Murphy, a spokesman for Tester.

Murphy notes that the three agencies — Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security — have had a “memorandum of understanding” in place since 2006, on cooperative security efforts on federal lands near the border. It’s working well and the bill isn’t needed, he says.

Rehberg and supporters of the bill, including groups that represent current and former Border Patrol agents, insist the bill is not an Orwellian takeover of public land, and say they don’t understand why Tester — a vocal proponent of border security — is taking a hard line against it.

They also say the U.S. Senate in 2009, with unanimous consent, supported a similar amendment that prohibited Interior Department funds from restricting Homeland Security’s enforcement of border laws or construction of a border fence.

Tester says the comparison isn’t accurate, because the 2009 amendment did not waive environmental laws, prevent public input or give Homeland Security a blank check to do whatever it wanted on public lands.

“If Homeland Security wanted to stop sales on Forest Service land, challenge tribal sovereignty, build watch-towers in Glacier Park or build roads across the Bob Marshall Wilderness, (Rehberg’s) bill allows it,” Murphy said.

Rehberg says these claims are overblown, and that he supported an amendment to the bill that would prevent Homeland Security from stopping approved uses of public land, such as grazing and recreation.

“Despite the hyperbole from environmental obstructionists, the Border Patrol is not empowered to strip-mine Glacier National Park or build eight-lane freeways through the wilderness,” he said. “We can strike a reasonable balance that acknowledges it’s better to allow access to law enforcement than leave our public lands and public safety at the mercy of criminals.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lawmakers say environmental laws should be waived for Border Patrol operations

Los Angeles Times / Associated Press
October 27, 2011

WASHINGTON — Federal agents trying to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border say they’re hampered by laws that keep them from driving vehicles on huge swaths of land because it falls under U.S. environmental protection, leaving it to wildlife — and illegal immigrants and smugglers who can walk through the territory undisturbed.

A growing number of lawmakers are saying such restrictions have turned wilderness areas into highways for criminals. In recent weeks, three congressional panels, including two in the GOP-controlled House and one in the Democratic-controlled Senate, have moved to give the Border Patrol unfettered access to all federally managed lands within 100 miles of the border with Mexico.

Two of the panels expanded the legislation’s reach to include the border with Canada.

The votes signal a brewing battle in Congress that will determine whether border agents can disregard environmental protections as they do their job.

Dozens of environmental laws were waived for the building of the border fence, and activists say this is just another conservative attempt to find an excuse to do away with environmental protections.

But agents who have worked along the border say the laws crimp their power to secure the border.

Zack Taylor, a retired Border Patrol agent who lives about nine miles from the Arizona-Mexico border, said smugglers soon learn the areas that agents are least likely to frequent.

“The (smuggling) route stays on public lands from the border to Maricopa County,” Taylor said, referring to the state’s most populous county. “The smugglers have free rein. It has become a lawless area.”

Environmental groups said lawmakers lining up to support the legislation have routinely opposed the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and dozens of other laws, and they accused the lawmakers of using illegal immigration as the latest excuse to gut protections.

“For every problem that’s out there in society, there’s some extremists in Congress who say the solution is, ‘Well, let’s roll back the environmental laws, let’s open up the public lands,’” said Paul Spitler, spokesman for the Wilderness Society. “It doesn’t comport to reality, but it fits their mindset that it’s simply the environmental regulations that are holding back America.”

Nearly 40 percent of the land on the U.S.-Mexico border and about a quarter of the land on the U.S.-Canadian border is public land, including Big Bend National Park in Texas and Glacier National Park in Montana. Driving is prohibited on those parts of the land that are designated wilderness areas.

Wildlife officials say vehicle use can be particularly hazardous in the desert. Water gathers in the tire tracks instead of in natural pools and evaporates more quickly, leading to less vegetation and less available food. Some areas, such as Big Bend and the desert farther west, are deadly to traverse in certain months and immigrants and smugglers avoid them.

The wilderness areas also have other restrictions on development. Border patrol agents, for example, must get permission from other federal agencies before maintaining roads and installing surveillance equipment. Federal auditors found it can take months to get that permission.

“What the Border Patrol says they really need down there is not necessarily more manpower or money,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, whose bill easing the restrictions passed the House Natural Resources Committee along party lines. “They need more east-west access on those public lands.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sponsored an amendment that requires the Agriculture and Interior departments to give Border Patrol personnel immediate access to federal lands on the southern border for security activities, including for routine motorized patrols. The amendment passed a Senate committee with the support of five Democrats and eight Republicans.

McCain told colleagues that up to 100 people sit on mountaintops near the border serving as lookouts for smugglers, suggesting that improved law enforcement access on those mountains would deter the lookouts.

“What he says is absolutely true,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who visited Arizona with McCain. “For the life of me, I can’t understand the hesitancy on the part of Interior or Agriculture to provide access to border security guards.”

Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., sponsored a similar amendment that extends the law to the Canadian border as well, and it passed by a voice vote, which is usually reserved for noncontroversial legislation.

During a House subcommittee hearing in April, Ron Vitiello, deputy chief of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said he had “no complaints” about environmental laws.

But George McCubbin, president of the union that represents about 17,000 Border Patrol agents and support staff, likened current policy to telling city police officers they can’t patrol a particular neighborhood.

“If they want to get serious about this problem on the border, they can’t be restricting areas we go in,” said McCubbin, who works in Casa Grande, Ariz. “Don’t let us there and you have nothing but the bad element going through that area.”

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, reported that supervisors at 17 of 26 Border Patrol stations along the Mexican border said access to federal lands had been limited because of environmental restrictions. Yet, the vast majority of the agents in charge also said that they were generally able to adjust their patrols without sacrificing effectiveness.

Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups cite the GAO’s findings in arguing against giving the Border Patrol authority to operate as it sees fit on federal lands.

“The record is clear. The problem this bill claims to be solving does not exist,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. “So, if this is not about border security, what is it about? It’s about undermining fundamental environmental protections for millions of Americans.”

Bishop said federal agents would be better stewards of sensitive lands than illegal immigrants and smugglers.

“What is so ironic is that the environmental degradation is not being done by the Border Patrol,” Bishop said. “It’s being done by the illegals who are coming across.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to Build a Deadly Electric Border Fence

Mother Jones
October 24, 2011
Tim Murphy

Two Saturdays ago, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain floated an idea to dramatically curb illegal immigration: build an electrified fence along the US-Mexico border that could kill people who try to cross it. The next day, he told NBC's David Gregory that he was joking. That Monday, he reverted to his original proposal after a summit with Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. On Tuesday, at the GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas, Cain reiterated that he had been joking, but he refused to dismiss the idea of constructing an electrified barrier across the length of the border.

So could the United States really build an electrified fence along the entire length of the Mexican border? And how much would it cost?

First off, you'd have to build lots of fences. Dale Stoutenburg, mechanical technician with Gallagher Security—a multinational fence manufacturer that provides electrified barriers for ports, corrections facilities, and ranches—says the company is capable of building fences up to 75 miles long. If nothing else, they're pretty easy to power—given that the southern border is a desert, solar panels would provide a self-sufficient energy source. Stoutenburg says a panel the size of a big-screen TV could power a 50-mile stretch of 3,000-volt fence.

But from there, things quickly get complicated. Generally speaking, electrified security fences aren't designed to provide a lethal shock. "We refer to it as a 'safe but memorable' pulse; you don't want to attempt to climb it, but it's safe," says Nathan Leaphart, CFO of Electric Guard Dog, a South Carolina-based company that makes perimeter electric security fences. "Really, the lethal electric fence market is extremely small. To my understanding it's only for like maximum security prison-type situations. Occasionally, will see it on the local news, but frankly no one's ever asked me to build one."

Killing someone with an electric fence takes a good deal of engineering. It has a lot less to do with voltage than the force of the current. If the current isn't strong enough, the shockee might just keep on climbing—and if the current is too strong, the chances of it being lethal start to go back down. At 200 milliamps of current you might end up with third degree burns and be knocked unconscious for a bit, but on the upside, you'll be thrown off the fence almost immediately.

So if you really want a lethal fence, you'll need a sustained current (as opposed to a pulse, which switches on and off every couple of seconds) that's low enough so that the shockee will essentially be paralyzed and unable to release his or her grip, thereby staying on the fence long enough to killed. That kind of killer shock happens from time to time with livestock, which become entangled in electrified fences and die from the extended electrocution. Cain's proposed fence also calls for barbed wire on the top, which is not recommended for electric fences because of the risk that animals or people will become trapped on the fence. But in this case, since lethality is the goal, it would actually be a benefit.

If President Cain decided to go ahead with the construction of an entirely new fence the length of the border, he would run into another fairly significant hurdle: water. The Rio Grande doubles as the international border from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. It's anything but an unmovable line in the sand: In 2008, it rose 27 feet in some places and left parts of the Big Bend region in West Texas underwater. If an electrified fence is submerged, it could be rendered functionally useless.

"The fence would still try to power through the water to get through that, but it'd be bogged down so hard the shock value wouldn't be worth nothing," Stoutenburg says. Also, he says, "The real problem is moving water and what it carries with it." A downed power line or any large object in the floodwaters could function as a battering ram against the fence. Another problem is that a fence along the river could turn into a dam when the river spills over, potentially altering the course of the Rio Grande—and the border itself. "That would be very hard to control and unengineer and fix, and would be in violation of treaties with Mexico," says Matt Clark, of Defenders of Wildlife in Arizona, which monitors environmental issues in the Southwest.

So how much would this electrified border fence cost? First, you'd need to build a new fence from scratch; you couldn't simply run a wire through the existing stretches of fence. "We really can't electrify an existing fence," Leaphart says. "Just the way these electrical pulses work, you can't make it operate in something that's built in the manner that a chain link fence is built. It's an independent fence and you have to have isolated wires that are kept off of holes to keep them from [wearing] out. It really does have to be built separately."

Cain, along with Rep. Michele Bachmann, has specified that the fence should extend across the entire southern border and should be contiguous (as opposed to the "virtual fence" of surveillance cameras and drones the feds use in some parts). The border with Mexico is about 2,000 miles long, stretching from Brownsville, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico to San Diego on the Pacific. But the per-mile cost of building a fence can fluctuate significantly—anywhere from $2 million to $70 million per mile depending on the terrain and the style of fence. It's relatively easy to get construction equipment and laborers to operate it in San Diego; it's a lot harder to get it into the middle of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. And no one's even tried to come up with a cost estimate for a fence through Big Bend National Park, which hugs 244 miles of the border in Texas. Much of that route is inaccessible to vehicle traffic, and a lot of it is inaccessible even by foot. Especially the part of the border that's a giant canyon

From the Border Patrol's perspective, there is no need for a fence in these kinds of inaccessible or inhospitable areas; the unrelenting desert is a sufficient obstacle. The agency maintains that only 652 miles of the southern border actually need a man-made physical deterrent; 649 miles of barriers and fences have already been installed.

So what's the bottom line? A 2006 Congressional Research Service report (PDF) found that the total cost of building and maintaining a fence along 700 miles of the border could be as high as $50 billion. The New York Times pegged it at about $22.4 billion to complete a contiguous border fence for the other 1,400 miles—and that's not including the cost of purchasing land. Those two calculations are a bit imprecise and based on different sets of assumptions—Cain himself might say they're "apples and oranges"—but they're at least a starting point. You might realistically peg the cost of a second fence, this one with a near-continuous electric pulse capable of killing a human, at certainly no less than $75 billion. And unlike the Great Wall of China, which Cain has previously floated as a model, the fence he's talking about building is only expected to last 20 to 25 years.

On the plus side, that makes the money spent on warning signs look like lunch money. As Cain noted, the electric border fence would have to have "a sign on the other side that says, 'It can kill you!'" But for liability purposes, you would want signs on both sides of the border, since the fence wouldn't discriminate between unlucky American citizens and foreigners. Leaphart's company recommends placing a warning sign every 50 to 100 feet. For the entire length of the border, that adds up to about 106,000 signs per side. Using the conservative assumption that the signs would cost $100 apiece, they'd cost $21.2 million. It's also considered standard practice to construct a barrier such as a nonelectric chain-link fence in front of the electrified fence, to prevent accidents.

To Cain's credit, there are precedents for constructing an electrified fence along the length of an international border. North Korea maintains its 151-mile demilitarized zone with South Korea through a combination of deadly electrified fences and land mines. India has built hundreds of miles of electrified fences through Kashmir to stop militants from smuggling weapons (though the project took 15 years). And ironically, Uzbekistan, which Cain recently referred to dismissively as "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," has built a 380-volt electrified fence along its 130-mile border with Afghanistan.

Update: Here's one last challenge, which applies to all border fences, but especially electric ones given the effe: how to deal with the Rio Grande's tributaries? The Pecos River, for instance, flows for 926 miles, before emptying into the Rio Grande.

Republican bill would allow Border Patrol to ignore environmental laws

McClatchy Newspapers / Kansas City Star
October 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -House Republicans want to give the U.S. Border Patrol unprecedented authority to ignore 36 environmental laws on federal land in a 100-mile zone along the Canadian and Mexican borders.

If the legislation is approved, the Border Patrol would not have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act and 32 other federal laws in such popular places as Olympic National Park, Glacier Park, the Great Lakes and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area.

Under the GOP plan, the Border Patrol would have free rein to do such things as build roads and offices, put up fences, set up surveillance equipment and sensors, and use aircraft and vehicles to patrol in all national parks, forests and federal land in the zone.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the Border Patrol "has become encumbered with layers of environmental regulations," making it difficult to deal with drug smugglers, human traffickers and other criminals who are targeting public lands along the U.S. borders.

The committee passed the plan on a 26-17 party-line vote this month.

A vote by the full House is expected soon, though no date has been set, and similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

In Washington state, where the zone would include nearly half the state, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire is questioning why such a law is needed. She noted that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, has not asked for the change.

"The current approach, partnering with sister agencies - Interior and USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) - seems a reasonable approach," Gregoire said.

Environmental groups say they're alarmed by the proposal.

Jane Danowitz, the Pew Environment Group's director of public lands, called the plan a sweeping waiver of environmental laws that would allow a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands and hurt water quality.

"We're talking about waiving laws that protect habitat and clean air and clean water in national parks and other beloved places that Americans really cherish - and that belong to all of us," she said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee's subcommittee on forests and public lands Subcommittee and the bill's chief sponsor, said the legislation is needed because the Border Patrol does not have sufficient access to millions of acres of federally controlled land.

"The policies of the United States unfortunately and unwittingly make it easier for illegals to come across public lands," he said.

While the Border Patrol has access to federal lands, it must follow procedures set up by other agencies. The bill would change that by giving the Border Patrol immediate access to any federal land. And it would specifically bar the U.S. Department of Interior and the USDA from "impeding, prohibiting or restricting" any work done by the Border Patrol in the 100-mile zone. The law would expire in five years.

At a hearing of Bishop's subcommittee in July, the Obama administration said it the legislation is unnecessary.

Kim Thorsen, a deputy assistant secretary with the Department of Interior, said a better way to protect the border would be to use "the current approach of collaborating among departments and using the best expertise in each to solve problems."

"We also believe that these two objectives - securing our borders and conserving our federal lands - are not mutually exclusive," she said. "We are not faced with a choice between the two. Instead, we can - and should - do both."

John Leshy, a professor at the U.C. Hastings College of the Law, told the subcommittee that he questions whether such a law would be constitutional, calling the bill "the most breathtakingly extreme legislative proposal of its kind I have ever seen."

"I firmly believe this legislation goes way, way beyond what is necessary and proper, in our constitutional system, to enforce the immigration laws," Leshy said.

Rep Edward Markey, D-Mass., the ranking minority member the Natural Resources Committee, called the bill shortsighted and "just nonsense."

"Expert after expert has explained to House Republicans that waiving all environmental protections affecting the air, water and entire ecosystems within 100 miles of our borders is not the answer to border security challenges, but they turned a deaf ear with this misguided legislation," Markey said.

Supporters of the legislation have enlisted support from a wide variety of groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, United Four-Wheel Drive Associations, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Motorcycle Industry Council. The motorcycle group said an unsecured border "that allows terrorists or other lawbreakers to roam our public lands represents a real threat to riders who wish to responsibly recreate near these lands."

At first, backers wanted to create a 100-mile zone that would extend around the entire nation. But as a compromise, they scaled back the proposal, dropping off federal land that borders the West and East coasts.

As a result, the zone would stretch from Washington to Maine in the north, and from California to Texas in the south.

The bill, which the GOP calls the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, is part of the 2010 "Pledge to America," in which Republicans vowed to give the Border Patrol more "tools and authorities to establish operational control" along the U.S. borders.

Hastings called it an attempt "to prioritize national security over bureaucratic red tape."

Danowitz said House Republicans are trying to use national security as a reason to weaken clean air and water laws, knowing that such proposals would never pass on their own. And she called the bill part of a GOP trend, representing one of many pieces of anti-environmental legislation moving in Hastings' committee and the GOP-led House.

"The number of proposals to roll back key environmental protections is so large that almost anything can happen," Danowitz said. "And this is largely going on without real public awareness. That combination is not a good one."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Judge: Arizona has no right to sue feds on border

Arizona Daily Star
October 22, 2011

PHOENIX - Arizona has no legal right to sue the federal government for failing to secure the border, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Judge Susan Bolton acknowledged federal law directs the Department of Homeland Security to achieve "operational control" of the border. A separate law requires construction of at least 700 miles of fencing.

But the judge said those are only goals, and Congress set no deadline for when the fence needs to be completed. Bolton said that means Arizona cannot seek - and she cannot grant - an order for the federal government to do something.

Bolton also rejected the state's claim the federal government, in failing to secure the border, was somehow hijacking state funds. That is based on the state's contention it is forced to spend money to educate, provide medical care for and in some cases incarcerate illegal immigrants.

The judge said, though, nothing the federal government is or is not doing requires the state to take any action. "The complained-of expenditures arise entirely from Arizona's own policy choices and independent constitutional obligations and are not incurred as a result of any federal mandate," Bolton wrote.

And Bolton made quick work of some of the state's other claims, including one contending the government is violating the federal Constitution by failing to protect the country from "an invasion of undocumented aliens."

She pointed out a federal appellate court rejected precisely the same arguments more than a decade ago and spurned arguments by Attorney General Tom Horne that the border situation has gotten worse since then, allowing Arizona to renew its bid.

Horne said Bolton's ruling comes as no surprise, particularly with Bolton, as a trial judge, powerless to overturn the earlier appellate ruling.

Horne vowed to take the issue back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to try to persuade the judges to reconsider their 1995 ruling and allow the state to force the government to do more to keep out those crossing the border illegally.

That will be the state's second appeal of a Bolton decision on the issue.

Arizona's legal bid is actually a counterclaim to the lawsuit filed last year by the Obama administration challenging the legality of SB 1070.

The counterclaim is based on Horne's contention that Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security a specific order to "achieve and maintain operational control for the Arizona-Mexico border."

Bolton, in Friday's ruling, said that is true. But she also said that does not give Arizona any right to sue.

"The act creates an objective and leaves the DHS and the (homeland security) secretary with a great deal of discretion in deciding how to achieve it," she wrote.

Nor was Bolton convinced that Arizona could demand she order fencing.

"No deadline mandates completion of the fencing and infrastructure development or any required discrete action by a specific time," the judge wrote of that federal law. And Bolton said the law gives Homeland Security "substantial discretion in determining where to build fencing, where to use alternative infrastructure improvements rather than fencing, and how best to develop a comprehensive program to prevent illegal immigration."

Bolton also rejected a separate claim that the Department of Justice owes hundreds of millions of dollars to Arizona to pay for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who have violated state laws.

She said the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program does allow the federal government to reimburse the states for their costs. But she also pointed out that Congress has not appropriated enough to fully cover the cost of the program for years, leaving it up to the Department of Justice to decide how to divide the available cash. Bolton said that decision is "explicitly committed" to the discretion of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Gov. Jan Brewer issued a statement of her disappointment:

"It is but the latest chapter in a story that Arizonans know all too well: The federal government ignores its constitutional and statutory duty to secure the border. Federal courts avert their eyes. American citizens pay the price."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Some Cheer Border Fence as Others Ponder the Cost

New York Times
October 19, 2011
by Julia Preston

In the debate over immigration among the Republican presidential candidates, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota signed a pledge last week to build double-fencing the entire length of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

Herman Cain called for an electrified border fence, 20 feet high with barbed wire.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, claiming superior experience as the leader of the state with 1,200 miles of the border, advocated a more complex strategy, combining fencing and surveillance technology with “a lot of boots on the ground.” Mr. Perry said that building a border-length fence would take “10 to 15 years and $30 billion” and would not be cost-effective.

Proposals for an imposing border fence have drawn cheers at Republican rallies. Border security appears to be an area where some Republican candidates are ready to set aside their priority on fiscal discipline, since security analysts say very little research is available on how much a border-length fence would cost.

Based on what studies do exist, the analysts say that building and maintaining a fence through the remote or hostile terrain along the border would run into billions of dollars, with no documented impact on diminishing illegal crossings.

So far border authorities have built 650 miles of hard fence along the southwest border, including about 299 miles of vehicle barriers.

In 2009, the Congressional Search Service reported that the Department of Homeland Security had spent roughly up to $21 million per mile to build a primary fence near San Diego. The cost had ballooned as the fence extended into hills and gullies along the line.

The same year, Customs and Border Protection estimated costs of building an additional 3.5 miles of fence near San Diego at $16 million per mile. Even this lower figure would yield a rough projection of $22.4 billion for a single fence across the 1,400 miles remaining today.

These estimates do not include the costs of acquiring land, nor the expense of maintaining a fence that is exposed to constant efforts by illegal crossers to bore through it or under it or to bring it down. In March, Customs and Border Protection estimated it would cost $6.5 billion “to deploy, operate and maintain” the existing border fencing over an expected maximum lifetime of 20 years. The agency reported repairing 4,037 breaches in 2010 alone.

Border Patrol officials have not been eager to extend the fence beyond its current length. In testimony in the House of Representatives on Oct. 4, Michael J. Fisher, the Border Patrol chief, said the existing fence covered the ground “where Border Patrol field commanders determined it was operationally required.”

The Border Patrol has welcomed fences in urban areas or at heavily traveled crossing points, where they slow illegal crossers, giving agents time to detain them. But border authorities have focused instead on flying unmanned drones to more accurately scan the length of the border and building forward stations so that agents can be posted closer to the line.

Richard F. Cortez, the mayor of the Texas border town of McAllen, noted that much of the state’s border is defined by rivers. “It is a winding river,” Mr. Cortez, a political independent, said in an interview on Wednesday. “Where in the world are you going to put fencing? To propose that suggests ignorance of the border and the terrain.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Texas border fence stars in presidential campaign

Fort Worth Star Telegram
October 17, 2011
by Dave Montgomery

PEÑITAS -- For more than a half-century, Leonardo and Anita Ramirez could look out the back of their small frame home at the sloping landscape leading down to the Rio Grande.

That changed about two years ago, when the federal government stretched a massive $6.2 million-a-mile barrier through the rural land where they have made their home since 1950.

Their backyard view now consists of aesthetically challenged square metal poles that reach at least 18 feet high and impair their once-easy access to the river.

The towering barrier that divides the Ramirezes' land near the small community of Peñitas, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, is part of nearly 650 miles of fencing that Congress authorized in 2006 in response to a public outcry over illegal immigration and potential violence from Mexico.

Of that total, 112 miles are in Texas, stretching from Brownsville through the populous metropolitan region that includes Edinburg, McAllen and Mission.

Construction of the fencing followed contentious public debate that included lawsuits, environmental challenges and homeowner protests. Now, presidential politics is kindling a new showdown over the worthiness of border barriers.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has pledged to push for construction of a fence along the entire length of the border. By contrast, Gov. Rick Perry has described a full-length fence as "idiocy," though he embraces limited fencing in strategic locations.

The issue is part of a larger dispute over illegal immigration that could resurface in tonight's Republican debate in Las Vegas. Perry has been put on the defensive by opponents who charge that he is soft on illegal immigration because of his support of a 2007 Texas law that permitted in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

He has responded to the criticism by pointing to the state's five-year, $400 million-plus law enforcement effort on the border, portraying himself as the toughest candidate in the race when it comes to border security.

GOP rivals

Bachmann is the first candidate to sign a pledge circulated by a newly formed group calling for completion of a double fence along the full length of the border before the end of 2013. The group, Americans for Securing the Border, is led by Van D. Hipp Jr., a former Republican Party chairman in South Carolina who served as deputy assistant Army secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

Hipp said his group has been up and running for only about three weeks but is generating strong support from voters demanding tough measures to support the border.

"It's one of the most important national security issues of our time," Hipp said. His organization is calling on all candidates for president as well as the House and Senate to sign the pledge.

Ryan Williams, press secretary for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, said Monday that the campaign has not seen the pledge but "would certainly be open to reviewing it." He said Romney, who is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, "supports a border fence" to crack down on illegal immigration.

Allison Castle, communications director in the Texas governor's office, said Perry "supports fencing in strategic areas such as those with high population density, but for the hundreds of miles of remote land in between, the most effective border security strategy is to increase the patrol presence on the ground, in the air, and in the water with personnel and advanced technology."

Perry has repeatedly opposed the concept of a full-length barrier. During a trade visit to Mexico City in 2007, according to The Associated Press, he said a border-length wall is "idiocy" and "absolutely would not work."

Leaky fencing

The 649 miles of fencing in four U.S. border states was authorized by the Secure Fence Act, which then-President George W. Bush signed into law in October 2006. The barriers, according to the Border Patrol, include 350 miles of fencing to stop pedestrians, constructed at a cost of $6.5 million per mile, and 299 miles of fencing to repel vehicles, which cost $1.8 million per mile.

The designs include wire mesh, chain link, metal posts and upright metal landing mats. The Hidalgo County segment that bisects Leonardo and Anita Ramirez's property includes metal poles atop concrete as part of a Rio Grande levee.

"We tried to stop it from being built," said Feliberto Ramirez of Houston, the Ramirez's 54-year-old son. "It's not doing the job."

Critics say the barriers constitute an elongated eyesore, particularly in populous areas, and come nowhere close to plugging the border.

Access roads that allow passage for U.S. residents are easily exploited by illegal intruders, many residents say. And then there's the now-timeworn joke that the wall has caused a boom in the Mexican ladder industry.

Cuban "Rusty" Monsees, who lives near Brownsville, says illegal crossers can "shinny up" the 18-foot poles on his property and often come up to his house at night. "They ask for food, they ask for use of the cellphone, they ask for a ride into town," he said.

Deterrent factor

But Border Patrol officials say the fence serves as a deterrent and has contributed substantially to a downturn in illegal crossings. As a result of a combination of measures, including fencing and an expanded Border Patrol presence, apprehensions in 2010 numbered 447,000, compared to 540,000 in 2009 and 1.6 million in 2000, said Border Patrol spokesman Bill Brooks.

He said the fence provides an impediment to illegal entries, giving Border Patrol officers more time to catch crossers. Agents also aggressively patrol along the fence looking for crossers.

"The fence does exactly what it was intended to do," Brooks said.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Burden of Borders

The Scientist
October 17, 2011
by Jesse Lasky

Jaguars once ranged across the US southwest, but a campaign of extermination up until the 1960s eliminated them from the region. In recent decades a few individuals crossed from Mexico into the United States and took up residence in Arizona and New Mexico, but the jaguar’s recolonization in the States is up against a literal barrier—the extensive man-made fences and walls along the US-Mexico border.

Besides the burden posed to US jaguar recolonization, border barriers pose an extraordinary threat to other species and entire ecosystems. Barriers have recently been constructed across a huge scale, and are not subject to any environmental regulation. As such, dozens of environmental protection laws that we rely upon to protect us and our surrounding ecosystems are legally nullified when the US government chooses to build barriers. The risk is exceptional because the US-Mexico border passes straight through the most biodiverse landscapes of the United States. Large strips of habitat were destroyed and disturbed in the construction of about 700 miles of barriers, along with accompanying roads and nighttime stadium-lighting, all of which involves massive clearing of vegetation and disturbed soil from construction. Furthermore, the fences prevent many larger animals from traveling the large distances necessary to find resources or mates.

Border barriers are a particularly high threat to isolated populations, which face an increased risk of extinction. Populations that get wiped out from a natural disaster are less likely to be re-colonized by others of their species if they cannot migrate easily due to barriers. Additionally, when populations do not exchange migrants, the members of a small isolated population will mate only with each other. This inbreeding results in lower genetic diversity, slowing adaptive evolutionary change and potentially increasing deleterious recessive alleles that depress survival and reproduction. Large mammals like desert bighorn sheep, which are federally protected in the US and Mexico, are particularly under threat. Their populations interconnect across the international border and their migrations will likely be disrupted by fences. Indeed, previous research has found them to be particularly sensitive to interstate highways, for example, that blocked migration and led to a rapid loss of genetic diversity.

Finally, border fences pose a threat to species like jaguars that are in the process of shifting or expanding their ranges in response to environmental change, or other ecological factors. As the Earth warms, many populations have begun moving towards the North and South poles, or towards higher elevations, tracking their preferred climates. Barriers that run latitudinally, such as those along the US-Mexico border, may block species from expanding their range, causing them to be squeezed against the border.

Tim Keitt (University of Texas at Austin), Walter Jetz (Yale University), and I recently published a study that for the first time assessed the risk posed by border barriers to all species of amphibians, reptiles, and non-flying mammals. We identified which border species are most threatened by barriers across their range, such as species with small ranges that could be at risk of extinction from current barriers. In particular, we identified 23 species that already have more than 50 percent of their range blocked by barriers, three of which are listed as globally threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to our analysis, the wildlife of the California Coast and the Gulf Coast face the greatest threats from current barriers.

Clearly, there is a fundamental conflict between wildlife and the border patrol. On one hand, migration is critical to many wildlife species and secretive animals like to move under the cover of vegetation or night. On the other hand, the border patrol wants to increase visibility and decrease the permeability of the border to stop illegal crossing by humans. For example, the border patrol plans to spray herbicide along the Rio Grande to eradicate Arundo donax, an invasive species of reed that grows tall and dense and provides a good hiding place.

One alternative to physical barriers may be improved remote-sensing technology to allow the border patrol to identify illegal border-crossing without disrupting wildlife dispersal. However, the government recently canceled a “virtual fence” system of remote sensors because it became very expensive and often malfunctioned.

Perhaps a more practical way of reducing the conflict between wildlife and the border patrol is to reduce the quantity of illegal border traffic in other manners, such as improvement in economic conditions in Mexico, increased numbers of worker visas, and policies that reduce the flow of illegal guns and drugs across the border. Some politicians continue to focus on barrier construction, however. The Secretary of Homeland Security still has the authority to fence the entire border at any time, unchecked by any regulatory law, and a bill introduced this year by a Utah Republican Representative would extend the unregulated areas to border patrol activities within 100 miles of the Canadian and Mexican borders. The Obama administration has been pursuing immigration reform that would be linked to heightened border security, possibly by means of physical barriers. And lower level governments may also build barriers; the Arizona State Senate, for example, has recently passed legislation authorizing construction of pedestrian fences.

With such efforts underway, it is imperative that we recognize and study environmental impacts of border barriers. With the proper policy changes and conservation actions, we can limit the ecological damage caused by border policies.

Michele Bachmann Signs "Double Border Fence" Pledge Written by Ex-Con Lobbyist

Comedy Central
October 17, 2011
by Ilya Gerner

This weekend, Michele Bachmann delivered her message on immigration policy the only way she knows how: with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. More precisely, the subtlety of a jackhammer to be used in the construction of a "date certain, secure double fence across the entire US border with Mexico prior to the end of 2013."

Speaking in Perry, Iowa — see what she did there! — a town whose population is approximately one-third Latino, Bachmann pledged to continue demonizing the people who have "taken" America's most desirable meatpacking plant jobs so that their children might have a chance at an education…

"She castigated a Texas law that allows illegal immigrants under certain circumstances to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities — a policy Perry has said he supports. Such a policy deprives citizens of opportunities, she said, and acts as a "magnet" drawing illegal immigrants into the country…

"Bachmann signed the pledge, circulated by recently established nonprofit group Americans for Securing the Border, to build a double fence along the entire border by 2013.

"The group is grassroots and citizen-funded and aims to promote political action over rhetoric, said Chairman Van D. Hipp Jr."

Of course, "illegal immigrants" are "illegal" in the sense that they committed a civil misdemeanor, not a criminal offense, when crossing the border without inspection. But in the interest of fairness, I should defer to Van D. Hipp Jr. on this question, since he appears to have much more first-hand experience with the justice system than I can claim…

"Former [South Carolina] state Republican Chairman Van D. Hipp Jr., who was sentenced Monday to five years' probation and fined $5,000 for accepting illegal campaign contributions, said he would be crazy to return to politics. "I told my family if they see me going to a precinct meeting they have the right to have me committed to a mental institution," said Hipp…"

"In return for the guilty plea, the government dismissed a 14-count fraud and money laundering indictment stemming from operation of a phone sex business.

"That indictment alleged Hipp recruited people to open merchant credit card accounts to process credit card charges for B.C. Services of Mount Pleasant, a phone sex provider."

Well, as long as he's paid his debt to society (house arrest, probation, and 200 hours of community service), I suppose we can trust Hipp with setting the nation's border security agenda. I mean, there's also the issue of Hipp being chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based lobbying firm that represents dozens of construction and contracting firms who could benefit from a massive government contract to build the fence, but what's a conflict of interest or two between friends?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Border plans rankle some

Bonner County Daily Bee
October 15, 2011

NAPLES — Nerves ran ragged Thursday over a generalized strategic plan for security along 4,000 miles of U.S.-Canadian border.

Despite reassurances that the document under discussion authorized no specific actions, public concerns over private property rights and intrusive security threatened to overtake the meeting.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials held the meeting to gather public opinion over a programmatic environmental impact statement that identifies several alternatives for future security strategies. CBP environmental planning chief Jennifer Hass said the PEIS lays the groundwork for any border security enhancements in the future.

“If specific projects are contemplated, we can use this document as a planning tool,” she said.

According to the agency’s statement of purpose, the plan provides CBP with “the flexibility to expand or alter its activities over the next five to seven years to maintain effective control of the northern border.”

However, the document’s inability to precisely identify those expansions or alterations fostered agitation among meeting attendees.

According to the PEIS itself, border officials identified five different policies they could implement.

A “no action” alternative simply maintains current operations.

The second alternative emphasizes construction of new Border Patrol stations while upgrading current stations.

The third alternative expands the use of short-range radar, ground sensors, unmanned aerial systems, wireless communications and other technologies.

The fourth alternative focuses on improving and creating roads, cutting trenches, constructing towers or raising fences to improve Border Patrol navigability and prevent illegal crossings.

Finally, the fifth alternative mixes elements from all the other strategies to create a balanced security policy.

The PEIS also ranks each plan based on the type, severity and likelihood of an impact on the social and natural environment.

“What we found was moderate or minor impacts regardless of the alternative,” said Bruce Kaplan, senior planner for MANGI Environmental Group. “The impacts we did find were mostly construction-related.”

According to Border Patrol information officer James Frackelton, illegal weapons transportation and drug trafficking are the primary reasons for enhancing security. However, he added that should security measures be revised, they will always take U.S. citizen well-being into account.

“After we do risk analysis, we’re going to do the thing that makes sense for the area and the taxpayers,” he said. “In the end, we’re working for you.”

Among all the listed alternatives, the prospect of fencing raised the most consternation. According to the document, fencing would be used in short-range sections to “manage movement in trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control.”

“We never intended the kind of fencing you might see on the southern border,” Hass said. “This is more along the lines of fencing you would use on your own property.”

Idaho Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, cautioned CBP officials to be very clear about the types of fencing under consideration. In a written statement, he urged the agency to find other means of enhancing security.

“No matter how small or short in distance, any unilateral action to build a fence sends the worst possible message to our neighbors and friends to the north as well as to the rest of the world,” he said.

Washington resident Johnna Exner also worried about the consequences of increased security. As the owner of property about a mile from the border, she attended the meeting to inquire about the safety of her land and animals. However, she had no love for current border crossing regulations.

“Probably half the people I know don’t go to Canada anymore,” she said. “It’s too much of a hassle.”

The PEIS will be under public review until Oct. 31. Visit to read it in its entirety or file a comment.

Bill before U.S. House would give Border Patrol unprecedented powers in Olympic National Park

Peninsula Daily News
October 16, 2011
By Paul Gottlieb

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Border Patrol could build roads in Olympic National Park and other wilderness areas without approval from the federal departments of Interior and Agriculture under legislation that has survived a key congressional committee's vote.

House leadership is deciding if the National Security and Lands Protection Act, approved 26-17 on Oct. 5 by the House Committee on Natural Resources, will go to the House floor for a vote, committee spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said Friday.

The bill, HR 1505, would grant broad new powers to U.S. Customs and Border Protection — the umbrella agency for the Border Patrol — within 100 miles of the northern border with Canada and southern border with Mexico.

Under the provisions of the bill, the agency would have “immediate access” to any public land managed by the federal government “for purposes of conducting activities that assist in securing the border (including access to maintain and construct roads, construct a fence, use vehicles to patrol and set up monitoring equipment).”

It allows the agency to waive the Endangered Species Act and three dozen other mostly environmental laws within that zone and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which guarantees access to religious sites and protection of “sacred objects.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Bishop of Utah sponsored HR 1505 and chairs the Natural Resources Committee.

George Behan, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, whose constituency includes Clallam and Jeff­erson counties, said Friday that it's unlikely the bill will gain any traction.

“It's way too broad and is not expected to move anywhere other than [Bishop's] committee,” Behan said.

But it's created somewhat of a stir on the North Olympic Peninsula, where increased Border Patrol staffing and patrols sparked the formation of Port Angeles-based Stop the Checkpoints, which has picketed the site of a new, under-construction $5.7 million Border Patrol station two miles east of downtown Port Angeles.

“To me, this is like using the fear of immigration and terrorism to do away with environmental protections as part of the overall right-wing movement,” Lois Danks, the group's organizer, said last week.

Supporters of the proposed law said the legislation would put the Border Patrol on a level playing field with drug smugglers and human traffickers on the nation's southern border who have no regard for laws, environmental or otherwise, and can act with impunity in such regions as designated wilderness areas, where motorized transport is forbidden.

“Cartels have figured out that the Border Patrol can't maintain a routine presence on federal lands,” said Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for Bishop.

The bill seeks to achieve “operational control” over international land borders.

It would prevent the secretary of the interior, who manages Olympic National Park and other national parks, and the secretary of agriculture, who manages national forests — including Olympic National Forest — from blocking U.S. Customs and Border Protection's efforts to “achieve operational control” over a 100-mile band south of the Canadian border.

Operational control was defined by U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher, testifying Feb. 15 before the House Committee on Homeland Security, as “the ability to detect, identify, classify and then respond to and resolve illegal entries along our U.S. Borders.”

To that end, the Border Patrol would be allowed to conduct vehicle patrols of designated wilderness areas, where motorized vehicles are otherwise banned.

The Border Patrol now has vehicle access to existing roads in Olympic National Park, said Blaine Sector spokesman Richard Sinks.

Sinks said the Border Patrol maintains “situational awareness” of wilderness areas by working with the Forest Service, Department of Interior and county, state and tribal law enforcement agencies and “is continually analyzing the threat to and through the wilderness park areas.”

But what about building a road in Olympic National Park where there isn't one now?

Border Patrol spokeswoman Kerry Rogers said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

And park officials have not yet studied the bill and its implications, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Friday.

The law would open up to Border Patrol vehicular activity to the 44,258-acre Buckhorn Wilderness Area, which abuts Olympic National Park's eastern boundary, and the 166,825-acre Brothers Wilderness Area in Olympic National Forest in Jefferson County — where motorized vehicle traffic is not allowed.

That doesn't sit well with the Washington Wilderness Coalition, whose conservation director called the legislation “an extreme kind of overreaction.”

“It's like heating your house with a flamethrower,” Tom Uniack said, fearful the legislation could open the door to more widespread abandonment of “cornerstone environmental laws.”

The legislation was not aimed at activities on the U.S.-Canadian border, Subb­otin said.

“It was written specifically to address issues along the southern border, but it's hard to exclude the northern border,” she said.

“This would remove the checkerboard pattern of where the Border Patrol can and can't patrol.”

Funding for such projects as roads also could be an issue.

Congress “would still have to appropriate funds” for road-building projects, Feldman said.

“The only reason they would construct roads is if there is criminal activity going on,” she added.

“They would need to ensure operational control at the border if there is evidence of criminal activity.”

Asked how likely it is that the Border Patrol would waive environmental and land management laws along the northern border, Feldman said, “It's an unlikely site for large-scale illegal entry.”

If passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the law would sunset in five years.

“That does not change my concerns at all,” Uniack said.

Michele Bachmann vows to finish Mexico border fence

Los Angeles Times
October 15, 2011
By Seema Mehta

Reporting from Perry, Iowa— Michele Bachmann, struggling to regain a foothold in the GOP presidential race, opened a hard new front Saturday on immigration, signing a pledge to push to complete a fence along the entire Mexican border by 2013 and saying she would consider allowing federal agents to conduct raids to find illegal immigrants.

"That will be job No. 1," Bachmann said of the fence. "And it will be every mile, it will be every yard, it will be every foot, it will be every inch of that border, because that portion you fail to secure is the highway into the United States."

Bachmann became the first major presidential candidate to sign a pledge by the Americans for Securing the Border, an advocacy group, that she would support constructing a double fence along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2013.

Illegal immigration has became a pivotal issue in the Republican contest, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry facing vocal criticism for his longtime support of in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants.

Bachmann prefaced her remarks to about 100 people at the historic Hotel Pattee here in Perry, Iowa, by saying that Americans must have a discussion about ending illegal immigration and that doing so was not racist.

"It's OK to talk about this subject. Sometimes we're told it's not OK to talk about illegal immigration, that somehow that means we're prejudiced or we're bigoted or we're biased against Hispanics or that we don't love people that are Hispanic," she said. "That's not what I hear from the people of Iowa. I don't hear people of Iowa that are racist or bigoted in their remarks. What I hear from the people of Iowa is they are tired of paying for other people's items, they are tired of paying for illegal immigration."

Bachmann argued that a porous border is a national security threat, and she cited a report that tens of thousands of those caught trying to enter the nation illegally were from nations other than Mexico.

"Fifty-nine thousand this year came across the border … from Yemen, from Syria. These are nations that are state sponsors of terror. They're coming into our country," she said.

Yemen is not on the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism, according to the State Department. Four nations are on that list — Cuba, Syria, Iran and Sudan.

Bachmann also used a litany of statistics to argue that illegal immigration was a national drain. She asserted that illegal immigrants were more likely to be high school dropouts and that households headed by those who do not obtain high school degrees and who receive welfare drain the nation's coffers. She said illegal immigrants cost the federal, state and local governments $113 billion annually, a figure she said came from the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Estimates about the cost of illegal immigration vary widely, ranging from a few billion dollars annually to much larger figures. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that state and local governments incur costs because of illegal immigrants, but the effect was probably "modest," and that there was no consensus on how to determine a national cost.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is controversial; the Southern Poverty Law Center says the organization's leaders have ties to white supremacist groups.

A man in the audience asked why Bachmann castigates those who are high school dropouts as a drain on society but then fights in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.

"Why would you choose to punish these kids who came here when they were young, no choice of their own?" asked Perry resident Eddie Diaz, 32.

Bachmann said that she was not punishing them, but rather opposed giving special advantages to lawbreakers.

"When people break the law …" Bachmann said.

Diaz interrupted, "They did not break the law."

The two continued to repeat those lines until Bachmann said, "People who come into the country break the law. That's an indisputable fact. When someone comes into the country illegally, that is breaking the law…. You're entitled to your opinion.",0,6563993.story

Cain Proposes Electrified Border Fence

New York Times
October 15, 2011
by Edward Wyatt

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Saturday that part of his immigration policy would be to build an electrified fence on the country’s border with Mexico that could kill people trying to enter the country illegally.

The remarks, which came at two campaign rallies in Tennessee as part of a barnstorming bus tour across the state, drew loud cheers from crowds of several hundred people at each rally. At the second stop, in Harriman, Tenn., Mr. Cain added that he also would consider using military troops “with real guns and real bullets” on the border to stop illegal immigration.

The remarks were among the most pointed yet by Mr. Cain about illegal immigration, and they come as he is enjoying a surge in national political polls on the back of his victory in a recent Florida straw poll. They also follow on remarks made by Representative Michele Bachmann on Saturday during a speech on illegal immigration in Iowa, in which she also advocated a border fence.

It is not the first time that Mr. Cain has floated the idea of an electrified fence. He has told the story many times of a caller to his former radio show who chastised him for talking about building a border fence, saying that such an idea was impractical. Mr. Cain often says he told the caller that he had recently returned from China, and if the Chinese could build the Great Wall then America could build a border fence.

Last summer, after President Obama remarked that some Republicans seemed to want a moat filled with alligators in addition to a fence, Mr. Cain responded by saying that he would indeed add an alligator-filled moat to his proposed fence, which would be topped with electrified barbed wire.

In his remarks on Saturday, Mr. Cain appeared to go a step further. Speaking to a rally sponsored by the Roane County Tea Party, Mr. Cain said that part of his plan would be to “secure the border for real” with a fence.

“It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side saying, ‘It will kill you — Warning.’” At an earlier rally, on the campus of Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tenn., he added that the sign would be written “in English and in Spanish.”

“This nation has always been a nation with wide open doors,” Mr. Cain said at the second rally. “We want to make it easy for people to come through the front door. And we’re going to shut off the back door so you don’t have to sneak into America.”

Saying that some critics have told him that his remarks about building a fence are insensitive, Mr. Cain said that the fault lies with the actions of some illegal immigrants. “It’s insensitive for them to be killing our citizens, killing our border agents,” he said. “That’s what’s insensitive. And that mess has to stop.”

In addition using a fence and unspecified “technology” to cut down on illegal immigration, Mr. Cain added: “If we have to put troops with real guns and real bullets for part of it, we can do that too.”

Brent Wilkes, Vice Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, said Mr. Cain’s remarks were reflective of increasingly harsh prescriptions for dealing with illegal immigration being offered by Republican presidential candidates.

“These folks who come across the border are at most committing a misdemeanor,” Mr. Wilkes said. “To suggest that they would be electrocuted or shot would be to treat them harsher than we treat murderers or rapists. It’s a real distortion of the rule of law.”

Mr. Wilkes said Mr. Cain is mistaken when he implies that it would be easy for would-be Mexican immigrants to enter the country legally. In fact, he said, there are few if any visas available for Mexican nationals who do not have a firm job offer in this country or who do not already have relatives living here legally.

After long being considered an also-ran in the Republican field, Mr. Cain has surged into the spotlight following his victory in the Florida straw poll and because of interest in his unusual 9-9-9 tax plan, which would set personal and business income tax rates at 9 percent each and institute a 9 percent national sales tax, eliminating all other federal taxes.

The Tennessee tour, which began Friday near Memphis, Mr. Cain’s birthplace, has drawn crowds of several hundred supporters and curious onlookers at each of eight stops

Bachmann Pledges Border Fence With Mexico

Associated Press / FOX News
October 15, 2011

PERRY, Iowa – Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a long-shot Republican presidential contender, signed a pledge Saturday to push for construction of a fence along the entire length of the border with Mexico, raising the issue of illegal immigration in an Iowa town where about one third of the residents are Hispanic.

Bachmann also renewed her attacks on the immigration policies of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, one of her rivals for the Republican nomination, and she criticized President Barack Obama for what she called his failure to control the border.

"President Obama has failed the American people by failing to secure the southern border," said Bachmann. "I will secure that border and that will be job one."

Bachmann's call for increased border security was made in a town where the meatpacking industry has drawn immigrant workers. Thirty-two percent of the town's 9,800 residents are Hispanic.

Van Hipp Jr., head of Americans for Securing Our Border, said Bachmann was the first Republican presidential hopeful to sign the pledge, but he added the group plans to aggressively seek the support of others as well. The document binds Bachmann to support the construction of a double fence along the length of the U.S. border with Mexico by 2013.

"I have been saying this all through the campaign,' Bachmann said. "Now you have my word in writing."

She called control of the border a national security issue and said illegal immigration costs the U.S. more than $100 billion a year. At the same time she rejected suggestions that talking about cracking down on illegal immigrants is racist or anti-Hispanic.

"It's OK to talk about this issue," said Bachmann. "Some say it's not OK to talk about this subject because that somehow means we are prejudiced or bigoted or biased against Hispanics. That's not what I hear form the people of Iowa. They are tired of paying for other people."

Hipp said the pledge was intended to insure that action is taken on the issue. "For too long, too many politicians have given only lip service to the war on our border," he said. "The rule of law has been ignored and the federal government has been derelict in its duty in defending our borders."

Cracking down on illegal immigration has become a major theme in the Republican race, with most of the candidates charging that Perry isn't tough enough on the issue.

Perry has taken a lot of heat for Texas' policy of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition rates to attend public colleges. Bachmann raised the issue again Saturday. "In 2009 in Texas there were 12,138 students that benefited from that," she said. "That cost the taxpayers of Texas $25.9 million."

Bachmann congratulated Hipp's group for injecting the immigration issue into the campaign, calling it a "wonderful gift."

She said that an alleged Iranian plot to launch a campaign of bombing and assassination in the U.S. would have involved people slipping across the border illegally. "This is not just an economic issue, this is also a national security issue. It's an issue dealing with terrorism."

Bachmann argued that it will be virtually impossible to cut into the nation's jobless rate until illegal immigration is reduced.

Bachmann told reporters she chose the town of Perry for signing the pledge because of its demographics. Asked if she chose Perry because it is the namesake of a leading opponent in the race, she said: "I thought about that too."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hidalgo County tries again for levee cash

The Monitor
October 12, 2011
by Jared Janes

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County will try once again for federal reimbursement of more than $60 million in levee repairs that commissioners funded using receipts from a 2006 bond issuance.

County officials are planning to travel to Washington, D.C., later this year to ask federal representatives to re-introduce legislation to reimburse the county for its expenses or identify in-kind contributions and other ways to recapture the funds. The county’s congressional representatives have tried twice before to pass legislation to reimburse the county, but the bills have died in committee each time.

County Judge Ramon Garcia said he is hopeful the third time is the charm, despite the apparent intent of federal budget writers to cut costs.

“We’ve got a better shot … if we do something about it,” Garcia said. “If we’re going to wait for the federal government to send us a check, it’s not going to happen.”

Beginning in 2007, Hidalgo County invested slightly more than $60 million into repairing the county’s aging levee system, including about $45 million that was directed toward adding a concrete flood barrier into the Department of Homeland Security’s border fence. The county’s expenditures came after the International Boundary and Water Commission — the binational agency that manages the flood control system along the Rio Grande — told the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it would not certify the levees, putting thousands of Hidalgo County homeowners at risk of having to buy expensive flood insurance premiums.

Garcia said the county’s funds were “well-spent” because they served as a catalyst for a cash infusion through the economic stimulus package that was used to rebuild more than 90 miles of Hidalgo County levees, a project that proved timely last summer when the Rio Grande crested at its highest point in four decades after Hurricane Alex receded.

But the lack of a formal reimbursement agreement between federal representatives and former County Judge J.D. Salinas’ administration has left the county struggling to be paid back after putting the majority of its voter-approved $100 million bond issuance into the federal responsibility of maintaining the levees. The investment shored up flood systems near the affluent Sharyland Plantation neighborhood and the industrial area around the Foreign Trade Zone, but it left other drainage projects included in the bond issuance for flood-prone parts of the county without a direct funding source.

Hidalgo County commissioners asked two lobbying groups — Hollis Rutledge and Associates and Dos Legislative Services — to lead another effort for federal reimbursement. In 2007 and 2009, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, filed legislation to authorize the IBWC to reimburse state and local governments for expenses on levee improvements.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains flood control systems in the interior of the United States, can reimburse local governments for what they spend. But the IBWC, a little-known federal agency that falls in the oversight of the U.S. Department of State, does not have similar authorization.

Rutledge told commissioners in a presentation Tuesday that he will ask for the legislation to be reintroduced and will also meet with members of the committees where the bills died. He will also explore whether assistance from the North American Development Bank, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other sources could be directed toward county drainage projects that weren’t completed because their share of the bond proceeds went toward the levee system.

“We’re talking about some serious money that we need to recapture from the bond election,” Rutledge said, later adding that it will be a “difficult process” to receive federal reimbursement.

Godfrey Garza, the general manager for the Hidalgo County drainage district, said passing legislation for local drainage projects isn’t unprecedented. A county lobbying effort managed to get its share of the costs for the proposed Raymondville Drain — a massive channel connecting northern Hidalgo County to the Laguna Madre — reduced from 35 percent to 10 percent, saving the county about $70 million over the life of the project.

The county formed a committee in August to identify the county’s pressing drainage and formulate a plan to fund them. Garza said securing federal funding for the committee’s plans would fulfill the same role as federal reimbursement.

“It’s important that we get those dollars back and use them toward the drainage system that we need,” he said. “If we can get state or federal dollars to do those projects, it’s the same thing (as reimbursement).”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Northern Border Fence Idea Raises Eyebrows Along Frontier

OPB News
October 12, 2011
by Tom Banse

BLAINE, Wash. - A planning document describing possible security enhancements along our northern border is raising eyebrows both in Canada and the U.S. Most notably, the study for the Department of Homeland Security raises the idea of fencing short portions of the northern border. Some Canadians are offended by the idea. The U.S. agency is now trying to contain the negative reaction. Correspondent Tom Banse has details from Blaine, Washington.

I'm standing now right on the U.S.-Canada border, having approached from the U.S. side across a playground. Just across the line is a pretty much unremarkable neighborhood in Canada.

There's no fence. Just this shallow ditch and some warning signs saying you're leaving the United States. I can literally just jump across. Now I'm in Canada. Jump right back. And we're back in the U.S.

"Don't Fence Me In" is the song they're singing across the border this month. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency instigated the lament with an environmental review.

The planning document contemplates short stretches of fencing on the northern border. Also up for discussion are upgrades to patrol roads, short-range radar, more cameras or aerial drones, among other things.

But it was the fence that caught the locals' attention the most says British Columbia legislator Barry Penner.

"It is a disappointing development to think that after all these many years of being good neighbors, one side or the other might think it necessary now to build a fence," he says.

Penner represents a district along the Canada-U.S. border outside Vancouver. In response to voices like this, the U.S. border agency is trying to tamp down fears.

Customs and Border Protection planner Don Beckham says the agency has no intention of building a fence on the northern border that resembles the steel curtain along parts of the Mexican border.

"We do discuss fencing, but it would be at very specific locations like fencing on either side of a small, remote port of entry to keep people literally from driving through a field to avoid the port of entry," he explains.

Beckham says it would be totally unrealistic to deter illegal border crossings by fencing the entire 4,000 mile long border with Canada. His team favors a flexible approach that uses a broad array of possible security measures.

"We are looking forward five to seven years, understanding that the security threat is not static," Beckham says. "It is constantly changing and Customs and Border Protection needs to change the responses to meet the threat."

Beckham says his agency is listening to public comments and won't make any decisions until at least next year.

Bellingham resident Caroline Correa came to a public meeting with concerns about aerial drone surveillance and how border fencing might block wildlife migration.

"But it seemed to be minimal if I'm hearing correctly," she says. "That's a comfort level and we would have to make certain that they hold their word."

Vancouver Sun newspaper columnist Vaughn Palmer finds it ironic the discussion of fencing came up just as the Canadian government is deep in talks with the Obama Administration about a joint North American security pact. The idea there is to tighten controls around the perimeter of our two countries and thereby enable freer mobility across the shared border.

"Since 9/11, that cross-border relationship has changed in any number of ways," Palmer says. "We're going to be struggling to reconcile the security concerns in the United States with the trade and tourism interests between the two countries."


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is holding a public hearing Thursday in Boundary County, Idaho to gather more reactions to its northern border study document. That gathering is happening from 7 to 9 p.m. at the event center in Naples, Idaho.

Comments can also be submitted by email:
On the Web:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Northern Border study:
Opinion column by J.L Granatstein in the Ottawa Citizen:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Drug Smugglers Tunnel Into Arizona Parking Spaces

ABC News
October 12, 2011

Drug smugglers are endlessly creative when it comes to inventing ways to move marijuana, cocaine and other contraband from Mexico into the United States.

In the latest innovation uncovered by law enforcement, smugglers in the border town of Nogales, Arizona were bringing drugs into the U.S. for the cost of a quarter.

The parking meters on International Street, which hugs the border fence in Nogales, cost 25 cents. Smugglers in Mexico tunneled under the fence and under the metered parking spaces, and then carefully cut neat rectangles out of the pavement. Their confederates on the U.S. side would park false-bottomed vehicles in the spaces above the holes, feed the meters, and then wait while the underground smugglers stuffed their cars full of drugs from below.

When the exchange was finished, the smugglers would use jacks to put the pavement "plugs" back into place. The car would drive away, and only those observers who were looking closely would notice the seams in the street.

In all, U.S. Border Patrol agents found 16 tunnels leading to the 18 metered parking spaces on International Street. The pavement is now riddled with neat, symmetrical patches.

"It's unbelievable," Nogales mayor Arturo Garino told Tucson, Arizona ABC affiliate KGUN. "Those are the strides these people take to get the drugs across the border."

Past methods of smuggling have included catapults that launch bales of drugs across the border fence. "The [smugglers] have tried everything," said Garino, "and this is one of the most ingenious [methods] of them all.

The city, advised by Homeland Security, has agreed to remove the parking meters. Nogales stands to lose $8,500 annually in parking revenue, plus the cost of citations.

GOP Uses Border Fence as Immigration Distraction for 2012

US News & World Reports
October 12, 2011
by Mallie Jane Kim

In GOP primary politics, the U.S.-Mexico border fence is an immigration litmus test, but an apparently unhelpful one. Experts close to the issue agree that the fence may be a nice symbolic sound bite for candidates to show border security bona fides, but it does little to address the nation's complex immigration quagmire. "It's three quarters symbolic and very expensive," says immigration policy expert Rick Swartz, who helped construct and advocate pro-immigrant legislation since the 1980s. Swartz says fencing has definitely helped curb illegal crossings and drug smuggling in some places, but it's "more promoted as a panacea that it is in fact a panacea."

Nevertheless, some 2012 candidates continue to find political capital in touting the fence.

Former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham last month called the idea of constructing a physical fence along the entire border one of the "dumbest" ideas he was presented with during his tenure. A better way, according to Thad Bingel, a security and intelligence consultant who served as Basham's chief of staff, is a mix of infrastructure, like fencing, combined with people and technology, like sensors and unmanned aircraft. "There's a fundamental misunderstanding about what a fence—even the triple-layer fencing in San Diego—actually does for you. All it really does is buy you time," he explains. "None of the fencing is impenetrable. People will eventually dig under it or cut through it or go over it, but it gives you enough time to respond and apprehend them."

[Read: Ex-Border Security Chief Calls Fence a Dumb Idea.]

Since the border terrain varies so widely, different areas call for different types of fencing, if any, designed to hinder either pedestrian traffic or vehicles. And some areas have a natural fence to slow illegal crossers or smugglers already: mountains and the Rio Grande.

In urban areas like San Diego, Bingel explains, "you have seconds or minutes to respond to an incursion before they disappear into a building or somebody's car and get away," he says, explaining why a fence to block pedestrians is helpful there. But in a rural area, like Arizona's Sonoran Desert, it takes a day or two to walk to a paved road from the border, and a simple vehicle barrier can do the trick. "You've got time to track them and apprehend them at a more convenient point than needing a fence out there that would really be a waste of resources."

And wasting resources is never a popular idea, particularly at a time when federal budgets are tight. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office estimated the cost at $6.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $1.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing. The same report found that there had been 3,363 breaches in the border fence as of May 2009, each costing an average of $1,300 to repair—that's more than $4 million.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on immigration reform.]

The real immigration problem is far more complex, experts say. Approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants are already in the country and have been for years. Anywhere from one third to one half of those entered legally and overstayed visas, according to estimates by the Government Accountability Office and the Pew Hispanic Center. And illegal border crossings have decreased markedly in the past decade, likely from a combination of increased security, economic doldrums in the United States, and an improved Mexican economy. The border is a just a small part of the problem—a symptom. And treating a symptom won't cure a disease.

"When you're really making a point that we don't like what's going on in suburban Phoenix," Bingel explains, "building a triple-layer fence down in the west desert of Arizona won't actually do anything to improve the situation."

The push for more fencing at the border, he adds, is like trying to solve yesterday's problem. "The damage was done 10 years ago. It's a matter of interior enforcement now," Bingel says. "In some ways, we're fighting the last war on that, and in some cases a war that's already being fought and won with the additional resources that have actually come since 2003, 2004."

Still, several of the 2012 GOP candidates push the fence idea, or attack Texas Gov. Rick Perry—who has a comparably moderate immigration record—for suggesting the fence is a waste of resources, and saying, "If you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets real good."

Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann said she will build the fence, "every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch." Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain joked about creating something like an electrified Great Wall of China with an alligator moat, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney supports a "high-tech" fence, though he hasn't fleshed out the details.

"It's a preposterous oversimplification, but it's one that has political currency," says Chris Newman, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network's legal programs, who thinks focusing the debate on the fence is a harmful and manipulative distraction. "Like most things in the immigration debate, it plays to people's fears as opposed to providing legitimate solutions to problems facing the country."

[Read: After 9/11, Immigration Became About Homeland Security.]

But simplifying the issues is just the way of politics, says Jim Carafano, immigration analyst at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. It's a bumper sticker debate. "Border security is about what's going on inside Mexico; it's about what's happening at the border; it's about what's going on inside the United States; it's about economics; it's about transnational criminal activity; it's about how people feel about their communities," he explains. "Anybody that can fit that on a bumper sticker, God bless them."

Republican strategist Luis Alvarado of the political consulting firm Revolvis also blames primary politics for the focus on the fence as a tangible object that serves as a proxy for the complex issues at the heart of the immigration debate. "In a certain way, it's one way of relegating all the problems of immigration to one specific issue," he says, adding that this is something both parties do. "Politically, we all know that it's not a viable issue for either party until after 2012 elections are done and over with."

And though Latino voters are not a monolithic, single-issue group, Alvarado explains, those focused on immigration "feel that they've been shelved until 2013" by the president and by GOP candidates. "They're so frustrated with everybody that they've become apathetic," he says. "I don't think they're going to come out and vote in volumes like they did in the 2008 presidential cycle."

Bingel, the former Customs and Border Protection chief of staff, says he understands that support for a physical fence, particularly in places like Arizona, comes from frustration that the federal government hasn't brought immigration policy up to date. He doesn't believe the conversation about the fence itself is bad, as long as it doesn't stop there. "If the fence is a symbol of how to talk about the range of different things we still need to do, then that's a good thing in my mind," he says. "But I hope people don't literally take it as the fence and the fence alone is the solution for that 2,000 miles of border; that would be short-sighted."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Project fixes outdated border fence in Douglas

KPHO Channel 5
October 11, 2011
by Phil Benson

Construction to replace an estimated six miles of outdated primary pedestrian fence along the U.S-Mexico border adjacent to the City of Douglas in Arizona began last week.

The project will replace landing mat fencing originally constructed in the early 1990s, with new fencing that is 18 feet high, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release.

The fencing will be located on both sides of the Port of Douglas. The project should be completed by next March and will make the fencing significantly more difficult to breach.

CBP has completed a total of approximately 650 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fence along the Southwest border out of the 652 miles mandated by Congress.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No Easy Path for Bill to Exempt Border Patrol From Environmental Laws

Congressional Quarterly
October 11, 2011
By Tim Starks

A Republican push to exempt the Homeland Security Department from observing environmental laws along the border has gained traction in several congressional committees in recent weeks. But with critics speaking out against the measure and Congress focused on other priorities, further movement is uncertain.

The proposal, a 2010 GOP campaign pledge, faces resistance from the Obama administration, environmental groups and some border state Democrats. Further complicating its prospects are the broader immigration debate, Congress’ preoccupation with the budget deficit and the need for supporters to find a suitable legislative vehicle.

In their 2010 “Pledge to America,” House Republicans vowed to “ensure that the Border Patrol has the tools and authorities to establish operational control at the border and prohibit the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands.”

Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee approved, on a party-line 26-17 vote, a bill that would give U.S. Customs and Border Protection authority to patrol, build roads and fences and construct temporary offices in national parks, forests and other public lands within 100 miles of U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico.

The measure, sponsored by Utah Republican Rob Bishop, would block the Interior and Agriculture departments from holding the border agency to more than 30 environmental statutes, some decades old, including the National Environmental Policy Act (PL 91-190), the Clean Water Act (PL 100-4) and the Solid Waste Disposal Act (PL 94-580).

Also last week, House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King, R-N.Y., a cosponsor of Bishop’s bill, introduced a reauthorizing bill for the Homeland Security Department (HR 3116) that includes a similar provision. The language mirrors an amendment offered by Arizona Republican John McCain that made its way into the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee-approved Homeland Security authorization bill (S 1546).

Next Steps Unclear

Versions of the language were adopted by both the House and Senate in previous years as amendments to other bills, but the provision did not become law.

Bishop has yet to discuss the next step for his legislation with GOP leadership. But he is not worried about support from GOP leaders in the long term.

“The only problem we have is not the bill itself but the atmosphere around here,” said Bishop, chairman of the Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. “Everything has been about dealing with the budget and appropriations. It has sucked the air out of every other issue. This is not a budget issue. That’s the only negative as far as time, but there’s commitment to this concept and idea.”

But the bill has run into opposition from environmental advocates, administration officials and some Democrats.

“This legislation represents a serious threat to a long list of bedrock environmental protections that for decades have safeguarded the health and well-being of Americans,” Jane Danowitz, Pew Environment Group’s director of U.S. public lands, said after Bishop’s bill won committee approval. “Improving national security and border protection is critical to our country, but waiving core conservation measures will not accomplish this goal.”

Kim Thorsen, the Interior Department’s deputy assistant secretary for law enforcement, security and emergency management, told Bishop’s subcommittee in July that the bill could do serious harm. “As drafted, this bill could impact approximately 54 units of the national park system, 228 national wildlife refuges, 122 units of the National Wilderness Preservation System managed by Interior, and 87 units of [the Bureau of Land Management’s] National Landscape Conservation System, resulting in unintended damage to sensitive natural and cultural resources, including endangered species and wilderness,” Thorsen said in written testimony. Thorsen added that the bill also could also affect water channels, levees, canals and bridges along a 1,000-mile stretch of the Colorado River that are required in order to fulfil U.S. water-sharing obligations with U.S. and Mexican users.

Border State Concerns

Some border state Democrats also have cast the bill in harsh terms. At the July hearing, subcommittee member Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona said the bill “may succeed in decreasing immigration, but only because the water, air and environments of border communities will be so degraded, no one will want to come here.”

Bishop said he has altered his bill to reflect several concerns voiced by critics. But he noted that Mexican drug cartels are causing environmental damage along the border, citing suspicions among U.S. law enforcement that cartel-tied drug manufacturers are behind numerous wildfires.

Bishop said environmental protection cannot be the only priority. “On the border there is something more important than wilderness designation, and that’s patrolling the border and trying to protect people’s lives,” he said.

If Bishop’s bill does not advance, it is unclear how the GOP will make good on its pledge. Although similar language was included in both the House and Senate homeland security authorization bills, no such authorization bill has ever been enacted.