Steve Elliott, the president of Grassfire, says he still wants to know, “Where’s the fence?”
Elliott, in a telephone interview, told WND an amendment submitted by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, for the Department of Homeland Security 2008 budget would gut the already-approved Secure Fence Act, which was adopted with the promise hundreds of miles of physical fencing would help secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
But the budget bill now in a conference committee contains the Hutchinson amendment, and Elliott says it simply would drop the requirement for the security project.
“After the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was signed into law by President Bush in October 2006, millions of Americans had a right to expect a double-layer fence would be built along our border with Mexico,” Elliott said.
“Now, if the Hutchison amendment gets signed into law that fence is never going to be built,” he said.
Elliott said the language of the amendment from Hutchison (S. Amdt. 2466) specifically would exempt the Department of Homeland Security from having to build any fence at all.
The Hutchison amendment reads, in part, ” … nothing in this paragraph shall require the Secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location.”
“By slipping the Hutchison amendment into the DHS funding bill, Hutchison intends to give DHS total discretion to build a fence or to not build a fence in any particular location. That is not what the American people were led to believe would happen when Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006,” Elliott said.
In a special report filed on the Grassfire website titled “Border Fence Funding Hoax of 2006 and 2007,” Elliott argues Hutchison first suggested this type of legislative modification on the very day the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed.
“A deal had already been struck to basically un-do the Secure Fence Act before the vote was ever taken,” Elliott said.
In the report, Elliott says the Secure Fence Act was a carefully staged public relations event designed by Republicans “to create the impression that Congress was clamping down on illegal immigration.
“You see, Republicans were just a few weeks away from the ’06 elections and were desperately looking for an issue that would save them from defeat,” Elliott wrote.
Hutchison spokesman Matt Mackowiak objected.
“This statement by Grassfire.org is factually inaccurate,” Mackowiak told WND in an e-mail. “Sen. Hutchison supports the border fence and voted for the Secure Fence Act.”
Mackowiak further told WND that the main purpose of the amendment was to require DHS to consult with the Border Patrol and citizens along the border before beginning construction.
“Sen. Hutchison recognizes that the federal government has limited resources and border patrol agents manning the border know best where to put fencing to prevent illegal immigration and to thwart drug cartels,” Mackowiak told WND. “Those decisions should not be left to legislators who have never even visited our border.”
The fact sheet notes that DHS has completed 76 miles of “pedestrian fence” and plans to build 670 miles of “pedestrian fence” by the end of 2008.
Yet, the DHS fact sheet makes no reference to the double-layer fence mandated by Congress in the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
On Aug. 23, WND has reported, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., wrote a letter to President Bush noting only 17.9 miles of the 854 miles of fencing called for in the Secure Fence Act had been completed as of Aug. 10, stressing that the Bush administration was falling behind the timetable mandated by Congress in the bill.
Yesterday, Hunter’s office confirmed to WND the importance of building the double-layer fence as originally called for in the bill.
“The Secure Fence Act was clear in that it required two layers of fencing separated by a road and monitored by lights, cameras and sensors,” Joe Kasper, communications director for Hunter, told WND in an e-mail.
Kasper acknowledged the Hutchison amendment will change the definition of the fence required by the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
“This new requirement no longer mandates that fencing be double-layered,” Kasper wrote. “Given that double-layered fencing has worked so well in San Diego County, it is difficult to understand why this design wouldn’t be replicated at other fencing locations along the border.”
According to an Associated Press report, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, defended DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, arguing that DHS in letters prepared to go out this Friday is giving Texas landowners opposed to the border fence “one last chance” to allow access to their land before DHS goes to court.
“Sen. Cornyn is among the strongest advocates for increased border security in the Congress,” Brian Walsh, communications director for Cornyn, told WND in an e-mail.
Still, Cornyn’s office defended the demand in the Hutchison amendment to give flexibility to DHS in building the fence.
“Sen. Cornyn believes that it is important to consult with those who actually live and work on the border instead of simply relying on legislators and bureaucrats in Washington who have never even visited the border,” Walsh wrote.
“Consultation with local landowners and officials has already produced ideas that will help better secure the border,” Walsh continued. “Consultation will avoid lawsuits and other delays, and will lead to more effective measures to enforce our laws.”
But will consultation lead to building the double-layered fence Congress mandated in the Secure Fence Act of 2006?
“I don’t think so,” Elliott told WND. “We’re getting a lot of consultation and very little double-layered fence building. Where’s the fence?”
“The Hutchison amendment should not be in the final bill,” Elliott told WND. “We are encouraging our Grassfire.org members to call the conferees to tell them to take this amendment out.”
Grassfire.org currently is running a campaign to encourage people to fax Congress to demand “the fence be built as promised.”
Cornyn is listed as one of five co-sponsors to the Hutchison amendment.
President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 on Oct. 26, 2006.