WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security just can't seem to win.
After the DHS infuriated Southwestern landowners by releasing plans for a border fence that would stretch 370 miles through four states, some Republican House members contend that the fence is way too short and violates the intent of a law pushed through Congress last year.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a GOP presidential candidate who helped write the 2006 law that mandated the fence, said the legislation calls for as much as 854 miles of fencing. Anything less, he said, would violate the statute.
"We're going to make them follow the law," said Hunter.
"The department may well want to cut it back but we're going insist on the full fence being built," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chief sponsor of the fence legislation. The majority of Republicans in the House, he said, share those views.
The bill was passed in the previous Republican-controlled session of Congress and signed into law by President Bush in October. Hunter said he and other House Republicans now plan a "sit-down" with Homeland Security officials to push for speedy construction of the entire fence.
The fence initially was described as being about 700 miles when the bill was moving through Congress, but Hunter says the fence actually would stretch 854 miles through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The border between the two countries is 1,951 miles long.
The DHS, which oversees border enforcement, is responsible for building the fence. Department officials have recently circulated plans for 370 miles of fencing. But border-area municipal leaders and landowners say even that amount would encroach on property rights and hurt the environment.
"What we're doing is building fences when we ought to be mending fences," said Mayor Raul Salinas of Laredo, Texas. He said most border-area mayors oppose the fence and believe it would send "the wrong message" to their Mexican neighbors.
Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Republicans, said they will insist that Homeland Security officials respect private property rights and consult with local officials in determining where the fence runs. Property owners in south Texas are fearful that the federal government will use its power of eminent domain to seize land for the barrier.
The Homeland Security plan calls for 153 miles of fencing in Texas,129 in Arizona, 76 in California and 12 in New Mexico. It also maps out 200 miles of vehicle barriers.
Angry property owners in Texas say DHS officials led them to believe that the barrier would be mostly a "virtual fence" consisting of surveillance cameras, radar and beefed-up enforcement by the Border Patrol.
DHS officials have said they are complying with Congress' mandate with a balanced mix of traditional fencing in heavily populated urban areas and high-tech surveillance along desolate stretches.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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