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Congress Members Want Border Fence Rule of Law Restored

June 25, 2009

Tucson, AZ - 27 members of Congress, including three from Arizona, are urging the nation's Department of Homeland Security to reverse some of its policies created in the Secure Fence Act, which are now being implemented as the Department constructs a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico. The lawmakers have written a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her agency to comply with all laws - environmental, state, local and tribal - in any further border fence construction. Congress voted in 2005 to allow many laws to be circumvented in order to speed the process.

But, United Methodist minister John Fanestil says the result has been damage to the environment and landowner rights.

"These landowners have had access to their lands restricted for grazing, for recreation, for simply the enjoyment of the land, which has been a part of their culture and their heritage. All those things have been plowed under in the rush to build the border wall."

Rev. Fanestil is concerned Secretary Napolitano and President Obama believe it’s necessary to make a show of force at the border in order to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

"Unfortunately, the border wall doesn’t accomplish the stated objective. It’s a demonstration project, a symbol of force more than it is a practical solution to the problems of immigration."

Under previous secretary Michael Chertoff, Fanestil adds, Homeland Security ran roughshod over local land-use plans.

Because environmental impacts weren't reviewed, Matt Clark of Defenders of Wildlife, says the wall is harming the health of animals like deer, javelina and endangered jaguars by blocking their movement.

"Wildlife need to be able to access food and water sources, and to find mates and establish new territories."

The wall has also caused damage to public lands, says Clark, such as the severe erosion that occurred last summer during a monsoon storm at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

"The border fence basically created a dam effect, caused scouring, damaging vegetation and resulting in flooding. It actually increased flooding down into the port of entry there."

One of the letter's signers is U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz, who has also introduced legislation, the Border Security and Responsibility Act of 2009, to address the issues. Among the proposed changes, the new Act would compel Homeland Security to obey environmental laws and to consult with state, local and tribal governments when considering border security programs.

Other Arizona lawmakers signing the letter to Napolitano are Representatives Giffords and Pastor.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ