(CNSNews.com) - The $2.7 billion border “fence” authorized by Congress to be built along stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border is just over two-thirds finished--and should be mostly complete by the end of the year. But not everyone is happy with it.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said the fence that is being built is “not the one Congress had in mind” when it passed legislation in 2005 authorizing a double fence combined with a patrol road.
The law Congress enacted specifically directed that “the Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide for at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors” along about 700 miles of the almost 2000-mile long border.
“We originally passed legislation asking for 700 miles,” Lungren told CNSNews.com Wednesday. “It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. What we do have is a good faith effort on the part of Homeland Security under Secretary Chertoff to actually end up before he leaves with about 370 miles of pedestrian fence, and probably 300 miles of vehicle fence.”
The U.S. Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is overseeing construction of the barrier.
“We’ve just surpassed having 500 miles of fence along the border – physically there – and still maintain our goal of reaching 670 miles,” Border Patrol Asst. Chief Lloyd Easterling told CNSNews.com Wednesday.
“We anticipate having 90 to 95 percent of that done right around the end of the calendar year,” he added.
There are stretches of fence in areas running from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but the Border Patrol spokesman admits it isn’t continuous along the 2000-mile frontier -- or even the eventual 670 mile length.
“Of course there are breaks in it -- in places out in very remote areas where fencing would do us no good, and in fact possibly hinder us, because we would have to be getting out to these areas mainly to repair it,” Easterling said. “If nobody is out there and able to keep an eye on and patrol in those areas, then the fence would likely be destroyed.”
And Lungren is correct, he said, that the “fence” involves several different kinds of fencing--pedestrian and vehicle fencing--with different styles based on the terrain.
In urban areas, he said, it is the double-walled steel fence Congress envisioned in the law that mandates "at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing."
“In Yuma Ariz., for instance, what we did out there was we put in old steel landing mat fencing – where we took old landing mat that wasn’t being used for anything else, and we were able to erect that into a solid pedestrian fence, anywhere from 12 to 18 feet high,” Easterling said.
“Further out, we were able to use bollard-style fencing where it looks like posts you would see in a parking lot, that are spaced out, and they are also at differing heights in order to make ramping more difficult,” he added.
The Border Patrol finds people trying to defeat the fence all the time--frequently just by climbing it.
“While we do see people trying to defeat the infrastructure using ramps and even using cutting torches to cut throughout the fence, it has proven to be very effective,” Easterling said.
“Just in that area (Yuma) alone, we’ve seen a drop in people driving across the border. Three years ago, there were more than 2,700 people driving across the border versus today we are down below 500.
“But we also have cameras and sensors--whether underground or other--and most importantly, we have additional boots on the ground,” Easterling said.
In fact, the Border Patrol has grown by one-third in the last two years--and that has made as much difference as the fence.
“We recently surpassed our goal of having 18,000 Border Patrol agents--having hired 6,000 over the last two years,” he added.
Obama to ‘Evaluate’ Wall-Building
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), one of the prime sponsors of the Secure Fence Act, said, “The border is more secure and better enforced than it has been at any other time."
But Hunter’s spokesman, Joe Kasper, told CNSNews.com: "Mr. Hunter would certainly agree that the Department of Homeland Security missed an opportunity to get more accomplished in the time it had. Obviously, much more could have been put in place over the last two years.”
He called the fence’s completion “good news”--if for no other reason than the fact that the fence has had a deterrent effect upon drug smugglers and illegal aliens.
The Border Patrol, meanwhile, said illegal drug smuggling has decreased all along the fence route. Drug seizures are up--significantly in some areas--including in Tucson (Ariz.), Yuma and the San Diego (Calif.) area.
“At the same time, we’re seeing fewer arrests of illegal aliens, which is a good sign,” Easterling said. “We’ve got people out in areas where we traditionally haven’t been with any great frequency.”
There’s a simple reason why so much is being accomplished--in such a short amount of time.
“It’s hard to determine what position the Obama administration is going to take when it comes to building more capital infrastructure on the border,” Kasper said.
Last week, the president-elect said he wants to evaluate whether to continue building the fence. That means only one thing, according to Hunter’s spokesman.
“Whatever isn’t accomplished when the Bush administration leaves office . . . will likely remain unfinished under the Obama administration,” Kasper said.
As a senator, Obama actually voted in favor of the fence bill, but his newly selected Secretary of Homeland Security, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, has been a critic.
“She has not been a proponent of tactical infrastructure. She’s supported technology and manpower, but has largely opposed erecting a fence along the border as a method of border control,” Kasper said.
In the last two years, Napolitano has repeatedly said: "You show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border."
Napolitano was the first governor to deploy the National Guard at the border at federal expense.
Lungren, meantime, praised what Homeland Security has been able to do--especially given the stumbling blocks placed in its way over the last two years by opponents -- and because Secretary Chertoff had to use powers given him to buy up land.
“They have run into increased funding requirements--costs of materials, and they did come to Congress and ask that some of the money that was going towards the virtual fence project be diverted to the physical fence,” Lungren said.
But border security has not yet been accomplished and will continue to be a priority when the new Congress convenes in January -- “because it has to,” he added.
“I am still one that believes that we need to have a fence – virtual or physical – along the entire southern border. And I don’t want to see that put on the back burner,” Lungren said.