One reason DHS has been able to do this is an amendment that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R.-Texas) slipped into an omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed on December 18, 2007. Hutchison’s amendment put a loophole in the fence law that allowed the secretary of Homeland Security not to build the fence Congress had mandated the year before.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 specifically ordered DHS to build two layers of reinforced fencing along 700 specific miles of the nearly 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border.
“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 700 miles of designated border areas, the Secure Fence Act said.
Hutchison’s 2007 amendment neutered this language. It said: “Limitation on Requirements.--Notwithstanding subparagraph (A), 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.”
According to a new report by the GAO, as of October 31, only 32 miles of the double-layer fencing envisioned by Congress in the original law had been built. Additionally, a GAO official told CNSNews.com he was not aware of plans to build any additional double-layer fencing.
DHS has been building three different types of fences along the border. These include:1) single-layer fences designed to stop both pedestrians and vehicles, which the GAO refers as “primary” fencing, 2) double-layer fencing designed to stop both pedestrians and vehicles, which the GAO refers to as “secondary” fencing, and 3) barriers designed to stop vehicles, but not pedestrians, which the GAO refers to as “vehicle” fencing.
The single-layer fencing, or primary fencing, consists of one eight- to ten-foot fence. Double-layer fencing, or secondary fencing, consists of a parallel pair of eight-to-ten-foot fences and is equipped with sensors and cameras. A patrol road runs between the two fences.
“The double-border fence is what works,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) told CNSNews.com. “As long as you have Border Patrol watching that, no one is going to get over it.”
Vehicle fencing consists of small posts of about three feet in height that may stop cars and trucks, but, according to Hunter, deters little else.
“Those don’t stop people coming in,” said Hunter. “They probably wouldn’t stop motorcycles. They wouldn’t stop ATVs or anything else.”
“[I]t is less expensive to construct vehicle fencing than pedestrian fencing,” says the GAO report says.
“As of October 31, 2008, CBP reported that approximately 32 miles of secondary fence existed along the southwest border,” the report said.
Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the GAO, said that the effectiveness of any of the fencing depends on one’s expectations.
“If you expect the fence to absolutely stop border crossings, than even double-fencing may not accomplish that goal,” Stana told CNSNews.com
Stana said CBP has built fencing in places where they “deemed it to have the greatest potential impact on border crossings.” Are there plans to upgrade the fencing in place to double-layer fencing?
“None that I’m aware of,” he said. “It’s going to be mostly single-layer fence or vehicle barriers.”
The fact that the government has built only 32 of the 700 miles-of double-layer fencing that Congress initially mandated in 2006 is partly the result of the amendment that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) slipped into the omnibus appropriations bill enacted in December 2007.
“There was certainly some bureaucratic wiggle room, and they used it,” Hunter said.
That appropriations bill also required DHS to consult with local entities before beginning construction in order “to minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life” for local communities and residents.
Hutchison’s amendment easing the border-fence mandate was co-sponsored by other border state senators, including John Cornyn (R.-Texas), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R.-Ariz.) Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Jeff Bingaman (D.-N.M.), Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Sen. Hutchison’s office did not return messages requesting comment.
Hunter said Hutchison’s provision lead to a “watered-down” version of the bill and he said he was disappointed that officials at Homeland Security opted not to follow the original mandate.
“I think Homeland Security has failed in its job here to build the double-border fence and I think that they’ve failed at a really bad time,” Hunter said. “They took the easy way out and made the border less secure and less safe.”
“We aren’t fulfilling our role as a Congress to provide security for the American people without securing that southern border,” he added.
The GAO report was sent to congressional committees on January 29. The report focused on determining how many additional miles of border fencing could have been built if funds had been used to construct fencing instead of SBInet, a multi-billion dollar program aimed at securing the border through use of advanced technologies.
Construction of the border fence was originally supposed to be completed by December 31, 2008, but complications in property and cost issues have delayed the project by a few months, according to the report.
Hunter expressed concern that the threats of illegal immigration, drug traffickers and terrorism has not lead to a more immediate solution to the nation’s porous southern border.
“Every terrorist knows that the way to get into America is through the southern border,” he said. “It’s a travesty to me that the last administration, after 9/11, that the border was not immediately secured. It’s a national security issue. We ought to know who is coming into the country and what they’re bringing with them.”