Two weeks ago, DoD posted a 25-page primer of the personnel system’s proposed human capital components. The document defines key terms and the system’s compensation structure, staffing flexibilities and performance management components.
DoD originally had wanted to begin implementing NSPS last month, but delayed the personnel system until Feb. 1, 2006. A coalition of federal unions, led by the American Federation of Government Employees, is seeking to derail the personnel system. (See DoD DELAYS NSPS UNTIL FEBRUARY at http://www.fednews-online.com/view_publication.aspx?publicationId=8618.)
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will begin hearing the case Jan. 24, 2006.
The slides can be found at http://www.cpms.osd.mil/nsps/benefits_hre.html.
DFAS jobs coming sooner
ROME — The federal government has shortened its timetable for adding nearly 600 new jobs to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in the Griffiss Business and Technology Park, U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert said Thursday.
The military accounting service office should add 226 new jobs next year and 343 in 2007, said Boehlert, R-New Hartford.
Boehlert's comments represent the first specific timetable for future growth at the accounting service. They show the bulk of new jobs would be added in the next two years, and not drawn out over three years as initially expected.
In August, workers feared their center would be shut down amid a nationwide consolidation effort, but they instead learned they'd gain more than 600 colleagues.
Local residents are expected to fill the majority of positions, Boehlert said. Hiring should begin between April and June, officials said.
Mickey Consilio, owner of a restaurant that draws a healthy lunch crowd from the accounting center, is looking forward to the first hires. The owner of Mickey's Café on Floyd Avenue predicted the jobs will stay here for the long term.
"It's just encouraging to see stuff like this happening," Consilio said.
He remembered the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voting to shutter Griffiss Air Force Base in 1993, a decision that cost about 4,500 jobs. Twelve years later, the commission added the accounting jobs.
Steve Beckley, supervisory public affairs specialist for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis, declined to comment. Boehlert said he received his information from Zack E. Gaddy, the national Defense Finance and Accounting Service director.
"I'm ecstatic," Boehlert said. "If you don't see positive steps in any direction you look in Oneida County, you're blind."
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service will spend $1.25 million to reconfigure Rome's facilities, Boehlert said.
Rome's site has roughly 380 employees. An additional 75 are expected to join in 2008, as of now.
"Everyone's upbeat," said Ed Abounader, president of DFAS-Rome Local 201 of the American Federation of Government Employees. "People are really enthusiastic about the new folks coming."
Immigration laws largely unenforced in nation's interior
Mason Stockstill, Staff Writer
San Bernardino County Sun
Border Patrol agents have an unofficial adage about the undocumented immigrants they see crossing illegally into the United States.
For each one they catch, they say, three more make it through unscathed.
The agents aren't to blame, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. With so many migrants desperate for better lives, the tide of humanity simply overwhelms the agents.
"Blame our system," Bonner said. "Blame our system that allows people to cross the border and get jobs here."
Once undocumented immigrants are in the country, the story changes. Because the vast majority of the Border Patrol's resources are directly along the United States' international borders, the question arises: Who's enforcing immigration law in the nation's interior?
The answer, in many ways, is no one.
Organizational changes that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks fractured the federal government's immigration responsibilities among several agencies. Additionally, the diversity, geographic distribution and sheer number of illegal immigrants already here makes any effort at simply rounding them up next to impossible.
Just a few thousand officers work for the agency charged with deporting criminal aliens, and an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are in the country. And those immigrants have support networks made up of friends, family and advocacy groups that help them find work and avoid capture.
Faced with the often negative consequences of massive illegal immigration unlicensed drivers on the road, employers violating minimum-wage requirements, uninsured patients using emergency rooms some local law-enforcement agencies are taking up the mantle of enforcing immigration law themselves.
Until recently, that step was all but unheard of. But many officials who have taken up enforcement offer the same explanation: The federal government isn't doing enough, and someone's got to pick up the slack.
Focus on criminals
Immigration enforcement in the nation's interior is the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement one of three agencies created from the ashes of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was dismantled in 2003.
The INS was involved in finding illegal immigrants of all stripes, but ICE's focus is on criminal aliens. The agency's programs include deporting immigrant sex offenders, finding undocumented employees at sensitive workplaces and working against human smuggling, money laundering, document fraud and other international crimes. ICE also includes some functions tangential to immigration, such as the Federal Protective Service, which handles security at government buildings.
ICE is in the midst of an ambitious effort dubbed Endgame, which has as its goal the deportation of all "removable aliens" in the United States by 2012.
A removable alien is, theoretically, anyone who entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa. But in practice, ICE's Detention and Removal Office focuses mostly on those who have committed crimes or been ordered deported by an immigration judge.
ICE's various enforcement efforts with names like Operation Predator, ICE Storm and No Safe Haven have been successful at targeting criminal aliens. Thousands of sex offenders, weapons smugglers and human traffickers have been arrested and deported in the two years since ICE was formed. Additionally, marriage scams to help immigrants obtain illicit green cards and workers at the Department of Motor Vehicles offering licenses in exchange for bribes also have been exposed.
But deporting every illegal immigrant in the country is next to impossible, as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. "It would take billions and billions and billions of dollars to do it," he said.
The current removal efforts are minuscule compared with the total number of illegal immigrants here. ICE removed roughly 200,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2003 and about the same amount in 2004. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States at close to 11 million.
At least one study found the total might be so high partly because of relatively strict enforcement along the nation's borders. Princeton professor Douglas Massey says that when it's harder to cross the border into the United States, illegal immigrants who make it across are more likely to remain here longer, rather than risking multiple trips back and forth.
"Not only have U.S. policies failed to deter Mexicans from migrating to the United States, they have promoted a more rapid growth of the nation's undocumented population," Massey wrote in a study for the libertarian Cato Institute earlier this year.
For police and sheriff's departments in border states, the situation presents a quandary. Many law-enforcement agencies have standing policies that bar officers from inquiring about anyone's immigration status during the course of their regular duties.
The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has maintained such a policy since 1979. Then-Chief Daryl Gates believed undocumented immigrants wouldn't report crimes if they feared police could have them deported after doing so.
Now, however, the population of illegal immigrants has exploded, and some local agencies, believing the federal government has fallen down on the job of enforcing immigration law, are looking for ways to do it themselves.
Getting it done locally
San Bernardino County is one of three counties in California where officials are getting ICE training in how to check for deportable illegal immigrants in local jails. The federal agency performs jail checks on a regular basis but not frequently enough to catch everyone, a spokeswoman said.
"The fact is, those facilities have significant turnover," said ICE's Virginia Kice. "Because of that, it's possible we are not identifying every deportable criminal alien going through those jails."
Los Angeles County has been participating in the program for several months, under ICE's supervision, and Riverside County plans to follow suit. San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod believes the program will save his jails close to $1 million each month.
Although illegal immigrants won't be deported immediately after they're identified, having an accurate accounting of how many undocumented aliens the counties have jailed will make it easier to get more money from the federal government, said Carolyn Bondoc, a financial manager for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Federal reimbursements are available for local agencies that hold illegal immigrants in jails. Pending legislation would allocate $950 million for the program next year, though nationwide, such costs are estimated at $2 billion annually.
"There are more and more agencies that are applying for (federal) money," Bondoc said. "We're not getting full reimbursement not even half."
In Florida and Alabama, state police have reached agreements with ICE that go one step further. A handful of officers in both states have gone through training with ICE and have become certified to enforce federal immigration laws, meaning they can arrest undocumented immigrants simply for being here illegally.
Officials said those officers aren't conducting raids on agricultural fields or labor camps, trying to root out anyone and everyone here illegally. They're mostly taking illegal immigrants encountered during the course of criminal investigations into custody themselves, instead of calling ICE and waiting for federal agents to respond, said E.J. Picolo of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Calling the program a success in his state, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican, wants to expand it throughout the country, because ICE's limited enforcement personnel can't patrol all of the United States.
"There is no way those 2,000 officers can ever adequately patrol our streets for immigration violators and do a good job of handling these problems," Sessions said on the Senate floor this summer. "But we have 750,000 state and local law-enforcement officers who are on our streets and in our communities every single day."
Even if they don't choose to enforce immigration law, local police and sheriff's departments are still dealing with the effects of weak borders.
Some illegal immigrants commit new crimes after entering the United States like trespassing on border ranches, stealing food or turning to prostitution to survive. Some commit more serious crimes, like sexual assault or murder. Others make easy targets for thieves and scam artists because new immigrants often are afraid to contact authorities out of fear of deportation.
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, wants the Department of Homeland Security to cover the cost of hiring additional deputies for sheriff's departments in border towns. He said local law-enforcement agencies need more resources to deal with crimes caused by illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.
The problem is acute in the Texas border town of Laredo, Culberson said, where drug cartels with superior firepower terrorize residents in the United States and Mexico.
"The sheriff and the local authorities are outgunned and overmatched," the congressman said on the House floor.
Culberson also has legislation pending that would allow the governor of any border state to create an armed citizens' militia empowered to prevent illegal border crossings.
In California, Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, isn't waiting for that proposal to get off the ground. He's launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative that would create the California Border Police, a statewide law-enforcement agency with immigration violators as its only focus.
"Quite simply, it's going to do what the federal government's not doing, and that is comprehensively enforce immigration laws in the state of California," Haynes said.
Haynes envisions a police force of up to 3,000 officers who work in the interior of the state, as well as at the border and other ports of entry.
The Border Police would cost millions to start up and operate. But Haynes said California would recoup its money, and then some, by no longer paying for services used by illegal immigrants, such as free public education or food stamps.
"We would basically have nine dollars in social-welfare savings for every one dollar in costs of enforcement," estimated Haynes, who hopes to have the initiative on the ballot in 2006.
Other agencies across the country have tried more creative moves. A county in southern Idaho unsuccessfully attempted to sue several companies for hiring illegal immigrants earlier this year.
Regular citizens are itching to get involved, too. ICE receives thousands of calls each month to its hot line, (866) 347-2423, where callers can report illegal immigrants, human smugglers, employers hiring undocumented workers and other immigration-law violations.
Hundreds of regular people have already gotten involved through the much-hyped Minuteman patrols, a civilian project that stationed volunteers along various sections of the nation's border. Their intent is to assist the Border Patrol in finding those crossing into the country illegally.
Even if the Minuteman effort accomplished little other than increased media attention and a temporary slowdown in border crossings near Arizona, the group's leaders say the movement showed growing frustration over what they see as the government's failed policies.
"This is a cavalier attitude our lawmakers have taken that has jeopardized our security and put our country at risk," said Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project. "America is not interested in rhetoric or empty promises. Americans are interested in results, and we will not stop until those results are realized."
Mixed Messages: Agents see losing battle, backward policies
Sara A. Carter, Staff Writer
San Bernardino County Sun
The smuggler wasn't difficult to spot. He sat high on a hillside at a place called Cap Rock, large binoculars in hand, watching U.S. Border Patrol agents below as they policed the Mexican border near San Diego.
His technique is blatant, but it is the modus operandi used by thousands of smugglers along the nearly 2,000-mile southern U.S. border. They no longer hide.
In Arizona, along the Sonoran desert, illegal immigrants pelt Border Patrol agents' vehicles with large rocks. And on occasion, agents have had armed showdowns with Mexican military, who they believe work for drug cartels in border towns along the frontier.
Even in Puerto Rico, where migrants enter by boat and not by foot, illegal immigrants aggressively confront border agents after making it past the U.S. Coast Guard. Boatloads of immigrants rush the shoreline like soldiers – and fight the few agents who patrol the desolate beaches of Mona Island.
Nico is one of the migrants border agents are trying to keep out.
He's a former convict attempting his sixth crossing into the United States. For Nico, the equation is simple: People enter illegally because they know their chances of making it inside are better than they are of getting caught.
The migrants are right, Border Patrol agents say.
In November, Nico, who left his native Nicaragua as a teenager, watched border agents closely from an open tunnel leading to San Diego. Hundreds of illegal immigrants have used this same concrete tunnel to make the crossing, he said.
"If you wait long enough, you know what 'la migra' are doing," Nico whispered, using the Spanish term for immigration and border agents. "We figure out their routes, and when they disappear around the bend, we find our way through (the Tijuana Preserves)."
The migrants know what Border Patrol agents already know – resources are limited, agents lack sufficient manpower, and once the crossing takes place, "if you move fast enough ... you can disappear into the streets and into America."
"Many times la migra can't keep up," Nico added.
It's not just illegal immigrants who pose an elusive target for Border Patrol agents. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) shifting policies about border enforcement have patrol employees perpetually wondering which end is up, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents border agents.
Mixed messages from the White House, DHS officials and high-ranking personnel at Border Patrol field offices have trickled down to the personnel on the ground like bad vinegar, many agents say.
"There was no direction in the aftermath of 9/11," Bonner said. "We expected to see a dramatic change, but it never really happened."
'Glorified security guards'
Border Patrol agents used to be able to operate anywhere inside the United States. For the most part, agents stuck close to the border, but they occasionally would assist in immigration raids elsewhere.
That changed in June 2004, when Border Patrol agents out of the Temecula station conducted "roving patrols" from Ontario to northern San Diego County.
After detaining and questioning nearly 11,000 suspected illegal immigrants and deporting a few hundred of them back to their native countries, the department faced angry criticism from immigrant-rights groups.
DHS responded by outlining new operating procedures for border agents. In two memorandums sent in November 2004, agents were told to not patrol the interior of the United States unless assistance was requested by the Office of Investigations, under Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to the memo issued by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner to Chief David Aguilar of the Border Patrol, the Office of Investigations would be the sole primary responder to any immigration violations inside the United States. Border agents only can be involved if the investigation is within their normal patrol area.
"The problem is the (Office of Investigations) only investigates what it has to, and ICE never answers any of our calls," said an Arizona border agent who spoke under condition of anonymity. "We were no longer able to patrol beyond 50 yards. We've become nothing more than glorified security guards."
Although the memo stated agents can assist at the behest of investigators, the official policy of the DHS requires written approval from the national level before border agents are approved to patrol inside the country.
"It's the equivalent of running a goal-line defense," said Andy Ramirez, head of the Chino-based Friends of the Border Patrol. He compared the agents on the border to football players in a losing game. "It makes no sense at all."
Many agents along the Arizona, Texas and New Mexico borders also say they are frustrated with DHS officials who have not taken their pleas for help seriously.
Ignoring the situation has only made the border more dangerous, said the Arizona agent.
"We do not have the support we need out here," he said. "These aren't just innocent migrants crossing the border, but dangerous criminals. There isn't enough of us to ensure they're not getting in – and believe me, a lot of them are."
"Our agents have been attacked on numerous occasions," added Nicholas Coates, an agent in the Border Patrol's San Diego sector. "A couple of agents have lost their lives in these mountains. It's a dangerous job."
It's a game of "cat and mouse," said Brett Booth, another San Diego-sector agent, "and the mice are winning."
Serving two masters?
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, illegal immigration and the Border Patrol's enforcement procedures have sparked lively conversations across the country, from Capitol Hill to Inland Empire dinner tables.
It hasn't all been just talk. This year alone, thousands of citizens nationwide volunteered for civilian border watch groups. The volunteers patrolled several locations, from the northern Michigan border to the Sonoran desert, hoping to assist agents in the capture of illegal immigrants.
"American citizens are fed up," said Jim Gilchrist of Orange County, a co-founder of the Minuteman civilian border watch group. "Border agents have been left out to dry by an administration that isn't doing a thing to solve the very dangerous situation brewing at the border."
Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for the DHS, said the complications are the result of the department's formation in 2003, when the Border Patrol was reorganized along with the former U.S. Customs Office and the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service. Agents are still learning to adjust to different routines and policies under the new department – and, as Agen said, "sometimes that's difficult.
"Certainly, any time you create a brand-new agency, and the issues you're dealing with are of such importance, it takes time for things to meld into shape," he said. "The first few years of DHS was a learning experience for everyone."
For its part, the department in recent months has taken numerous steps to improve border security. Hundreds of new officers have been assigned to the Arizona sectors, and the Border Patrol now has 40 aircraft available, up from 18, Aguilar said.
That includes unmanned aerial vehicles, which have led to greater surveillance capabilities, he said. Officials hope to deploy the drones along other parts of the border.
Also, as part of the recently unveiled Border Security Initiative, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff plans to close the three-mile gap in the 14-mile border fence near San Diego. Environmental concerns had held up that portion of the fence for years.
The Border Patrol already uses high-tech equipment – cameras, infrared sensors and motion detectors – to help agents focus more closely on areas where potential illegal immigrants are crossing into the country. Chertoff wants to beef up that capability as well.
"There is a next generation of technology. There are more advanced sensors. ... We want to look at the possibility of satellite technology as enhancing our ability to get greater visibility about what's going on on the border," Chertoff said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. "Some of the stuff the military uses out in the field is adaptable, perhaps, as well, to what we're doing here."
In a November speech about immigration in Tucson, Ariz., President Bush announced his plan for a guest worker program coupled with tighter border security enforcement. Many saw it as an attempt to satisfy both his business supporters, who believe foreign workers help the economy, and his conservative backers, who take a hard line on illegal immigration.
The president aimed his remarks at those conservatives, emphasizing his proposals to secure the border, hire 1,000 more agents and enforce laws on employers who hire illegal immigrants. "I mean, our employers in America have an obligation not to hire illegal immigrants," Bush said. "Many of those immigrants, by the way, use forged documents."
The speech was just the latest verbal twist in a series of mixed messages coming from federal authorities. In fact, it appeared to contradict Homeland Security policy.
A memorandum issued to directors of Customs and Border Protection after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in October asked border agents to make exceptions for illegal immigrants hired to perform relief work.
"If the individual is not in possession of the appropriate passport and visa, the documentary requirements will be waived without fee," the memorandum states.
Border Patrol agents were told that even immigrants from countries of special interest – those with ties to terrorism, such as Iraq, Pakistan and Cuba – were to be given an I-94, a nonimmigrant entry document, allowing them to enter the country as relief workers, as long as they did not pose a terrorist threat.
"Basically, it was a free pass into the United States," said Ramirez of Friends of the Border Patrol. "All you have to do if you're an illegal is say you're here to work with Hurricane Katrina relief."
The president's November speech was viewed with apprehension by many legislators who don't expect to see much change.
"While I applaud the president for hiring more Border Patrol agents, I have to ask why he didn't do it years ago," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., an outspoken opponent of the president's guest worker proposal. He noted that Congress last year approved the hiring of 10,000 new Border Patrol agents, but the president's budget only included funding for a few hundred.
"I am cautiously optimistic that he'll get it right this time, and provide the necessary resources to gain control of our border," Tancredo said.
Policy vs. reality
In recent years, immigration-related talk in Washington has ranged from the controversial guest worker program to the definition of "amnesty" to the 9-11 Commission's recommendations on how to prevent another terrorist attack. Other ideas, such as merging U.S. Customs and Border Protection with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have been gaining momentum in Washington.
Trapped in the center of these debates are the thousands of men and women patrolling the borders. Many of them say that while politicians and other officials in Washington go back and forth on policy proposals, the reality on the ground offers harsh lessons.
Agents recite a litany of causes they perceive as the real reasons border enforcement is so problematic: They have been told to back off from arresting migrants because of pressure from Mexican officials. They release numerous illegal immigrants inside the United States because there's no room for them in detention centers. They've had their powers taken from them by laws that protect illegal migrants and smugglers more than American citizens.
"A lot of times, we risk our lives chasing a group being guided by a smuggler," said Booth, the San Diego agent. "And for what? If it's an American citizen, we can't do much of anything ... We might give him a ride to a casino. Other than that, we release them after two hours."
According to Congressman Gary Miller, R-Brea, the situation on the border poses a significant national security risk.
"There are many issues I agree with our president on," Miller said. "But open borders with another guest worker program, I do not. Our border agents shouldn't have to feel abandoned – their jobs are vitally important to ensuring our security. They are our first line of defense."
Miller helped author the Real I.D. Act, which will create electronically readable, federally approved I.D. cards for Americans in the next three years.
T.J. Bonner, of the Border Patrol union, said politicians are too focused on plans such as the I.D. cards while ignoring the reality facing agents.
"It's the same old list of frustrating policies," he said. "We've had field agents told to sit in the same spot on patrol and told not go after illegal aliens even if they're only a few yards from them. These directives are always by word of mouth from their field office, and not written policy."
Last month, the Border Patrol agent from Arizona spotted 20 illegal immigrants attempting to enter the country from Mexico. They were all crammed into a single truck.
As usual, the agent said, he was patrolling the open border alone.
"I move east," he said. "The illegals move west. And we keep this going for hours, until I can no longer see them."
That day, the truck moved behind a hill and out of the agent's line of sight. Less than half an hour later, it was spotted heading down an Arizona highway by state police, who called it into the Border Patrol field office.
But it already was too late. By the time the truck had reached the highway, the agent no longer had authority to follow and capture the migrants. State police did not have a legal reason to stop the car. The illegal immigrants went free.
"We can see them, but we can't do a thing. How insane is that?" the agent asked.
Bonner said it's part of a larger trend.
"The administration dances to the tune of big business," he said. "Our agents are left to fend for themselves, and our borders are wide open.
"In all reality, it is as if the government does not want to enforce its own laws."
U.S. House OKs construction of 700-mile fence along U.S. border
El Paso Times
Saturday, December 17, 2005
El Paso could get a border fence in less than two years --two layers of reinforced fencing with lights, cameras and sensors that many critics are calling a wall.
The House voted Thursday to add an amendment to the immigration bill HR4437 calling for the 700-mile fence to be built in five sections, leaving roughly 1,300 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border between the unfenced sections. One section would start five miles west of the Columbus, N.M., port of entry and end 10 miles east of El Paso.
The bill, called the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, passed the House late Friday 239-182. Congress was still struggling over other aspects of the bill.
But Friday, the fence amendment was already rallying critics in El Paso.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, voted against the proposal, saying it went overboard. "While in the Border Patrol, I supported limited strategic fencing along the border in specific situations," said Reyes, a former chief of the Border Patrol in El Paso. "This plan to construct hundreds of miles of border fence, however, is impractical, and I think would prove to be a waste of federal dollars."
The fence amendment does not say how much such a project would cost. It calls for construction to be completed by May 30, 2007. An earlier deadline, Dec. 31, 2006, was assigned to a section around Laredo where violence erupted recently.
Immigrants' advocates and a Border Patrol union said the fence wouldn't work.
"These aliens will walk for days through the desert. They'll climb mountains to get into the United States. If there's a fence, they'll go over, underneath or through it," or around it, said Rich Pierce, executive vice president of the National Border Patrol Council.
The union supports efforts to go after employers of undocumented immigrants, something the proposed bill does not cover.
But El Pasoan Ken Muise disagreed. Muise joined the Texas Minutemen and still patrols the riverbank near Fabens since the group left the area in November.
"I think it's long overdue. Just take a look at what it did in Israel. They built a state-of-the-art wall, and it has cut their terrorist bombings by 95 percent," Muise said.
Ouisa Davis, executive director of the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, said the focus should be on finding legal ways for immigrants to work in the United States, where their services are needed. The creation of a guest worker program, an initiative supported by President Bush and at least two pending measures, is not part of the proposed bill.
Border fence bashed as 'bunch of baloney'
Web Posted: 12/17/2005 12:00 AM CST
Express-News Staff Writer
A House proposal that would build 700 miles of fence along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border was criticized Friday in South Texas as ineffective and, in simpler terms, "a bunch of baloney."
There was no mincing of words with some elected border officials, who said the bill would be a waste of taxpayer's money to the tune of $2.2 billion.
Laredo Mayor Betty Flores, known for her outspokenness on border issues, didn't even want to comment on the legislation.
A city spokeswoman said the mayor was confident the proposal never would make it into law.
"She doesn't want to raise alarm in the community," Xochitl Mora said. "Even if it should pass the House, we're confident it would be killed in the Senate."
The fence proposal is an amendment to a larger immigration bill the House continued to hammer out Friday. A final vote on the bill was expected late Friday or today.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced the amendment into the immigration bill late Thursday, saying he wants to copy the success of a 14-mile fence in the San Diego area.
Hunter referred to the amendment as "a great humanitarian aspect" of the efforts to curtail illegal immigration, and said that building 15 miles of fence on each side of Laredo would be a priority. The fence eventually would extend east to Brownsville.
He said that if the fence is completed before the end of next year, "we will have done great things for the people of America and the good citizens of Nuevo Laredo."
But there was no outpouring of gratitude being expressed Friday in either Laredo or across the border.
Mexico responded by saying that reforms that address only security won't solve the immigration problem.
"It is indispensable to establish legal, secure and ordered migration," President Vicente Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar said. "Our countrymen make an enormous contribution to the United States economy."
This week Fox blasted the United States' persistence in completing a border fence along the Mexico-California border as "disgraceful and shameful." The project had been stalled in legal battles, but a U.S. federal judge gave it the green light Monday.
Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said Friday night that he sees the proposal as part of a process whereby Congress will take up issues such as employer sanctions and guest workers after Jan. 1.
"Nuanced observers know how important security is to us," Garza said in San Antonio, where he delivered the University of Texas-San Antonio commencement address.
Hunter praised the fence Thursday, saying it has reduced the number of killings in the area from 10 a year to none.
"We knocked down the smuggling of both illegal aliens and narcotics to almost zero where that fence was," he said on the House floor.
According to U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., apprehensions near the fence in San Diego dropped from 202,000 a year in 1992 to less than 9,000 by 2004.
But opponents argue smugglers will simply go around a fence, and if they have to, under or over it.
"I just think it's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Del Rio Mayor Dora Alcala said.
Under the House plan, Del Rio would get a two-layer fence extending from 5 miles northwest of the Del Rio international bridge to 5 miles southeast of the Eagle Pass international bridge. Other fences would be placed in Tecate, Calif.; between Calexico, Calif. and Douglas, Ariz.; and between Columbus, N.M. and El Paso.
They are to consist of two layers of reinforced fencing with other additional physical barriers, such as roads, lighting, cameras and sensors. The largest of the fences being proposed is the 361 miles from Calexico to Douglas, Ariz., covering an area that has claimed about 400 deaths a year from thirst in the Arizona deserts.
Raul Casso, chief of staff for Webb County, said that at best, the fence would shift the flow of illegal immigration.
"I just think it's an artificial imposition that makes people in Washington feel better," Casso said.
T.J. Bonner, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, agreed with the South Texas official.
"Once again, desperate people will not be stopped by fences," Bonner said.