By Jerry Seper
April 21, 2008
A coalition of Texas mayors, county judges and economic development commissioners is joining a federal lawsuit challenging Department of Homeland Security efforts to build 153 miles of fencing along the Texas-Mexico border.The Texas Border Coalition (TBC), whose membership collectively represents more than 6 million people who live along the state's southern border, cited the lack of consultation required under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2007 as the principle reason for the legal challenge.
"Sadly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly ignored TBC's pleas for cooperation and coordination among federal, state and local governments in order to foster smart, effective border security measures," said Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, the coalition's chairman."We are joining this lawsuit to protect the interests of communities across Texas and to minimize the impact the border wall will have on our environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life," Mr. Foster said.
The coalition is joining in a lawsuit brought last week against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff by Cameron County landowner Eloisa Tamez. A federal judge has not yet certified the suit as a class action.The suit challenges the way Homeland Security officials have sought the rights to build a 15-foot-high fence, using lawsuits to gain access to survey land along the border. Eagle Pass was the first city to be sued for access, and a federal judge has ordered it to open its property to surveyors.
The federal government has since brought separate lawsuits against more than 50 South Texas landowners.Los Angeles lawyer Peter Schey, president and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation, filed the suit for Mrs. Tamez and property owner Benito Garcia after U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen denied her motion to dismiss a pending condemnation suit. Judge Hanen has ordered her to give the government access to 3 acres of her land.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner has steadfastly maintained that there should be "no ambiguity about the department's top priority ... securing the homeland," adding that the department has "championed" a combination of traditional fencing, manpower and technology to help meet the goal."Customs and Border Patrol agents have been working diligently to reach out to and work with state and local officials, leaders and landowners all along the Southwest border," she said, adding that Homeland Security officials have held more than 18 town-hall sessions and more than 600 meetings with landowners.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for the construction of 745 miles of double-layered reinforced fencing on the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, along with physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras and sensors to establish "operational control."Homeland Security has since whittled down the project, saying it now plans to build 370 miles of single-tier pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers by the end of this year. The new figures are based on "operational assessments" by the Border Patrol, which identified where new fences would better secure the border.
The border coalition has said that Homeland Security is focused solely on building a fence and did not respond to its concerns about its effect on the environment, whether landowners would lose access to their property and whether there was an alternative to its construction. It also said the department failed to answer inquiries on whether the fence would disrupt the "binational way of life" on the border.http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080421/NATION/237251976/1002&template=nextpage