To date, there have been 270 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing constructed along the Southwest border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a Tuesday briefing to reporters about progress being made to secure the border.
By the end of 2008 Chertoff said he expects to have 670 miles of border barriers erected, as long as Congress continues to appropriate money for construction.
“I sometimes get asked, why does it take so long to build fencing?” Chertoff said. “There's a reason for that: You don't build fence a mile at a time.” He listed preparation work like surveying and grading land that must be done before installing fence. Chertoff said, “Only at the end do you see an escalation towards the goal that we reached in the last fiscal year. And that is, in fact, what you're going to see as we go forward.”
Since border fence construction began, DHS has been challenged by environmental groups, like Lawyers for Defending Wildlife and the Sierra Club, that claim barriers hurt wildlife and wetlands. Chertoff has used waiver authority granted to him by Congress to trumps local environmental laws in order to install fences in Arizona and California. In some cases, Chertoff said DHS erected temporary river barriers that could be removed during flood season or special gates that “do not permit the spread of invasive weeds or result in storm water pollution” to appease environmentalists.
He has not yet been forced to use his waiver authority in Texas, but said he would not hesitate to do so.
“The bottom line is this,” Chertoff said. “We will continue to use the authority that Congress gave this department in a way that’s sensitive to local concerns, that is mindful of the need to protect the environment, but that does not allow the process of securing the border to get bogged down in endless litigation or procedural wrangling that will result in years going by before we complete the mission.”
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