Do you know the story of the Incredible Disappearing Border Fence? It's an object lesson in gesture politics and homeland insecurity. It's a tale of hollow rhetoric, meaningless legislation and bipartisan betrayal. And in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, it's a helpful learning tool as you assess the promises of immigration enforcement converts now running for president.
Last fall, Democrats and Republicans in Washington responded to continued public outrage over border chaos by passing the "Secure Fence Act." Did you question the timing? You should have. It's no coincidence they finally got off their duffs to respond just before the 2006 midterm elections. Lawmakers vowed grandiosely to keep America safe. The law specifically called for "at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras and sensors" at five specific stretches of border totaling approximately 700 miles.
GOP leaders patted themselves on the back for their toughness. President Bush made a huge to-do in signing the bill into law. Never mind the lack of funding for the fence and the failure to address many other immediate reforms that could have been adopted immediately to strengthen immigration enforcement, close deportation loopholes and provide systemic relief at the border without the need for a single brick or bulldozer.
On the very day the bill was signed, open-borders politicians were already moving to water it down. Texas Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn pushed for "flexibility to choose other options instead of fencing, if needed." Six months after passage of the Secure Fence Act -- now interpreted by Washington as the Flexible Non-Fence Act or, as I call it, the FINO (Fence in Name Only) Act -- 700 miles shrunk to "somewhere in the ballpark" of 370 miles. A 14-mile fence-building project in San Diego was stalled for years by environmental legal challenges and budget shortfalls. The first deadline -- a May 30, 2007 requirement for installation of an "interlocking surveillance camera system" along the border in California and Arizona -- passed unmet. GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, one of the few Republican presidential candidates to walk the talk on border security, blasted the Bush administration for suffering from "a case of 'the slows' on border enforcement."
More than a year after the law's passage, the citizen watchdog group Grassfire reports that just five miles of double-layer fencing has been built in the first 12 months of implementation of the act. Five lousy miles. The Government Accountability Office claims 70 miles were erected -- but most of that fencing failed to meet the specifications of the law.
Is Congress up in arms? Will there be accountability? Don't make me snort. Instead of demanding that the law be enforced, the pols are sabotaging the law. As part of the omnibus spending package passed this week, House Democrats incorporated Senate Republicans' provisions to remove the two-layer fencing requirements and the specific target list of fencing locations.
GOP Rep. Peter T. King, who sponsored the Secure Fence Act, told the Washington Times: "This is either a blatant oversight or a deliberate attempt to disregard the border security of our country. As it's currently written, the omnibus language guts the Secure Fence Act almost entirely. Quite simply, it is unacceptable."
But so totally, totally predictable.
GOP Majority Leader John Boehner tried to blame the House Democrat majority: "The fact that this was buried in a bloated, 3,500-page omnibus speaks volumes about the Democrats' unserious approach on border security and illegal immigration," he said. "Gutting the Secure Fence Act will make our borders less secure, but it's consistent with the pattern of behavior we've seen all year from this majority." But it's border state Republicans who've been gunning to undermine the law while the ink was still fresh.
To add insult to injury and homeland insecurity upon homeland insecurity, Congress failed to adopt a ban on federal aid to sanctuary cities that prevent government employees and law enforcement officers from asking about immigration status; voted to stall implementation of stricter ID standards at border crossings; and miraculously found enough money to provide $10 million in "emergency" funding for attorneys of illegal aliens.
Next time you hear a leading presidential candidate try to woo you with his nine-point immigration enforcement plan or his secure ID plan or his Secure Borders platform, point to the Incredible Disappearing Border Fence. Poof! That is what happens to election-season homeland security promises. Why would theirs be any different?
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