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Taking O’Fence

April 08, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

Editorial pages are alight with the news that the Department of Homeland Security will exercise a provision of border security legislation which allows it to waive all laws and treaties – national, state, local, and international – in order to build the border fence walling off Mexico.  Nowhere is the denunciation of the waiver law and the fence itself more prominent than in the President’s home state of Texas.  But other states, some far from the border, are getting in on the act.  Even papers with extremely conservative editorial pages are speaking out against the fence, laughing at the fence, or saying it isn’t going to help much in the absence of immigration reform.  Here are some examples:

Arizona Republic: Rep. Raul Grijalva’s response to Michael Chertoff’s decision to waive the legal process to build the border fence: “With the stroke of his pen, he overturns 36 laws - some of which have been protecting our resources and our health for more than a century - in an area stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.” He’s right. The fence, which won’t stop illegal immigration, is a high-cost PR stunt that makes defense contractors salivate. – “The border fence is a PR stunt, not impediment to migration, April 2, 2008 

Austin American-Statesman: Constructing a fence with its open-ended costs - the price of initial construction plus eternal upkeep - is no substitute for adopting true immigration reform, but then elected officials happy with show over substance must figure it’s close enough for government work. Congress has been unable to muster the will to adopt immigration reform, despite repeated posturing over the severity of the problem. It’s a severe problem, all right, just not severe enough for Congress to find a solution. – Border fence stretching boundaries of federal arrogance,” April 4, 2008

Boston Globe: The southern border fence intended to keep out illegal immigrants is no longer just wasteful and stupid. Now it is harmful as well. – “Immigration: A bad policy gets worse,” April 7, 2008

Colorado Springs Gazette: Immigrants will pour into this country, with or without a fence, and it has little to do with their own wants and needs. They’ll come here because we pay them to. Period. When we no longer need them - and no longer pay them to fix roofs and pick grapes - they’ll stay home. A fence is no match against economic demand and human will. The fence will hold out immigrants like a dam of chewed gum would hold back Lake Pontchartrain.  The symbolic fence will embarrass the United States, because we pay immigrants far more than minimum wage to work here. It’s like a pricey ski village erecting a fence, giving the finger to workers who travel from trailer parks to run the ski lifts.  Smart conservatives will view the fence as a simplistic symbol of animosity. They’ll embrace the fact that immigrant workers, in a free market, are assets. They provide labor and therefore prosperity. – Immigrant Wall: Shrine Of Shame,” April 3, 2008

Dallas Morning News: Anyone looking at a map of the fence, especially in Texas, can see that most of the border will remain open. And the land chosen for the federal right-of-way is provoking additional skepticism. The fence will divide the University of Texas campus in Brownsville, for example, but it bypasses border property owned by individuals with close White House ties. – “Border fence’s partial solution,” April 4, 2008

El Paso Times: It’s bad enough that the Bush administration, through its surrogate, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, has chosen to circumvent United States law in its obsessive drive to have 670 miles of border fencing in place by the end of the year.  But on top of that, Chertoff waived a law that required a final report on the impact the fence would have on the U.S.-Mexico border environment. That means even if the feds find that there would be some catastrophic impact from the border fence, they wouldn’t be required to tell anyone.  That is both absurd and dangerous. – “Trampling the law: Chertoff waves waivers at border residents,” April 4, 2008

Houston Chronicle: The waiver was initially promoted by congressional supporters as a limited exception designed to give federal officials flexibility in speeding the completion of a segment of fencing across environmentally sensitive wetlands near San Diego. Unfortunately, as with so many other instances in which the Bush administration has asserted the right to ignore laws it found inconvenient, the waiver now is being used as an all-purpose bludgeon to flatten dozens of environmental and property rights statutes. – “Bulldozing the laws,” April 4, 2008

Lompoc Record (CA): Here’s what it means to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room:  Last Tuesday - April Fool’s Day - U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff announced the federal government would be flexing its considerable musculature to waive the rules with regard to protecting the environment, so the government could complete its 670-mile anti-immigrant fence along the U.S./Mexico border… So, our federal government decides to thumb its nose at local rules and laws, essentially telling states and private property owners that, no, they really don’t have any rights when it comes to government expediency. – “Big Brother in full flex,” April 6, 2008

Lufkin Daily News (TX)The government’s willingness to run roughshod over its own laws in order to address a panic stirred more by hyperbolic demagogues than by facts is another example of the ways that Americans are allowing hard-fought gains in everything from personal privacy to environmental protection to be eroded by fear. – Above the Law? Border fence builders riding the waivers,” April 4, 2008

New York Times: Will this stop or slow illegal immigration? No. Long experience has shown that billions of barricade-building dollars will simply shift some of the flow to more remote parts of the 2,000-mile southern border. And no amount of border fence will keep out the 40 percent of illegal immigrants who enter legally then stay too long. – “Michael Chertoff’s Insult,” April 3, 2008

San Antonio Express-News: Border security is important, but it is hard to imagine a fence shutting out those wanting to enter our country, terrorists or immigrants.  Whatever the efficacy of the fence itself, the structure shouldn’t trump concerns about the environment or the historical integrity of the region. Border mayors, however, should not be surprised by the latest move; federal officials have shown a monumental arrogance toward the pleas of border communities. –“Border fence waivers show feds’ arrogance,” April 4, 2008

San Diego Union-Tribune: To recap, we’re doing all this to defend our territorial sovereignty and illustrate that rules are to be followed. So naturally, the first chance it gets, the government tramples the sovereignty of individuals who oppose fencing on their property and brushes aside the rules.  – “Simple solutions,” April 3, 2008

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: The spokesman for the Sierra Club in Texas responded that the waivers “pulled the carpet out from under the community participation.” We can’t help but feel that that was precisely the point of these waivers: Back off, America. This land ain’t your land. – “U.S.-Mexico Border: Building it anyway,” April 6, 2008

Tucson CitizenArchaeological treasures, ancient Indian graves, clean drinking water and fragile lands clearly don’t matter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Such sensitive, federally protected features of our borderlands must not delay completion of a 700-mile border fence, he insisted Tuesday. Chertoff’s decision to waive 36 federal laws is an outrage, as is his callous disregard of entire communities in southern Arizona and elsewhere along the border. Congress gave him permission in 2005 to waive federal laws, and Congress now needs to revoke that atrociously flawed authority. – “The futile fence,” April 4, 2008

Waco Tribune: If Congress fixed the nation’s broken-down immigration service so foreign workers matched with U.S. employers could enter the United States legally and employers could be punished for breaking hiring laws, there would be no need for partial fences or an order to ignore the antiquities act, the farmland protection act, the clean water act, the noise control act and a host of laws…Let’s hope the upcoming presidential election puts a stop to the border fence fiasco. – “Waivers for border fence unjustified,” April 7, 2008

Watertown Daily Times (NY)The waivers allow construction to go ahead before the assessments are completed. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the agency will continue to seek public input on the potential impact of the construction. By then, though, irreparable damage may be done for a project that has met intense opposition and the value of which remains questionable. – “Fence waivers,” April 4, 2008

Winston-Salem Journal (NC)But the issue of this fence goes beyond environmental concerns. The University of Texas at Brownsville will have the fence cut through campus. Landowners in the area say the fence will intrude on their private property and interfere with their access to water for their herds.  Chertoff is wrong to be pushing through these waivers at this time, which is not to say that the fence is not needed. Security along the southern border is needed, but so is common sense and a willingness to work with people. – “Silly fence,” April 4, 2008

Yuma Sun (AZ)It is an old story. Congress doesn’t mind making other citizens comply with its rules, as long as the government itself can get a pass. It shows a basic disrespect for the rights of the people… Dare we hope lawmakers will see their own dishonesty and also free Americans of the environmental quagmire? Nope. What is good for them isn’t good for us. The arrogance is palpable. – Skirting of rules shows hypocrisy of government,” April 4, 2008

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