Government Says it Must be Completed
Marisa Taylor, SignOnSanDiego, Feb. 27
The U.S. government will find a way to build the final leg of a triple-fenced security zone at the U.S.-Mexico border despite a state commission’s unanimous rejection of the project, a top federal official said yesterday.
Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security in the Department of Homeland Security, said the project is needed to improve border security and to discourage illegal immigration.
“It does need to be completed,” Hutchinson said during a news conference at North Island Naval Air Station. “We will do it in a way that is environmentally sensitive.”
This month, the California Coastal Commission rejected a plan by the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to secure the western edge of the border, saying the fence would harm the environment. The plan would put two new fences and patrol roads in a reserve that drains into a national estuary.
When the final 31/2 miles of the project are completed, the security zone will stretch 14 miles from the Otay Mesa border crossing to the Pacific.
The coastal commission was especially critical of the Border Patrol’s plan to create a 165-foot-tall, half-mile-long earthen bridge across Smuggler’s Gulch, a canyon that crosses the border east of Border Field State Park.
Hutchinson did not say whether his agency would ignore the vote, which could force the commission to try to halt the project in federal court.
However, he indicated his agency would continue to work with the community to find a compromise.
Hutchinson said he witnessed how the fence could reduce immigrant crossings when he visited San Diego as a U.S. attorney in 1982.
“I was out on the border and saw the openness of it at that time,” he said. “The more than quadrupling of Border Patrol presence has helped us, but also the building of that fence has helped us to control this border.”
Yesterday, Hutchinson also defended the Bush administration’s immigration proposal, which would provide temporary legal status to illegal immigrants working in the United States and to others outside the country if they can show they have a job offer.
Calling Bush’s proposal a bold move, Hutchinson said he hadn’t seen any numbers to support the assertion that the proposal has encouraged more immigrants to cross the border.
In an informal Border Patrol survey of illegal immigrants in early January, more than half the 162 people accused of using phony documents to sneak through the San Ysidro port of entry said they were trying to get into the United States because of the Bush plan.
Hutchinson said the numbers don’t necessarily show that more immigrants are crossing. Instead, immigration agents might simply be detecting more people.
“We’re continuing to monitor that, obviously, and we’re also sending a signal, very fervently, that it remains illegal to enter without authorization,” he said.
Hutchinson visited San Diego to commemorate the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, which merged 22 different agencies with 180,000 employees, with 5,000 of them in San Diego.