US customs officials blame border fence delays on litigation and rising costs News
US customs officials blame border fence delays on litigation and rising costs

[JURIST] US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) [official website] officials on Wednesday told Congress [hearing materials] that a 670-mile fence along the US-Mexican border [JURIST news archive] is unlikely to be completed as planned by year's end because of cost increases, technological problems and legal challenges. CPB Commissioner Ralph Basham [official profile] said in prepared testimony [PDF text] before the House Homeland Security Committee [official website] that although 344 miles of fencing had been completed by the end of August, "we face many challenges in achieving our goal." He continued:

As previously noted, escalating construction costs coupled with competition for construction labor, equipment, and materials has resulted in significant fence construction cost increases.

It is also important to note that, cost increases aside, a number of other factors continue to present challenges to achieving our fence construction goals. These include: completing legal actions to acquire private property in Texas, complying with International Boundary and Water Commission requirements along the Rio Grande River, appropriately addressing cultural mitigation issues, and resolving any unforeseen construction challenges that may arise.

To complete the fence, CBP is requesting that $400 million in other homeland security funds be diverted to the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) [DHS fact sheet]. Also at Wednesday's hearing, a Government Accountability Office [official website] analyst testified [PDF text; summary] that key elements of the technology-based component of the project – often called a "virtual fence" [JURIST news archive] – "remain ambiguous and in a continued state of flux, making it unclear and uncertain what technology capabilities will be delivered and when, where, and how they will be delivered." AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage. The Arizona Republic has local coverage.

The border fence, authorized by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 [PDF text; JURIST report], was among initiatives advanced by the Bush administration [JURIST report] to deter illegal immigration [JURIST news archive]. This May, a group of Texas officials and business owners filed a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] to enjoin construction of the fence, claiming the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] had failed to hold fair negotiations with landowners. In April, DHS invoked legal waivers [JURIST report] allowing it to circumvent local and environmental laws hindering the fence's construction, as it had several times before. Also that month, DHS abandoned a prototype [JURIST report] for the virtual fence after the system's performance failed to meet expectations. Environmental advocacy groups have challenged the constitutionality [JURIST report] of actions taken by US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, alleging he violated the separation of powers by circumventing a federal district court decision delaying construction of 1.5 miles of fencing along the Arizona-Mexico border.