The Interior Department has knocked a hole in the Homeland Security Department’s plan to slow illegal crossings into Arizona through the construction of a "virtual fence," the Associated Press reports. Efforts have been placed on hold until January, 2009 at the earliest because the Interior Department is concerned about the environmental damage that may result from construction on the Federal land it oversees. In the meantime, illegal aliens crossing the same areas of concern inflict environmental damage on a daily basis.The “virtual fence” is the backbone of the Homeland Security Department’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI), which combines the use of towers with radar, cameras, sensors, and an increased Border Patrol presence to spot and track down illegal-alien crossings. It was billed as an alternative to running pedestrian fencing along the entire border with Mexico, but many consider it a poor second choice. SBI has been plagued with technical difficulties, budget overruns and contractor problems thus far. For example, the Boeing Company’s movable tower pilot project was deemed inadequate earlier this year and canceled. Now SBI faces an inter-agency squabble over the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Bureau’s environmental assessment, which suggests that construction would not significantly impact Interior Department lands.
A 2005 law granted DHS authority to waive environmental laws for fencing and other border security projects, but the law does not cover SBI and the virtual fence. As a result, the Interior Department’s objections to CBP’s environmental assessment stopped the initiative in its tracks. DHS says it is committed to completing 670 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers by the end of the year, although it is only halfway there. The Associated Press reports that DHS is examining whether it can now shift unobligated virtual-fence funds to the construction of pedestrian fencing. This is a welcome development in an otherwise dismal effort to stem the flow of illegal crossings.
Updated: Thu, Apr 8th 2010 @ 10:53am EDT