Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Border Wall Calls on Congress to Strip the DeMint Border Wall Mandate from the DHS Appropriations Bill

The No Border Wall Coalition sent the following letter to the members of the House / Senate conference committee that will be deciding on the final language of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. While the House version does not include more border walls, the Seante's version includes the DeMint amendment, calling for 700 miles of pedestrian walls. After the letter was sent a new report from the Government Accountability Office on the Secure Border Initiative, which includes border walls, was released. It found,

"A life cycle cost study has been completed which estimates deployment, operations, and future maintenance for the tactical infrastructure will total $6.5 billion. Despite the investment in tactical infrastructure, its impact on securing the border has not been measured because DHS has not assessed the impact of the tactical infrastructure on gains or losses in the level of effective control."

The life cycle cost estimate is on top of construction costs, and does not include the cost of the construction called for by the DeMint amendment.

Here is the text of our letter to the committee members, explaining our opposition to the construction of more border walls:

The No Border Wall Coalition urges you to remove the DeMint amendment (1399), which calls for hundreds of miles of new border wall, from the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. Further border wall construction will do tremendous damage to private and municipal property, severely impact critical wildlife habitat, and cost our nation billions of dollars. But like the walls that have already been built, the new border walls will have no impact on immigration.

The DeMint amendment changes the Secure Fence Act to require 700 miles of “pedestrian” border walls; vehicle barriers built along the border could no longer be applied to the mile count. As of July, DHS has completed 331 miles of “pedestrian fencing” and 302 miles of vehicle barriers. If DeMint’s amendment is accepted by the House/Senate Conference Committee and is signed into law, the border wall will suddenly be 369 miles short of its new mandate.

To build border walls the federal government has initiated condemnation suits against more than 400 landowners, of which 255 are still unresolved. Landowners and local elected officials have been denied basic information, including how they will access properties and water intake pumps that are walled off. If the DeMint amendment is not removed, hundreds more farmers, ranchers, nature preserves, and municipalities will be hauled into federal court to have their lands taken from them.

Border walls currently slice through National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and preserves owned by the Nature Conservancy and Audubon. Habitats that are critical for the survival of federally endangered ocelots and Sonoran pronghorn have been fragmented, cutting animals off from the resources that they need to survive. Blocked watersheds have led to flood damage in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and ongoing blasting in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area is filling the Tijuana River with boulders and debris. If more border walls are built, more border ecosystems will be degraded or destroyed.

To date, $3.1 billion has been spent on border wall construction. Last year the Army Corps of Engineers reported that the average cost of building walls had increased to $7.5 million per mile. Some sections of border wall are particularly expensive: walls in South Texas averaged $12 million per mile; in California, a 3.5 mile section that involved filling in canyons cost taxpayers $57 million.

If the DeMint amendment remains in the DHS appropriations bill, we will spend no less than (and quite possibly a lot more than) $2,767,500,000.00 to build 369 miles of new border walls.

Border walls have utterly failed to stop either immigrants or smugglers from entering the United States. The majority enter through ports of entry, so walls erected between the ports have no effect on them. And according to the Border Patrol, even those who find the wall directly in their path are only slowed down by around 5 minutes.

Professor Wayne Cornelius of the University of California at San Diego has spent more than a decade researching undocumented immigration. His work has revealed that, even with border walls,

“all but a tiny minority eventually get through – between 92 and 98 percent, depending on the community of origin. … [T]he eventual success rate is virtually the same for migrants whose most recent crossing occurred before 1995, when the border was largely unfortified, and those crossing in the most recent period. In other words, the border enforcement build-up seems to have made no appreciable difference in terms of migrants’ ability to enter the United States clandestinely.”

The Department of Homeland Security recognizes this fact. After DeMint’s amendment was adopted, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler told the Wall Street Journal that it is, “designed to prevent real progress on immigration enforcement and [is] a reflection of the old administration's strategy: all show, no substance."

Rather than spend billions more on walls that will do tremendous damage to border communities and ecosystems, and which the Department of Homeland Security says will not help them to do their job, the membership of the No Border Wall Coalition urges you to adopt the House version of the DHS appropriations bill. For many of us, the border is our home, and as walls have been erected our needs, concerns, and voices have been ignored. We ask that you listen to us now. Strip the DeMint amendment from the bill, and refrain from building more border walls.

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