Nov. 7, 2007, 1:35AM
Chertoff might waive laws to get Texas Border Fence built
By MICHELLE MITTELSTADT
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has invoked his power to waive federal laws to build border fencing in Arizona and California, said Tuesday that he hasn't ruled out doing the same in Texas, where opposition to the fence has been running high.
While Chertoff said at a Washington news conference that he will take community concerns into consideration, he added: "I'm not laying down any of the authorities I've been given to get the job done."
Congress in 2005 gave Chertoff the power to bypass environmental, historic preservation and other federal laws to build border fences. That authority, which Chertoff has used three times, is now under legal challenge by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, which oppose the fences.
With more than 160 miles of steel fences already built along the U.S.-Mexico border, Chertoff renewed his commitment to building 225 more miles — including 70 miles in Texas.
Fencing "is not a magic bullet to deal with every issue at the border," Chertoff said. "But it is one of a number of important tools that we can use to make the job of the Border Patrol easier and more efficient."
Ken Kramer, state director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, expressed concern that Chertoff will waive environmental laws in a rush to complete the Texas fencing.
"We're definitely very concerned about that," Kramer said. "It appears that when the pressure is on the secretary to try to address environmental concerns, the response thus far has been to waive environmental laws. That doesn't give us a great deal of comfort."
National security trumps individual Texans' concerns about the fence, Chertoff said, noting that the impact of illegal drugs and criminals entering the U.S. is felt far from the border.