Border Pa­trol to build own fences

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Jerry Seper and Stephen Di­nan

The U.S. Border Pa­trol is ask­ing for vol­un­teers among its agents to help build fences on the U.S.-Mex­ico border, even as Pres­i­dent Bush is with­draw­ing half the Na­tional Guard troops he sent there last year to build fences.

A memo cir­cu­lated two weeks ago to Border Pa­trol sec­tor chiefs said fence-build­ing ef­forts on the South­west border were go­ing to fall short of Mr. Bush’s goal of fin­ish­ing 70 miles in fis­cal 2007, which ends Sept. 30, “so the Border Pa­trol is now go­ing back into the fence-build­ing busi­ness.”

The memo, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times, called on the chiefs to pro­vide lists of agents who “can and have built fences in the past,” adding that the agency was look­ing for welders, equip­ment op­er­a­tors and “any­one else with con­struc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“They are mov­ing quickly on this, so your sec­tor’s re­sponse will be needed back here by noon to­mor­row,” said the Aug. 6 memo, which asked that the en­tire Border Pa­trol be can­vassed for agents qual­i­fied and able to work on fence con­struc­tion.

Rich Pierce, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Border Pa­trol

Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents the agency’s 11,000 non-su­per­vi­sory agents, said that while the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion “on one hand is try­ing to con­vince the Amer­i­can pub­lic it is se­ri­ous about im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment,” it has failed to pro­vide the needed fund­ing and man­power.

“Mean­while, the other hand re­duces the Na­tional Guard by 50 per­cent, whose job to build the border fence has hardly started,” he said. “Now the Border Pa­trol agents who were meant to re­place the Na­tional Guard are pulled from border en­force­ment and tasked with build­ing the fence.

“The pres­i­dent’s game of pre- tend­ing to en­force our border con­tin­ues,” he said. “He has never been se­ri­ous about this is­sue at all.”

In May 2006, Mr. Bush or­dered 6,000 Na­tional Guard troops to the South­west border as part of “Op­er­a­tion Jump Start” to give the Border Pa­trol time to re­cruit, hire, train and as­sign 6,000 new agents — the largest ex­pan­sion in the agency’s his­tory.

Mr. Bush stressed at the time the Na­tional Guard troops were not there to be law-en­force­ment agents, but rather to build fenc­ing, ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers and build­ings, as well as to help with sur­veil­lance. He said the ini­tial com­mit­ment of 6,000 troops would last for a year, af­ter which it would be re­duced as new Border Pa­trol agents and tech­nolo­gies came on­line.

“We have mag­nif­i­cently trained young men and women, but they are not trained as Border Pa­trol agents; they are trained as sol­diers and air­men,” Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the Na­tional Guard Bureau, said last year, telling re­porters they would fo­cus on in­fra­struc­ture and free the Border Pa­trol up to en­force the law.

“En­gi­neer­ing makes good sense to me. Bar­rier-build­ing makes good sense. We have had a long suc­cess of that. Build­ing roads makes sense. Putting in anti-ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers makes sense. Putting in light­ing and fenc­ing makes sense,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion said Op­er­a­tion Jump Start was “on track” and, as sched­uled, the num­ber of troops would be drawn down to 3,000 by Sept. 30.

U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro- tec­tion (CBP) Deputy Com­mis­sioner Jay Ah­ern, who is re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing border se­cu­rity, called the de­ci­sion to re­cruit Border Pa­trol vol­un­teers to build the fence “an ap­pro­pri­ate use of re­sources.”

Mr. Ah­ern said the agency was not “shy­ing away” from its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in com­plet­ing the 70 miles of fenc­ing.

“This is a tem­po­rary bridge to use Border Pa­trol agents to meet the man­date of 70 miles by Septem­ber 30. We are a can-do or­ga­ni­za­tion that can meet our goals,” he said, adding that build­ing fences along the border will en­hance and not com­pro­mise border se­cu­rity.

White House spokes­woman Emily A. Law­rimore said the Border Pa­trol would have to an­swer ques­tions about the memo call­ing for vol­un­teers, and she would not com­ment on the de­ci­sion to draw down Guard troops ex­cept to say they were “in­tended to pro­vide tem­po­rary sup­port to the Border Pa­trol while it re­cruited more agents and in­fra­struc­ture projects were started.”

In Oc­to­ber, Mr. Bush signed a law com­mit­ting to fence nearly 700 miles of the U.S.-Mex­ico border. The Se­cure Fence Act cul­mi­nated a two-year de­bate in Congress over im­mi­gra­tion, won by House Repub­li­cans who in­sisted on an en­force­ment-first pol­icy.

The bill au­tho­rizes dou­ble-tiered fenc­ing and sup­port roads along some of the most-por­ous parts of the U.S.-Mex­ico border, in­clud­ing much of Ari­zona — the na­tion’s lead­ing im­mi­gra­tion and drugsmug­gling cor­ri­dor.

As of June, 13 miles of new border fenc­ing had been built.

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