June 24, 2008

Supreme Court Rejects Plea to Stop Fence Along Border

By David Stout

Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting.


The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to stop the Bush administration from using extraordinary regulatory powers to construct a fence along the border between the United States and Mexico.

Without comment, the justices declined a plea by environmental groups to put checks on the administration's power to bypass environmental reviews in building sections of the 700-mile, or 1,100- kilometer, fence. The Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, has used the environmental-waiver authority, which was granted by Congress, several times.

Under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the Homeland Security Department was authorized by Congress to build as much as 700 miles of fence along the 2,000-mile Southwest border, where most illegal immigrants coming into the United States cross over.

Environmental groups have expressed concerns, through lawsuits and public hearings, about the damage that the fencing could cause to wildlife. Property owners, particularly along the Rio Grande, have also complained about what they see as federal intrusion on their land and access to the river.

A recent statement by Chertoff summed up his position: "Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation." The secretary has said his department must bypass environmental regulations if it is to meet the goal set by Congress of completing at least 670 miles of fence by the end of 2008.

Opposition to the fence project intensified in April, when Chertoff issued two waivers covering 470 miles of the border from California to Texas as well as a separate 22-mile stretch in Hidalgo County, Texas, where the department plans fencing as much as 18 feet high in a wildlife refuge.

The case that the Supreme Court refused to take up Monday focused on a two-mile stretch of fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Naco, Arizona. The stretch has since been built.

"I am extremely disappointed in the court's decision," Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, told The Associated Press on Monday. Thompson, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, and 13 other House Democrats had announced their support for challenges to Chertoff's waiver authority, which were led by two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.

Thompson told the news service Monday that he believed use of the waiver authority will only keep the Homeland Security Department from addressing "the real issue: their lack of a comprehensive border security plan."

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

(c) 2008 International Herald Tribune. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.