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to Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Angela de Rocha, 582.2 miles had been built. Despite the Dec. 31 cutoff date in the Secure Fence Act, DHS is still building its wall. So far it appears that properties entangled in lawsuits, like Tamez, have been mostly bypassed. But there’s no telling how long that will last. In Tamez’ case, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, has likely ensured that the bulldozers won’t be rolling in tomorrow. In March, he ruled that negotiations must take place between landowners and Homeland Security before property can be seized. The trial, set for June, will determine whether DHS has conducted “good faith negotiations” with Tamez over a fair price for her land. Meanwhile, the agency continues putting up the fence on federally owned property such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Refuge, just east of McAllen, where other federal judges have allowed DHS to move ahead without negotiations. In Eagle Pass, a small border city 145 miles southwest of San Antonio, a mile of fence has already been built through the city-owned golf course. DHS plans to build another mile through the city’s downtown park, says Mayor Chad Foster. Eagle Pass was the first city in Texas to get hit with former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s prerogative to waive federal law and condemn property to speed construction of the wall. Congress granted this unprecedented power in the 2005 REAL ID Act. “We weren’t even aware of it when it came,” Foster says. “It was just another blow under Chertoffa tactic to steamroller us.” The mayor hopes that Napolitano, as a former elected official from a border state, will work with communities and local elected officials on both sides of the border to come up with alternatives to the fence. “Napolitano understands the border and she has a history with the border governors,” Foster says. “And in this country boy’s opinion, that’s the way we’re going to resolve this issueby working with our neighbors.” Chertoff never showed much interest in that approach. When she was governor of Arizona, Napolitano once said, “Build a 50-foot fence; I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” Despite the comment, the new Homeland Security secretary is not completely against fencing. During her Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, she told senators that a fence in urban areas “might make some sense.” Napolitano was not asked to elaborate, but in past hearings, Border Patrol agents have testified that fencing in urban areas gives them time to detain crossers before they blend in with crowds of people. Immigration reform and border control will not be the first items on the new Congress’ agenda, says U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who has been a staunch opponent of the border fence. And with an economic crisis and two wars being waged, they’re not high on the Obama administration’s agenda, either. “There’s a shift in priorities now with the economy:’ Grijalva says. “Throwing $450 million at a fence pales in comparison to fixing our economy.” The shift in focus away from border security might give Napolitano some much-needed time to evaluate and reinvent a department that has been taxpayers’ worst nightmare, and private contractors’ idea of heaven, ever since its creation after 9/11. In 2006, the agency estimated that a mile of fence would cost $1 million. By August 2008, the price tag had shot up to $7.5 million per mile. Last year, legislators finally became frustrated by the agency’s lack of disclosure and escalating costs, and they refused to appropriate more funds to DHS to finish building the wall. Chertoff then transferred money from other programs, including port security and virtual fence technology, to continue the construction. That’s been the mantra of the department Napolitano has inherited: Build fence, no matter the cost. “She has inherited that mentality:’ says Grijalva, “and no doubt there is a rush to get the fence done.” Napolitano has also inherited a pork-barrel mentality. From the agency’s inception, it has enthusiastically outsourced a majority of its duties. No one has benefited quite like the Boeing Corp. In 2006, Boeing won a three-year contract to build 6,000 miles of physical and virtual fences along the southern and northern borders. As of last August, Boeing had been awarded $993 million, according has the right to three one-year extensions to the contract if Homeland Security is happy with the results. Which raises another endemic problem: oversight, or the lack thereof. Private companies who get DHS contracts do not have to report the progress or outcomes of their work to the American taxpayer. Even members of Congress have difficulty getting answers about how the billions are being spentanother legacy of the Bush administration that Napolitano will have to grapple with. “The administration has … hidden contractor overcharges from Congress, international auditors and the public,” Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California said in 2007, “impeding oversight and diminishing accountability.” Conveniently enough, private contractors are also doing more of the oversight. The fence-building project, called SBInet, is a component of the DHS’s Secure Border Initiative program. In a 2007 audit report, Richard Skinner, inspector general for Homeland Security, said that 65 of the 98 When she was governor of Arizona, Napolitano said, “Build me a 50-foot fence; I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” But the new Homeland secretary is not completely against fencing. FEBRUARY 6, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9