Editorial: Border fence commands reevaluation

Much of the Department of Homeland Security’s border fence already has been built or is under construction. Even so, the matter is becoming a mess.

For this reason work on the project should stop immediately, at least until a few matters are cleared up.

U.S. Reps. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, and Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and other Congress members whose districts are along the Texas-Mexico border on Tuesday sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that work be stopped so the merits of the fence can be re-evaluated.

Signers of the letter include Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, who knows a thing or two about border fences. As Border Patrol sector chief he oversaw construction of a partial barrier in the El Paso area.

Obama himself has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the fence, although his Senate votes supported it. Public opinion polls suggest a majority of Americans don’t consider the border fence a priority.

Brownsville officials apparently have already negotiated rights to tear down part of the fence that hasn’t even been erected yet.

With a new administration and changes in Congress, it makes sense to re-evaluate the issue to determine if lawmakers still think the project is worth continuing to spend more millions on it. The House members who signed the letter could do their part by offering a resolution to the House to determine if a voting majority believe the fence should be completed.

DHS officials should also resist the rationale that work should continue because construction contracts have already been signed. That’s the reasoning Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin used to build a highway to the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in her state. The bridge was canceled, but Palin ordered the highway be completed, since the contractors already had been hired. Now they have an expensive strip of pavement going nowhere.

It seems reasonable contractors would be willing to transfer obligations in the border fence contracts to other projects. At the very least, stopping a project that no longer is supported would eliminate the inevitable cost overruns that always are part of government contracts.

One reason a reassessment is needed is clear from the Texas Border Coalition’s most recent cancellation of its planned “Walk the Line” with DHS officials in Cameron County. The coalition found the agency still refuses to disclose, even to landowners whose property is being affected, exactly where the fence will be laid. The property owners need to know beforehand what part of their property, and how much of it, before they can determine what is fair compensation for the government’s taking of their land.

It just doesn’t make sense.

At least some Congress members from Texas are thinking straight. We hope they are able to convince the Obama administration of the value of taking a new look at this unpopular border fence, especially at a time when the money is hard to come by.