Last week, Eloisa Tamez, 73, lost the latest round in her ongoing fight with the U.S. government. A judge ordered her to let Washington survey her land near Brownsville, Texas. It lies in the path of a proposed border fence. Now, Tamez, heir to an original Spanish land grant dating to the 1700s, fears that her property will be seized with good reason.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently waived more than 30 laws in order to expedite construction of the border fence. He did so with little regard for the concerns of residents, local officials and environmentalists.
And though the proposed path would cut through the properties of many citizens, it would bypass land owned by the wealthy and politically connected. The Texas Observer reported that the fence would detour around the River Bend Resort and golf course, as well as developments owned by the Hunt family, whose members are major supporters of President Bush. The fence would also cause irreparable damage to wildlife; two Texas nature preserves would wind up in Mexico. They'd likely have to close.
Chertoff maintains that the fence is necessary because Americans have been adamant about border security. Yet two recent polls by CBS and CNN show that Americans rank illegal immigration lowest on their short list of the most pressing national problems.
The fence wouldn't solve our immigration crisis. It would simply divert crossings to other places along the 2,000 mile border. It would do nothing about the 12 million unauthorized migrants already here. In fact, nearly half of all illegal immigrants entered the country legally and overstayed their visas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right in assessing the fence as a waste of money.
Moreover, Congress has ceded too much power to Chertoff. In 2005, it granted him the authority to waive laws while prohibiting federal appeals courts from reviewing his decisions, undermining the system of checks and balances enshrined in our Constitution. Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have filed petitions with the Supreme Court challenging the legality of the waiver. I hope the court accepts the case and voids the grant of power. Alternatively, Congress should revoke this power because it is being abused.
In the meantime, Chertoff has free rein to destroy fragile ecosystems, flout our laws and trample on the rights of citizens like Tamez. How sad that we are willing to undermine our Constitution for an expensive, wasteful monument to American insecurity.
Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.
© 2008 USA TODAY