WASHINGTON –Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations Ranking Member Clay Higgins (R-La.), today delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Examining the Effect of the Border Wall on Private and Tribal Landowners.”
Thank you, Madam Chair and thank you to our witnesses who traveled from the border to be here today to provide an on-the-ground perspective.
First, I would like to point out the long history of bipartisan Congressional interest in securing the border using enhanced physical barriers such as bollard style fencing, innovative technologies, access roads and lighting, and more boots on the ground. What we refer to today as a wall system.
The passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 authorized the construction of border barriers for the fist time in statute and gave the Federal government the authority to waive certain environmental laws.
Speaker Pelosi and some Democrats on this Committee voted for that bill.
This waiver authority was a deliberate act by the Congress to avoid endless years of litigation that would make construction impossible.
Back in the 1990s when this authority was being considered, construction was stalled for years in California on a stretch of land referred to as “Smuggler’s Gulch” – a known drug trafficking route – because environmental groups wanted to test that a bird could fly over the fence. A bird that is native to both Mexico and the United States. Meanwhile, cartels were driving vehicles loaded with drugs across the border into American communities.
Since fencing construction began in the 1990s, enhanced physical barriers have forced cartels to adapt their smuggling routes to areas along the border without infrastructure, through the ports of entry, and through million dollar tunnels.
The wall system makes it more difficult to conduct their illicit business.
In 2005, Congress expanded the waiver authority to include all laws the Secretary determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of barriers and roads.
Speaker Pelosi and some Democrats on this Committee voted for that bill too.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 directed the Department of Homeland Security to achieve and maintain operational control of the international land borders of the United States by preventing all unlawful entries using physical barriers, technology, access roads, and personnel.
That bill received yes votes from Senator Schumer and then-Senators Obama, Biden, and Clinton.
Though because the wall system is now a priority for the President, many Democrats are changing their tune.
Border Patrol analyses and plans, across Republican and Democrat administrations keep pointing to enhanced physical barriers as an effective solution.
I was encouraged to see the Department use its waiver authority this month to reduce the length of time between award and construction of pre-qualified contracts using vetted companies already building other sections of the wall system. Some of these projects have already come in under budget, and the Army Corps has told Committee staff that these projects include small businesses.
Prior to 1992, parts of the San Diego Border Patrol Sector were not patrollable and essentially ceded to the cartels.
After a wall was built in San Diego in 1992, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent. In 1993, El Paso saw 72 percent drop in illegal traffic in one year alone. Since Tucson’s wall went up in 2000, there was a 90 percent drop. And finally, in Yuma since 2005, a 95 percent drop in illegal traffic was realized.
These facts speak for themselves. Build a wall and crime will fall.
The continued exploitation of our southwest border is an assault on our national security and our Nation’s sovereignty that enriches criminal organizations who profit from addicting our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even children to drugs and opioids.
In Fiscal Year 2019, CBP seized nearly 750,000 pounds of drugs at the border. That includes approximately 2,135 pounds of fentanyl, which represents a lethal dose for more people than the entire population of the United States.
Mr. Chilton, before us today from Arizona, has shown us video footage of drug smugglers carrying backpacks packed with drugs across his property along the border, because there are no enhanced physical barriers to prevent that.
At this hearing we will discuss the effects of these barriers on private citizens who live and work along the border. The federal government has an obligation to secure the homeland and protect the United States and its citizens from those who seek to do us harm.
The federal government also has the responsibility to ensure just compensation is provided if there is a circumstance where private land is needed to carry out that duty, as the fifth amendment to the Constitution requires. Current law requires consultation with the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, states, local governments, Native American tribes, and property owners along the border to minimize the impact of enhanced physical barriers. These safeguards are in place for a reason.
I look forward to hearing more about how we can secure the border, while at the same time, respecting the rights of Americans who live along it.