BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A congressional panel on Monday will hear about a plan to limit the federal Homeland Security Department's ability to speed up the process of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived more than 30 environmental and other laws this month to hasten construction of a border fence, saying that criminal activity at the border "does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation."
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., has proposed repealing the waiver authority that Congress granted to the Homeland Security Department.
"The decision to invoke a waiver for fence construction will devastate the region and is an insult to those of us who live near the border," said Grijalva, who planned to attend Monday's hearing. "This administration believes that it is above the laws that protect the environment, health and human safety of border communities."
Grijalva is chairman of the House public lands subcommittee, and he scheduled Monday's hearing of the panel.
Other lawmakers expected to attend the hearing at the University of Texas at Brownsville include Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas; Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam.
Hunter has been an advocate for building a border fence and praised Chertoff's decision this month to speed construction by waiving environmental laws.
"The decision to remove these roadblocks is the absolute right decision," Hunter said in a news release.
Witnesses expected to testify include Border Patrol agents, Cameron County residents who own land along the Rio Grande, and local mayors.
Federal officials have gone to court to overcome efforts by some landowners who refused to allow surveyors on their property. The fence, which could be 16 to 18 feet tall, would divide some landowners' property.
The government released a draft environmental impact statement for the planned fence last fall. Chertoff's waiver this month would eliminate the requirement for the government to produce a final report.
As of last month, 309 miles of fencing had been built. Homeland Security hopes to complete another 361 miles, for a total of 670 miles, by the end of the year.
Information from The Monitor in McAllen, www.themonitor.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.