HOUSTON (Reuters) - Construction on a border wall in southern Texas is expected to begin by this autumn, despite strong local opposition, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in an interview published on Thursday.
Chertoff told the Houston Chronicle the federal government “can’t rule out” using powers of eminent domain to seize land for the wall that is intended to stem the flow of illegal immigrants entering the United States from Mexico.
In heavily Hispanic southern Texas, where cultural and economic ties to Mexico run deep, local officials, business groups and environmentalists have spoken out against the wall as unnecessary and unwanted.
But Chertoff said national security was at stake, so the project will move ahead shortly.
“I expect we’ll be doing some construction in Texas this fiscal year,” he said, referring to the government fiscal year ending September 30.
Local officials said recently they had been told the Homeland Security department plans to have 153 miles of wall in place in Texas by the end of 2008.
While locals may be consulted on the type of fence constructed, they will not have veto power over whether the wall will be built, Chertoff said.
“Because the fence is not only to protect the border communities, it’s to protect the country,” he said.
Construction on the wall already has begun in Arizona, Chertoff said. Washington aims to have “operational control” of the border by 2013 by building the 700-mile (1,120-km) wall along parts of the frontier and creating a “virtual fence” in desert areas with drones, sensors, cameras, satellite technology and vehicle barriers.