San Diego Union-Tribune

Dec 10, 2001

Filner making some headway on border issues

By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- If Rep. Bob Filner has his way, there will be demonstrations someday at the San Ysidro border crossing to protest lengthy lines and lack of immigration inspectors.

Then again, as a minority party member of the House of Representatives, the San Diego Democrat does not get his way very often, especially on border issues.

Last week, however, Filner won support from a House subcommittee for a
hearing Wednesday into why a binational commission has not taken steps to build a new sewage treatment plant in Mexico.

That came days after Congress rejected Filner's proposal to earmark $20
million to assist the border region's economy, depressed in part by
border-crossing delays.

"That's the process. You win some and lose some," said Filner, now in his
ninth year in the House. "For anybody who is a member of the minority
party, it's rough. And bringing attention to the border is much tougher
than I thought."

The border struggles -- over the economy and the sewage system -- have been long-standing fights for Filner.

Until this year, Filner often teamed with former Rep. Brian Bilbray, a
Republican from Imperial Beach, to get legislation through the
GOP-controlled Congress.

The two had a "pretty unique" relationship, Filner said, noting that they
worked together more than a decade ago when both men served in local San Diego government. Bilbray was defeated in his re-election bid last year.

Although Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, also focuses on border issues, "we don't have that long history of common experiences," Filner said.

UCSD political science professor Gary Jacobson agreed with Filner that it
is best for a Democrat these days to team up with a Republican in the
House.

Under House rules, the majority party -- the Republicans -- "can pretty
much do what it wants," Jacobson said. "Someone in Filner's position, he
has to convince members of the majority to put his district's activities on
the agenda."

To spur greater cooperation on border issues within the House, Filner said
he is trying to revitalize a congressional border caucus, which has been
dormant for years.

Filner made some headway when the House subcommittee on water resources and environment agreed to a hearing about delays in upgrading the Mexican sewage system, which is needed to prevent spills that routinely foul south San Diego County coastal waters.

He attributed the legislative coup to a good relationship with the GOP
committee chairman, and the panel's agreement that the sewage controversy demanded an investigation.

A year ago, Congress authorized $156 million for a proposed treatment plant in Bajagua, Mexico, under legislation co-sponsored by Filner and Bilbray. Nothing has happened.

"I was hoping for a ribbon-cutting by now," Filner said.

Filner blamed the International Boundary Commission for failing to
negotiate for the construction. Commission officials blame lack of funding.

On a separate border issue, Filner tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to
set aside $20 million to boost the border economy.

Filner told colleagues the money was needed to pay for 100 more immigration inspectors along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border. The additional inspectors would have reduced extensive border-crossing delays, exacerbated by heightened security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Filner said.

The GOP-led Congress quickly rejected Filner's pleas.

Three thousand miles away, San Ysidro merchants supported Filner's
proposal.

"Our normal customers are not willing to wait in line for two or four
hours, especially since the higher security," said Berenice Trickett,
president of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.

Filner has suggested that merchants demonstrate along the border to draw
attention to their plight. No decision has been made, he said.

Whatever plan is carried out, Filner said, "we can pull our border
communities off life support."