San Diego Union-Tribune

December 9, 2001 

Filner stays focused on border issues
  Economy, sewage woes in region remain priorities

By Joe Cantlupe 

WASHINGTON -- If Rep. Bob Filner has his way, there will be
demonstrations someday at the San Ysidro border crossing to protest lengthy waiting 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 Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray of 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.

But 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 area Chamber of Commerce.

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

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