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The Border Fence Bill

November 2006
The Border Fence Bill

Hopes fade for comprehensive immigration reform.

The immigrant community has been eagerly awaiting the congressional immigration reform that seemed to be on the horizon. However, the gutted form of the legislation passed in October by Congress is an enforcement-only bill, without any of the benefits for potential immigrants that were eagerly anticipated. Instead, the legislation mandates the fencing of 700 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico, and has sparked opposition from an array of land managers, businesspeople, law enforcement officials, environmentalists, and Border Patrol agents as a one-size-fits-all policy response to the nettlesome task of securing the nation's borders.

Congress has decreed that five sections of reinforced fencing—most probably a double fence with stadium lighting—will be built along a third of the border, in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The biggest section is planned from east of Calexico stretching more than 300 miles to west of Douglas, Ariz.

Critics said the fence does not take into account the extraordinarily varied geography of the 2,000-mile-long border. They also say it seems to ignore advances in border security that don't involve construction of a 15-foot-high double fence and to play down what are expected to be significant costs to maintain the new barrier. And they say the estimated $2 billion price tag and the mandate that it be completed by 2008 overlook 10 years of legal and logistical difficulties the federal government has faced to finish a comparatively tiny fence of 14 miles dividing San Diego and Tijuana.

There also are questions of whether the fence will be more of a symbol to be used in elections than a reality along the border. For one thing, shortly before Congress adjourned, it gave the Bush administration leeway to distribute the money allocated for the fence to other projects, including roads, technology, and other infrastructure items to support the Department of Homeland Security's preferred option of building a "virtual fence."

There is also a widespread skepticism about federal programs, hatched in Washington, designed to deal with the border problems. "A few years ago, they installed cameras and said the cameras would solve things," one official said. "Those cameras can pick up a tick on a cow's back. But when half the monitors are all busted like they are now, they don't work." His prediction for how illegal immigrants would deal with the wall: "They will get ladders made out of mesquite and climb it."

The ultimate result is that many immigration advocates fear that this legislation will put an end to immigration reform attempts for the time being.

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