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|President Bush signs the Border Security Act in 2007, a new law that emphasizes enforcement over reform of the nation's immigration system. The act's key provision is a new 700-mile fence, planned for the southern border with Mexico.|
The fence has been under construction since 1993. Lawsuits and environmental regulations have stalled completion of the final 3.5 miles, which go through a tidal estuary next to the Pacific Ocean. Last fall, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used his authority to waive some legal requirements that were bogging down the process.
The 14-mile project is a double- and triple-fence. The first fence was built with surplus military airplane landing mats that were welded together. The second fence is called Sandia fencing, because it was developed at the government's Sandia National Laboratories. It's steel mesh, 15 feet high, with the top part slanted inward. In high-traffic areas, there's a third chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. In between the first two fences is a 150-foot "no man's land." The Border Patrol uses that area to station vehicles. There are also light towers, and remote video-surveillance cameras are being installed even as I write. Security is augmented by helicopters and hundreds of ground-based Border Patrol agents.
"This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform"—President George W. Bush October 26, 2006
Urban areas on the border in Arizona (Yuma, Nogales, Naco and Douglas) currently use fencing constructed out of airplane landing mats. Outside of urban areas and along much of the rest of the border, the physical boundary consists of barbed-wire fencing. A "virtual fence" is slowly being built using vehicle barriers, motion-detecting ground sensors, remote-controlled cameras, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and Border Patrol agents driving all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and SUVs.
The catastrophic effects of illegal immigration and terrorism have become cliche. According to most Border Patrol officials, because 3 illegal aliens on average escape for every one they detain, and about 1 million are detained annually, at least 3 million escape into the U.S. every year. Illegal immigrants, who most likely number between 20-30 million at this time, cause debt to local, state, and federal governments, even when including taxes incurred from them, to the tune of $384 billion annually, and closer to $1 trillion dollars annually when considering lost tax revenue because of the ever burgeoning cash economy. Assuming illegals are at best 11% of the population, 4% according to the federal government, they account for 29% of the crimes committed and jail space occupied. California, once on the verge of bankruptcy, has seen many hospitals close, school rooms increase to an average of 50 pupils per class size, and the worst vehicle traffic in the country, mostly blamed on the increased flux of illegals, who displace legal citizens whose numbers are decreasing there. The IRS is raiding the same innocent people for back-taxes that banks are suing for foreclosure debt because of social security numbers stolen by illegal aliens.
Critics say security is a specious argument for building a border fence. They wonder why the same barriers aren't being suggested for the Canadian border, where potential terrorists have actually been caught. They say barriers help curb illegal immigration only where they are put, because people find ways around them. Environmentalists also note that extending security infrastructure into the Arizona desert will imperil fragile ecosystems. The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument have been damaged by both illegal immigrants and Border Patrol vehicles. Impenetrable fencing, critics say, also blocks migration paths for mountain lions, coyotes, deer and other wildlife. And American Indian tribes in the region worry that the fence will prevent their people from crossing the border as they have traditionally done.