Immigration Issues: U.S.-Mexico Border Fence Pros and Cons

Border Security Unaffected By US Government Shutdown
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The southern border of the United States is shared with Mexico and spans almost 2,000 miles. Fences are being built along one-third, or approximately 670 miles, of the border to secure the border and cut down on illegal immigration. The price tag currently sits at $1.2 billion dollars with lifetime maintenance costs estimated close to $50 billion.

Recent polls show that Americans are split on the border fence issue.

While most people are in favor of increasing the security of the borders, others are concerned that the negative impacts do not outweigh the benefits. In any case, the U.S. government views the Mexican border as an important part of its overall homeland security initiative.

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The fence is still standing, but the project is taking a beating.

Budgets are beginning to skyrocket. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog group, estimates that the costs of building and maintaining the fence could prove astronomical, ranging "from $300 million to $1.7 billion per mile, depending on materials."

Problems with technology cannot be helping the budget. In February, new surveillance equipment being tested in Arizona was heralded as the high-tech solution to apprehend illegal border crossers. A week later, the $20 million prototype was scrapped because it didn't adequately alert Border Control officers to illegal crossings.

The troubles continue in Arizona. With the approval of Congress, the Homeland Security Secretary recently waived environmental regulations to allow the construction of the border fence along the Arizona border. A move that environmentalists say will destroy the central part of Arizona's southern desert.

Background

In 1924, Congress created the U.S. Border Patrol. Illegal immigration grew in the late 1970s but new strategies weren't implemented until the 1990s. This is when drug trafficking and illegal immigration began to rise, and concerns about the nation's security became an important issue. Border Control agents along with the military succeeded in reducing the number of smugglers and illegal crossings for a period of time, but once the military left, activity again increased.

After the 9/11 attacks, homeland security was again thrust into the spotlight. Many ideas were tossed around during the next few years on what could be done to permanently secure the border.

In 2006, the Secure Fence Act was passed to build 700 miles of double-reinforced security fencing in areas along the border prone to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. President Bush also deployed 6,000 National Guardsmen to the Mexico border to assist with border control.

Testing of "virtual" fences soon followed, but full deployment has been pushed back until the technology can be improved.

Do We Need the Fence

Policing borders has been integral to the preservation of nations around the globe for centuries. The construction of a fence to safeguard American citizens from illegal activities is in the best interest of the nation.

Illegal immigration is estimated to cost the United States millions of dollars in lost income tax revenue. It also drains government spending by overburdening social welfare, health and education programs.

The use of physical barriers and high-tech surveillance equipment increases the probability of apprehension. The fences that are currently in place have shown success.

Arizona has been the epicenter for crossings by illegal immigrants for several years. Last year, authorities apprehended 8,600 people trying to enter the U.S. illegally in the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

The number of people caught crossing San Diego's border illegally has also dropped dramatically. In the early '90s, about 600,000 people attempted to cross the border illegally. After the construction of a fence and increased border patrols, that number dropped to just 153,000 in 2007.

The Fence Isn't the Answer

Many Americans feel that we should be sending a message of freedom and hope to those seeking a better way of life, instead of hanging a KEEP OUT sign on our borders' fences. They argue that the answer doesn't lie in barriers; it lies in comprehensive immigration reform. Until the foundation of our immigration issues are fixed, building fences is like putting a bandage on a gaping wound.

Environmentalists are particularly unhappy about the border fence. Physical barriers hinder migrating wildlife, and plans show the fence will fragment wildlife refuges and private sanctuaries. Conservation groups are appalled that the Department of Homeland Security is bypassing dozens of environmental and land-management laws in order to build the border fence. Among the 30-some laws being waived are the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

There is also the human aspect to consider. Fences increase the risk and costs of crossing. When risk increases, the people smugglers, called "coyotes," start to charge more for safe passage. When smuggling costs rise, it becomes less cost-effective for individuals to travel back and forth for seasonal work, so they must remain in the U.S. Now the whole family must make the trip to keep everyone together. Children, infants and the elderly will attempt to cross. The conditions are extreme, and people will go for days without food or water. According to U.S. Border Control, almost 2,000 people died crossing the border between 1998 and 2004.

Barriers won't stop people from wanting a better life. And in some cases, they're willing to pay the highest price for the opportunity.