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Debate: 700 mile US Mexico border fence

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Was the US Congress right to pass legislation to build 700 miles of fencing on its border with Mexico?

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Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

The debate over constructing fencing on the US-Mexico is not new. The Clinton administration, for example, passed legislation in the mid-90s that called for fencing around the major US metropolitan centers on the border. Yet, the extent of the inflow of illegal immigration (roughly 500,000 annually) as well as the growing Hispanic demographic in the United States has caused many people to view a more extensive fencing system as increasingly urgent.

The recent politics and legislation: The pressure to somehow resolve the illegal immigration problem caused the US House of Reps and the Senate to propose two immigration reform bills in late 2005 and early 2006. While both bills attempted to create a comprehensive approach that went far beyond border controls, they widely diverged on a philosophical level. Senate bill 2611 approached the the issue with a much more tolerant and inclusive approach. For example, it proposed an amnesty and a path to citizenship plan for illegal immigrants. The House bill 4437 in contrast adopted a much more strict approach, making the presence of illegal immigrants in the country an aggravated felony, which would invariably call for the detention and deportation of illegals. As a result of these major philosophical differences, compromise between the two bills became very unlikely. One of the major points of agreement between the legislation, however, was on building a border wall of some kind. The two chambers decided to adopt the plan to build a 700-mile wall, which was initially proposed in H.R. 4437. This passed through the House on Sept. 14th, 2006 in House Resolution 6061 (H.R. 6061) - "Secure Fence Act of 2006" - with a vote of 283 to 138. On September 29, 2006, the Senate confirmed H.R. 6061 by a vote of 80 to 19.[1] On October 26, 2006, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 6061, which was the voted upon and passed by the 109th US Congress.[2]

The Secure Fence Act authorizes the construction of at least two layers of reinforced fencing in high-crossing and high-risk sections along the border. This includes around the border town of Tecate, Calif., and a huge expanse stretching from Calexico, Calif., to Douglas, Ariz., which is virtually the entire length of Arizona's border with Mexico. Another section would stretch over most of the southern border of New Mexico. An additional section will wind through Texas, from Del Rio to Eagle Pass, and from Laredo to Brownsville. The Department of Homeland Security will be required to install an intricate network of surveillance cameras on the Arizona border by May 30, 2007. The barrier will leave around 1,300 miles of border uncovered. The entire fence is set to be completed by the end of 2008.[3]

The Secretary of Homeland Security has 18 months to secure "operational control" of the U.S. frontier. In addition to the wall, it will use unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, radar, satellites, and cameras to prevent unlawful U.S. entries. Congress approved $1.2 billion in a separate homeland security spending bill for the fence and the above resources.[4]

The debate's key questions include the feasibility of constructing a fence of this length, the capacity of it and other measures to establish "operational control" over the borders and to deter illegal immigration, the extent to which illegal immigrants and "coyotes" (traffickers) will be able to adapt to the new security conditions and maintain a continuous stream of immigrants, the symbolism of this wall, the possible diplomatic costs, and the potential dollar costs.

See Wikipedia's United State's-Mexico Barrier for more introductory information and links]

Read H.R. 6061 (Secure Fence Act of 2006)



Securing border?: Will a 700-mile fence help stop illegal immigration?

Yes

  • Past fences succeeded in deterring crossings over the particular sections of the border they covered. Opponents of building the 700-mile wall often cite the fact that previous fences and policing operations in the 1990s that aimed to secure heavily crossed urban stretches of the border in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, California did not substantially reduce the in-flow of illegal immigrants overall. Instead, these determined illegals pushed out into remote desert areas to cross. While this is true, it does not necessarily provide a good historical example against the new wall. The fact that these walls and security efforts caused illegal immigrants to cross elsewhere at much greater risk to themselves (around 400 die annually crossing) seems to be a sign that these measures had a substantial deterrent impact. By extension, it may be reasonable to believe that the 700-mile wall and its accompanying border security measures will have a similar deterrent effect along the portions of the border it will cover.
  • San Diego has become a symbol for the efficacy of fences.Washington Post - "...In the mid-1990s, the city was awash in illegal immigrants. Hundreds would gather by a soccer field near Otay Mesa, east of San Diego, and rush into the United States on what the Border Patrol termed "banzai runs." During those years, Border Patrol agents routinely apprehended 200,000 illegal entrants a year in the sector. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) got funding to build a fence and thousands more Border Patrol officers were dispatched to the area. The number of crossers plummeted." (see counter in costs subquestion below ->)
  • Coupling a physical fence with new "virtual fence" technology will be effective: DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said to Fox 1/3/07, "It's beyond physical borders like fencing. It looks at how to deploy tech with fencing, which would mean camera systems, satellite, radar, sensors — all of that, lighting systems — how you integrate that with fencing and also integrate that with the Border Patrol on the ground so that they can deploy quickly and responsively to incursions along the border."
  • A 700-mile fence is only the first step in securing the whole southern border Many opponents of a fence point out that it would leave over 1000 miles of border without any fencing, and that it is not directly tied to needed comprehensive immigration reform. However, numerous sources maintain that such a fence could conceivably be added to with time, potentially completing a fence that spans the entire border, and that the border fence legislation is only a first step in a broader comprehensive immigration reform process.



No

  • Illegal immigrants will climb over a 700-mile fence After the construction of the San Diego fence, many illegal immigrants began crossing through the Arizona desert, which caused many of San Diego's border agents to move out there. According to T.J. Bonner, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the main union for Border Patrol agents, "Tucson now has 2,600 agents. San Diego has lost 1,000 agents. Guess where the traffic is going? Back to San Diego. San Diego is the most heavily fortified border in the entire country, and yet it's not stopping people from coming across."[6]
  • Tunnels will be dug to bi-pass a 700-mile fence: Global Security.org cited 40 tunnels being built between 2001 and 2006 under the US-Mexico border. Tunnels are a very effective means of bi-passing a border-fence, and are likely to contribute to the defeat of a 700-mile fence.
  • A wall doesn't prevent crossings by false papers or visa overstays Illegal immigrants can cross the US-Mexico border with false papers and passports or by obtaining a visa to enter the United States but with the intention to overstay the visa's time period, which amounts to illegal immigration. These problems cannot be resolved through a border fence.
  • Increased border controls have not historically decreased illegal immigration Council on Foreign Relations 2/21/06 - "A study done by Wayne Cornelius, a political science professor and director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, showed that stronger border controls have either 'no statistically significant effect' on the propensity to migrate, or actually encourage migrants to stay in the United States longer. Cornelius found that, among the Mexicans surveyed in his study, 37 percent stayed in the United States longer than they had planned to because of the new regulations, and 79 percent knew someone who remained in the United States because of stronger border controls. Experts say that ultimately, stricter border controls and higher penalties will not stop illegal immigration because they don't address the root causes of the problem: a stagnant Mexican economy and strong demand for cheap labor in the U.S. market."
  • "Virtual fences" have had poor historical results According to The Washington Post 09/20/06, the Homeland Security inspector general reported in December that since 1998, the Department of Homeland Security and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service spent $429 million on video and remote surveillance on the borders. Yet, nearly half of 489 cameras were never installed, 60 percent of sensor alerts are never investigated, 90 percent of the rest are false alarms, and only 1 percent overall resulted in arrests. In the same article, Doris Meissner, former INS commissioner was reported as saying, "There has been a huge amount of money poured into the border . . . but the track record of the performance of these technologies is disappointing."



National security: Will a fence strengthen national security?

Yes

  • A 700 mile fence will help secure the southern US border against a number of threats "Border threat: Leaders look the other way", Sara Carter, Daily Bulletin 12/29/06 - "The increased smuggling of drugs, humans and who-knows-what-else through a burgeoning international trade route through Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas, is unsettling. So is the human carnage in the all-out battles among Mexican drug-smuggling cartels to control the Mexican trade route. Even more unsettling are the border crossings by 'special-interest aliens' - persons from countries that sponsor terrorism - and the 'culture of death' catching hold among drug smugglers, a culture that appears to share characteristics with terrorist fanaticism...The DEA warns in an intelligence report that Asian narcotics traffickers, in collusion with Mexican drug cartels and terrorist groups, could use the so-called Gateway to the Pacific - a plan to expand border trade through the two Laredos - to bring contraband into the United States. 'Contraband can be anything from narcotics, pirated videos, humans or weapons of mass destruction,' said a DEA spokesman...El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego told a House committee in August that terrorist organizations are probing the border with the help of Mexican smugglers. Webb County, Texas, Sheriff Rick Flores testified before Congress about the growing violence in Laredo, which is spilling over from Nuevo Laredo."



No

  • A 700 mile fence will damage foreign relations and intelligence sharing Minnesota advocates for human rights - "If security measures offend public values, we may see a considerable decrease in public support, reduced participation by U.S. allies in sharing intelligence for counter-terrorism efforts."



Economics: Will a fence benefit the US economy?

Yes

  • Planed breaks in the 700 mile fence are filled by mountainous terrain (sufficient barriers). While it is accurate that the fence will not be built in areas of treacherous terrain, the very nature of that terrain will provide a sufficient barrier to illegal crossings.
  • US border towns should not be benefiting from shoppers that cross illegally. Some opponents of a fence contend that it might harm shopping from consumers that cross the border illegally. But, the very fact that these shoppers are crossing illegally makes it invalid to consider any economic gains associated with their crossing.



No

  • The maintenance of the US border fence would be costly According to some sources, maintenance is not being fully accounted for in the bill's cost projections. There are a number of maintenance issues that will add substantial costs to the fence. Damage from Arizona flash floods, for example, will damage the fence and add significantly to maintenance costs.



Principles: Is it moral and democratic to build such a fence?

Yes

  • Illegal immigration is unfair to legal immigrants. It is difficult for foreigners waiting in line to immigrate to the United States to observe illegal immigrants crossing freely. Closing the borders is an important means to respecting legal immigrants.



No

  • A border fence will divide border communities: NPR 10/26/06 - Douglas, Arizona Mayor Ray Borane "says a fence will divide a community that has strong family ties across the border."
  • A wall would force crossers to take more deadly routes The fence is intentionally placed in the least dangerous border crossings, while leaving open treacherous routes. Given the strong desire to cross, many will attempt to make these crossing fatally. Hundreds die each year already. Hundreds more could be expected.



Environment: Would the environmental effects of a US-Mexico border wall be minimal?

Yes

  • A border fence could help stem pollution from Illegal immigrants. WorldNetDaily.com 9/29/06 - "WND columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin points to an Arizona Daily Star report revealing the massive migration of illegal aliens across the wilderness has created its own environmental problem, with millions of pounds of trash left behind. Authorities estimate the 3.2 million-plus entrants caught by the Border Patrol from July 1999 through June 2005 dropped 25 million pounds of trash. That doesn't include the unknown amounts of garbage left by border-crossers who don't get caught."

No



Foreign relations: Would a fence benefit foreign relations?

Yes

  • "Good fences make good neighbors". This is a quote from Robert Frost's, "Mending Wall".[9] and has been used to argue that a fence would be good for US-Mexico relations.[10]
  • Building a fence is a sovereign right that should be accepted by other countries.

No

  • Remittances are an interest underlying Latin American governments opposition to the border wall. In 2005, legal and illegal immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean sent home $45 billion in remittances."[11]




Write Subquestion here...

Yes

The fence bill past overwhelmingly in both the House (283-138) and Senate (80-19) 9/29/06. In the Senate, 26 Democrats joining 54 Republicans in support. [12]

Key, Vocal Senators supporting a fence: View the 80 Senators that voted for constructing the fence: [13]

  • James Sensenbrenner (WI-R) - Author of H.R. 4437, which was first to propose a 700-mile fence.[14]
  • Jeff Sessions (R-AL) argued for the 700-mile fence in the Senate cloture debate on H.R. 6061.[15]
  • Bill Frist (R-TN) has been one of the most strident supporters of a fence. In the late September, 2006 cloture debate he argued, "A nation that can’t secure its borders can’t secure its destiny or administer its laws. One of the most important and most effective ways that we can stop illegal immigration is through the construction and proper maintenance of physical fences along the highest trafficked, most commonly violated sections of our border with Mexico."[16]

"What's surprising is which Democrats voted yes:" A list of "suprise" Democrat votes:

  • Barak Obama (D-IL)
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Schumer and Clinton (D-NY)
  • Feinstein and Boxer (D-CA)
  • Mark Dayton (D-MN)
  • Ted Kennedy (D-MA) (didn't vote)
  • Harry Reid (D-NV) - "I will vote Aye and hope that we can amend it with comprehensive immigration amendments. Particularly a farmworkers prevision."[17]

House Representatives vocally supporting the 700-mile fence:

  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY) - Sponsor of H.R. 6061.[18]
  • Rep Duncan Hunter (R - San Diego) - "The wall's key backer" - SF Chronicle
  • Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona's fifth district: is an "immigration enforcement champion" and supporter of a 700-mile fence.[19]
  • Rep Peter Sessions (R-TX) - Argued for H.R. 6061 in 9/14/06 House debates on the legislation.[20]

President Bush signed H.R. 6061[21]

State, municipal, local leaders in support of a fence:

  • Yuma, Arizona's Mayor Larry Nelson is in favor of the fence. He maintains that illegal immigration is having a negative economic impact on his city.[22]




No

Key Senators - 19 Senators opposed the bill - 17 Democrats:

  • One Republican, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.); one independent, Sen. James M. Jeffords (Vt.); and 17 Democrats opposed the bill.[23]
  • Patrick Leahy (D-VT) Read a 9/20/06 statement on H.R. 6061.

Key House Representatives opposing H.R. 6061 and the 700-mile fence:

  • Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. 2007, 110th Congress Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Fox 1/3/07 - "Rep. Bennie Thompson will re-evaluate the border fence issue when he becomes chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee in January. Thompson has said that while a physical fence may be a good idea in some urban areas, the issue is broader than a physical barrier. He has voiced support for a type of "virtual" fence along some parts of the border. 'Mr. Thompson supports fencing in some cases, especially urban areas, but to get border security right, we also need more Border Patrol agents, more detention space, reliable intelligence and better equipment,' said Dena Graziano, spokeswoman for committee Democrats."
  • Rep. Alcee Hastings [D-FL] - argued against the fence in the 9/14/06 debates on the H.R. 6061 legislation.[24]

The Department of Homeland Security "doesn’t want a 700-mile fence" and prefers a "virtual wall" according to a Washington Post 10/30/06 Op-ed

Some city and state governments and law enforcement agencies that actively protested a fence:

  • "Leaders in many border cities already have vehemently objected to a fence." - San Francisco Chronicle 2/26/06 - "The city of Calexico in Imperial County passed a resolution in early January opposing it. 'We should be in the construction of bridges of good relationships with Mexico,' said Calexico Mayor Alex Perrone...Mike Allen, director of the McAllen (Texas) Economic Development Corp., said leaders from along the Rio Grande agreed at a recent gathering: 'Every single mayor from Brownsville to El Paso is against it.'"
  • In Texas, which is set to receive 200 miles of fencing, some city governments and law enforcement agencies have officially opposed the fence. The City of El Paso has officially opposed the plan, as has the Texas Border Sheriff's Association.[25]
  • Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, opposes the wall on the grounds that immigration is beneficial.[26]
  • Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz opposes the fence.[27]
  • Governor Schwarzenegger - he urges the use of high-tech gear and more patrols to secure the nation's southern boundary.[28]
  • Douglas, Arizona Mayor Ray Borane "says a fence will divide a community that has strong family ties across the border," according to NPR 10/26/06.
  • New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson "decries border fence".[29]




Where does the American public stand?

Yes

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll 5/17/06 found that American respondents favor a proposal to build a 2,000-mile security fence by a 51-to-37 percent margin.

"According to a new survey by Rasmussen Reports, 60 percent of those surveyed like the idea of a barrier along the U.S. Southwest border as a means of dramatically reducing illegal immigration from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America." - WorldNetDaily.com 11/8/05

"CNN online poll show[ed] 87 percent of respondents supporting the building of a security fence." - WorldNetDaily 10/4/2005

Multiple Polls seem to indicate that a get-tough-on-enforcement mentality existed among the American public in 2006, possibly indicating that they would give their support to a border wall:[30]

  • A Gallup poll (March 27, 2006) found 80 percent of the public wanted federal government to "get tougher on illegal immigration".
  • Time magazine poll (Jan. 24-26, 2006) Fifty-seven percent would use military force at the Mexican-American border.[31]
  • NBC/Wall St. Journal poll (March 10-13, 2006) Seventy-one percent would more likely vote for a congressional candidate who would tighten immigration controls.[32]
  • An IQ Research poll (Mach 10, 2006) found 92 percent saying that "securing the U.S. border should be a top priority of The White House and Congress."[33]




No

An October, 2006 CNN poll found that only 45% of Americans want a US-Mexico border fence built.


Where do the other key players and organizations stand?

Yes

Interest and Activist Groups Supporting a Wall:

  • Federation for American Immigration Reform FAIR There basic position on the H.R. 6061 and the 700-mile fence is presented in the following statement by FAIR President Dan Stein: "An additional 700 miles of border fencing and other security measures constitute an important first toward comprehensive immigration enforcement, but much more remains to be done if we are going to effectively stem the tide of illegal immigration and protect the nation’s security. Enhanced border enforcement must be followed with a comprehensive strategy for eliminating the magnet of jobs and benefits that draw illegals to this country."[34]
  • Weneedafence.com - A project of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation, advocating constructing a "multi-element fence" along the US-Mexico border, similar to the Israeli fence.
  • The Minuteman Project - "a citizens' Vigilance Operation monitoring immigration".
  • You Don't Speak for Me, a Latino American group that favors border security and the enforcement of immigration laws. Its name is a protest against the many anti-fence and pro-illegal immigrant Latino-American activist groups that claim to speak for the Latino-American population.




No

Think Tanks:

Interest and Activist Groups:

Michael Gorbachev - "You remember President Reagan standing in Berlin and saying, 'This wall should be torn down.' Now the United States seems to be building almost the Wall of China between itself and this other nation with which it has been associated for many decades and has had cooperation and interaction with I think what is really needed are ideas and proposals about how to improve that cooperation and work out all of those issues regarding immigration flows. I don't think the U.S. is so weak and so much lacks confidence as not to be able to find a different solution." - October, 2006

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - Letter written 10/10/06 opposing H.R. 6061 - "We are opposed to this legislation because we believe it could lead to the deaths of migrants attempting to enter the United States and increased smuggling-related violence along our border. We also believe it would send the wrong signal to our peaceful neighbor to the south, Mexico, as well as the international community. Finally, we do not believe it will solve the problem of illegal immigration faced by our nation."

Ex-Israeli security chief [Uzi Dayan on US-Mexico border wall: "Don't build it!"]

Some Native American tribes on the border: San Francisco Chronicle 2/26/06 - "Among those hurt most by illegal immigration are members of the Tohono O'odham Indian tribe, whose desert land stretches along 70 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border. But tribal leaders don't want their land to be fenced, as proposed under the Sensenbrenner bill, because that would prevent Indian people and wildlife from crossing the border as they are accustomed to."




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