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Debate: 700 mile US Mexico border fence

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Is a 700 mile fence on the US-Mexico border justified?



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)

Economics: Will a fence benefit the US economy?


  • 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.


  • 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.

National security: Will a fence strengthen national security?


  • 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."


  • 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."

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


  • A border fence could help stem pollution from Illegal immigrants. 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."


Foreign relations: Would a fence benefit foreign relations?


  • "Good fences make good neighbors". This is a quote from Robert Frost's, "Mending Wall".[7] and has been used to argue that a fence would be good for US-Mexico relations.[8]
  • Building a fence is a sovereign right that should be accepted by other countries.


  • 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."[9]

Where do the other key players and organizations stand?


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."[10]
  • - 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.


Think Tanks:

Interest and Activist Groups:

See also

External links

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