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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)

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


  • 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.


  • 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.

Border security: Will a 700-mile fence help stop illegal immigration?


  • 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.


  • 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 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?


  • 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."

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.

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".[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.


  • 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]

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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."[12]
  • - 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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