The folly of the fence
Union Tribune (2009-09-22) Editor
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Only comprehensive immigration reforms will work
2:00 a.m. September 22, 2009
If you are among the many who naively believe that immigration reform should begin — and end — with hundreds of miles of border fencing buttressed by hundreds more miles of high-tech “virtual” fences of cameras, sensors and radar, plus hundreds more Border Patrol agents, you should read the latest report of the Government Accountability Office.
The report by Congress' nonpartisan government watchdog agency had almost no good news about the so-called Secure Border Initiative launched in November 2005 as a key component of federal efforts to slow the flood of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking and to seal the border from terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.
Consider these findings:
- The initiative had originally been scheduled for completion this year, but, according to the GAO, a major part of it is fully seven years behind schedule.
- More than $3.7 billion has been poured into the project so far and, once it is completed, GAO says it will cost an additional $6.5 billion to maintain for the next 20 years.
- Though the planned 661 miles of physical fencing is nearly complete, and the number of miles along the border considered to be “under control” has increased, Customs and Border Protection has no way to measure the fencing's effectiveness. Is illegal immigration down because of the fence or, more likely, because the severe economic recession means fewer jobs attracting undocumented laborers? CBP can't answer that question. But here's one clue: as of mid-May, there had been 3,363 breaches in the fence, with a cost to repair each one at about $1,300.
- The high-tech “virtual” fence, known as SBInet, was originally planned for completion along the entire Southwest border earlier this year. But because of technical problems, it has yet to be deployed anywhere. It is now scheduled to be launched in two areas of the Tucson border sector this November and next March. The virtual fencing in the San Diego sector, originally scheduled for this year, is now not expected until 2014 or 2015.
This is the the real-time state of what is supposed to be the first line of defense against illegal immigration as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, prepares to release his version of immigration reform legislation later this week.
We don't yet know the specifics of Schumer's plan. And we wouldn't even hazard a guess at what provisions might make it through the House and Senate next year, a congressional election year.
But as a border city long educated in both the problems stemming from the existing irrational immmigration policy, as well as the economic and social benefits to be gained from an orderly immigration system, we do know this:
We can build all the fences we want. But we will not stop illegal immigration until there are comprehensive reforms that include a secure worker identification system, tougher sanctions against employers who hire the undocumented, tougher enforcement against legal immigrants who overstay their visa, a system to allow substantially more temporary workers into the country legally, and a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who now call the United States home.