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Op-Ed: Finish the Border Fence Now

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Finish the Border Fence Now

By Jim DeMint

Published in Human Events on May 17, 2010

There's been a lot of hand-wringing over Arizona's attempt to enforce our nation's immigration laws but not much information about how the federal government has dropped the ball.

Four years ago, legislation to build 700-miles of double-layer border fence along the Southern border was supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama and signed into law by President Bush. Yet, only a fraction of that fencing is in place today.

According to staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), only 34.3 miles double-layer fencing has been completed along the Southern border. Most of that fencing, 13.5 miles, is in Texas, while 11.8 miles are in California and 9.1 miles of double-layer fencing are up in Arizona.

The lack of double-layer fencing can be traced to a 2007 amendment that eliminated the double-fencing requirement and allowed the DHS the option to put other types of less effective fencing in its place. It was lumped into a massive, omnibus-spending bill that President Bush signed into law on December 26, 2007.

That's when construction on the double-layered fence essentially stopped. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's investigative arm, reported in early 2009 that only 32 miles of double-layer fencing had been built. That means under President Obama, only 2.3 miles of it has been built over an entire year.

Because I knew the fence wasn't a priority for the Obama Administration, in July 2009 I offered an amendment to the DHS spending bill to force the President to finish the fence by the end of 2010. It passed easily with 21 Democrats supporting it.

Under pressure from the White House, however, Democrat leaders stripped my amendment out of the bill behind closed doors, during negotiations between the Senate and the House.

Those who oppose the double-layer fence promise Americans a "virtual fence" would best secure the border, which is where border security funds have been targeted in recent years instead of a real fence.

In 2007, our current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, then Democratic governor of Arizona, gave a speech at the National Press Club and boasted about the capabilities of a virtual fence. "We can shore up our border gaps with ground-based sensors, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles," she said. "Any combination of the above will work far better than any 10 or 20 or 50 miles of wall."

She was wrong.

A pair of reports published in late 2009 and early 2010 from the GAO proved virtual fencing is a virtual disaster. The GAO found Border Patrol agents were relying on cameras that suffered signal loss and that the number of new defects identified with the virtual fence outpaced the number that were being fixed. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Chief Alan Bersin dashed any hopes left for the virtual fence when he called it a "complete failure" during a Senate hearing last month.

Yet, we know layered fencing is effective. Layered-fence construction began in San Diego in 1996 and the Congressional Research Service found illegal apprehensions "dropped rapidly" afterwards. In 1996, the San Diego sector reported 480,000 illegal apprehensions. Apprehensions plummeted to 100,000 in 2002.

While Washington drags its feet on real border security, the consequences of the federal inaction are all too real. Drug trafficking, human trafficking, gang activity and other crimes are raging in American cities near the border.

Phoenix had 316 kidnapping cases last year, more than any other town in America, and nearly all of them involving illegal immigrants and drugs. Arizona's new governor, Republican Jan Brewer, wrote a letter to President Obama in April pleading for tougher enforcement. "This emergency has been the result of decades of neglect and an ongoing unwillingness by the federal government to fully shoulder its constitutional duty to secure our country's Southern border with Mexico," Brewer said.

Brewer signed a law to crack down on illegal immigration later that month, which Obama misrepresented at a public event in Iowa. "If you don't have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you're going to be harassed," he said. This is untrue. The Arizona law specifically bans racial profiling and only allows inquiry into citizenship status if the person is stopped for some other crime.

As President, Obama's first priority should be protecting our citizens, not pandering to a liberal media with false attacks. Our nation's borders are fundamental to our national security and sovereignty. Americans shouldn't be forced to live under the threat of rising kidnapping, drug violence, and gang activity because of political posturing in Washington.

We all know that the fence alone will not solve the problem of illegal immigration, as we must also have interior enforcement of our immigration laws. But the fence is a critical step, and only when the border is truly secure will Americans trust Washington to pass reform to create a legal immigration system that works. That's why I will continue to fight for a vote on my "Finish the Fence Act" and force the federal government to keep its promise to the American people for real border security.

It's time to end the rhetoric, and finish the fence.


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