US-Mexico Border Fence / Great Wall of Mexico
In November 2005, DHS announced the launch of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program aimed at securing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration. CBP's SBI program office is responsible for managing the SBI program and for developing a comprehensive border protection system. This system has two main components: SBInet, which employs radars, sensors, and cameras to detect, identify, and classify the threat level associated with an illegal entry into the United States between the ports of entry, and SBI tactical infrastructure (TI), fencing, roads, and lighting intended to enhance U.S. Border Patrol agents' ability to respond to the area of the illegal entry and bring the situation to a law enforcement resolution (i.e., arrest). The current focus of the SBI program is on the southwest border areas between ports of entry that CBP has designated as having the highest need for enhanced border security because of serious vulnerabilities.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, required DHS to complete construction by December 31, 2008, of either 370 miles or other mileage determined by the Secretary, of reinforced fencing along the southwest border wherever the Secretary determines it would be most practical and effective in deterring smugglers and aliens attempting illegal entry. This provision also required the construction of reinforced fencing along a total of not less than 700 miles of the southwest border where fencing would be most practical and effective, but it did not establish a deadline for completion of the full 700 miles. DHS set a goal to complete approximately 670 miles of fencing by December 31, 2008. In December 2008, DHS reported that it planned to complete all but one of the fence projects by March 2009.
A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll indicated the American people favored a proposal to build a 2,000-mile security fence by a 51-to-37 percent margin. The total illegal alien population was estimated by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge at 8 to 12 million in December 2003, but Lou Dobbs of CNN regularly uses 20 million as a more realistic number of illegal aliens in the US. The sea of illegal aliens provides a cover and an environment in which terrorists can hide, and the tide of in-coming illegal aliens provides terrorists with a reliable means of entry.
As long as the per-capita income differential between the US (over $30,000) and Mexico (less than $4,000) continues to be so wide, it will be difficult to stop immigrants. President Bush's guest-worker proposal would have created a legal means -- a renewable three-year work visa -- for new immigrants to enter the country and take jobs that Americans don't want. Illegal immigrants already living here would become eligible for guest-worker status after paying a fine.
By one estimate each year between 400,000 and 1 million undocumented migrants try to slip across the rivers and deserts on the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) US-Mexico border. In 2005 over 1.2 million illegal immigrants were apprehended by the Border Patrol. By one estimate the Border Patrol catches 1 out of every 4 illegal border crossers, and this is typically the estimate public officials use in discussing the problem. Official Border Patrol statistics are that 1 in 5 illegal aliens are apprehended and arrested. Other estimates suggest it is much higher. These numbers are obviously wildy inconsistent with each other, by as much as an order of magnitude.
Apprehensions along the southern border make up about 97-98% of the total apprehensions. Most of those apprehended near the southern border are Mexicans. Statistics are kept of those apprehended near the southern border who are "Other Than Mexicans" or "OTM's". The number of OTM's apprehended near the southern border has been clearly and dramatically increasing from 28,598 in 2000 to 65,814 in 2004. By another estimate over 155,000 non-Mexican individuals were apprehended trying to enter the United States along the Southwest border in fiscal year 2005.
As of 2005, just over 80 miles of federally enforced barriers and fencing were at strategic points on the border, mainly in Texas and California. Operation Gatekeeper, which sealed much of the San Diego border with 14 miles of fencing and stadium lighting. A 10-foot-tall primary fence made of welded steel was completed in 1993 along a 14-mile section of the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Otay border crossing. Construction of a 14-foot-tall secondary fence about 130 feet north of the existing barrier has been completed except for a section along the last few miles near the beach. A chain-link fence, running along a road, mirrors that secondary fence. The California Coastal Commission voted in February 2004 to deny the project because of erosion concerns.
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Duncan Hunter proposed building two parallel steel and wire fences running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Coast. Hunter called for building a reinforced, two-layer 15' fence, separated by a 100-yard gap, along the entire length of the US border with Mexico. It would include additional physical barriers, powerful lighting and sensors to detect illegal border crossers. Some envision a wall or a fence. Others foresee a "virtual" fence of cameras, lighting, and sensors along the US-Mexican border.
But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said a wall running the length of a border would cost too much. A 2,000 mile state-of-the-art border fence has been estimated to cost between four and eight billion dollars. Costs for a wall that would run the entire length of the border might be as low as $851 million for a standard 10-foot prison chain link fence topped by razor wire. For another $362 million, the fence could be electrified. A larger 12-foot tall, two-foot-thick concrete wall painted on both sides would run about $2 billion. Initially it was estimated that the San Diego fence would cost $14 million -- about $1 million a mile. The first 11 miles of the fence eventually cost $42 million -- $3.8 million per mile, and the last 3.5 miles may cost even more since they cover more difficult terrain. An additional $35 million to complete the final 3.5 miles was approved in 2005 by the Department of Homeland Security -- $10 million per mile.
The REAL ID bill conference report contained a provision that would complete the US-Mexico border fence in San Diego. But it went much farther than that. It gives the Department of Homeland security unprecedented and unchecked authority to waive all legal requirements necessary to build such fences, not only in San Diego, but anywhere else along the 2,000 mile border with Mexico and our 4,000 mile border with Canada.
In August 2005 the governors of New Mexico and Arizona declared a state of emergency, saying their states were suffering because the federal government had failed to stem the tide of drug smuggling and illegal immigration. The declarations by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano freed up a combined $2.2 million to eight border counties in those states.
On 14 December 2005 Mexican President Vicente Fox denounced as "disgraceful and shameful" a proposal to build a high-tech wall on the US-Mexico border to stop illegal immigrants. Media reports on 21 December 2005 quoted Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez as saying, " Mexico is not going to bear, it is not going to permit, and it will not allow a stupid thing like this wall."
Tunnel passages across an international border into the United States have become a real problem. There are 40 such tunnels that have been discovered since 9/11, and the great bulk of them are on the southern border. Large-scale smuggling of drugs, weapons, and immigrants takes place today through these tunnels. One tunnel running from San Diego to Tijuana was marked by inordinate sophistication. It was a half mile long. It went 60 to 80 feet deep, 8 feet tall. It had a concrete floor. It was wired for electricity. It had drainage. At one end, 300 pounds of marijuana were found, and at the other end, 300 pounds of marijuana. What was interesting is that the California entry into the tunnel was a very modern warehouse, a huge warehouse compartmented but empty and kept empty for a year. In one office there was a hatch in the floor. It looked much like the hatch which Saddam had secreted himself in. But lifting that hatch disclosed a very sophisticated tunnel. It went under other buildings all the way across the double fence into Mexico and up in Mexico in a building as well.
In an effort to identify lower-cost and easily deployable fencing solutions, CBP funded a project called Fence Lab in February 2007. Fence Lab tested fence/barrier prototypes and evaluated them based on performance criteria such as their ability to disable a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour, allowing animals to migrate through them, and cost-effectiveness. These performance standards apply only to primary fencing, and as of late 2008 SBI did not have performance standards for secondary fencing. Each style of fencing has different costs associated with construction, and the Border Patrol determines which fencing style is appropriate based on the operational need of a specific geographic area along the southwest border.
DHS's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contractor, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), had completed about 73 miles of primary SBI fencing costing approximately $198 million as of September 30, 2007, and about 215 miles of fencing costing about $625 million as of October 31, 2008. Seventy-one of the miles completed as of September 30, 2007, were pedestrian fencing completed at costs ranging from $400,000 to $4.8 million per mile and averaging $2.8 million per mile. CBP had also finished about 2 miles of vehicle fencing at a cost of $2.8 million. Pedestrian fencing accounted for 140 of the miles that CBP had completed as of October 31, 2008, with costs ranging from $400,000 to $15.1 million per mile for an average of $3.9 million per mile. Seventy-five of the miles were vehicle fencing and costs ranged from $200,000 to $1.8 million per mile, averaging $1.0 million per mile. The per mile costs to build the fencing varied considerably because of the type of fencing, topography, materials used, land acquisition costs, and labor costs, among other things.
For fiscal years 2006 through 2009, the SBI program received about $3.6 billion in appropriated funds. Of this amount, by late 2008 about $2.4 billion had been allocated to complete approximately 670 miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing along the roughly 2,000 miles of border between the United States and Mexico. In March the Tactical Infrastructure / Border Fence Program was transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Finance, Facilities Management and Engineering (FM&E) from the Secure Border Initiative (SBI).
As of January 22, 2010, CBP had completed roughly 643.3 miles of fencing (344.8 miles of primary pedestrian fence and 298.5 miles of vehicle fence) along the Southwest Border. Generally speaking, pedestrian fence is located in urban areas and adjacent to ports of entry, whereas vehicle fence is located in relatively unpopulated and remote areas of the border. When finished, the Department will have constructed a total of approximately 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fence along the Southwest Border.
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