Sierra Vista Herald
September 14, 2008
BISBEE — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security claims that more than half of the fencing called for in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 has been built along the U.S.-Mexico border.But a local border watch group is claiming those figures are not accurate.
The U.S. government is building the fence in an effort to make the border more secure and help decrease illegal immigration.As of Aug. 29, a total of more than 344 miles of fencing had been constructed under the Secure Border Initiative program, including 190 miles of pedestrian fence and more than 154 miles of vehicle fence.
In other words, more than half of the proposed 670 miles is finished, according to Angela de Rocha, office of public affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.
“The completed fence is mainly in New Mexico, Arizona and California, with construction under way in Texas,” she states in an e-mail to the Herald/Review. “I think the numbers are actually a little higher, in that we have completed some segments since August 29, but this is the official mileage count.”
Glenn Spencer, president of American Border Patrol, a non-governmental organization that performs aerial surveys of fence construction, said the figures supplied by the Department of Homeland Security are wrong.
His group’s data shows that only 108 miles of fence have been built so far, in addition to about 161 miles of vehicle barriers, according to http://www.americanpatrol.com/.
An amendment to the Secure Fence Act in December 2007 requires the government to complete 340 miles of fencing by Dec. 31. But survey data recently released by American Border Patrol shows that only 23 miles were added since April, or about five miles per month. At that rate of construction, Spencer said, “It seems most likely that they will fall far short.”
He also responded to reports that the Bush administration needs an additional $400 million to finish the border fence this year. He criticized officials for playing games with the budget “in order to make sure they could stop the fence now before it was discovered they had no plans to do the job anyway.”
Fence construction recently started on the west side of the San Pedro River. Spencer said the new fence design there is a major improvement compared to much of the fencing that has been built so far.
“For most of the Naco Border Patrol area, there is a mesh-type fence that is about 13 feet tall,” he said during an interview. “What they are installing now, west of the river, is 18 feet tall and it is made of steel beams with a steep plate at the top. It is more effective because number one, it is taller, and number two, it doesn’t have mesh where you can put in screwdrivers and climb up the fence.”
But, Spencer stressed, even though the new fence design is improved, the government needs to build two layers of it. That is, one fence and then another fence built parallel to it. With only a single layer, it is too easy to place items, such as tires or a ladder, against the fence and use them to climb over, he added.
Richard Hodges, who owns a ranch near Bisbee Junction, said he is pleased with a section of border fence the government built along his property earlier this year. Previously, only a barbed wire fence existed there.
The new fence there is made with steel poles that stand about 13 feet tall. Hodges said he thinks this style of fencing is far better than the mesh-type fencing that has been built in other areas.
“From what I have seen, it is effective,” Hodges said.
Spencer, on the other hand, said he does not think the fence near the Hodges ranch is effective.
Hodges acknowledged “it would be possible for someone wearing tennis shoes to tie their feet together, shimmy up the round poles of the fence, swing over the top and shimmy down the other side.”
“With the square tubing, you are not supposed to be able to do that,” Hodges added. “I suppose that is probably true in theory, but I don’t know how many people could do that. I couldn’t.”
The Arizona Sierra Club, a grass-roots environmental organization, is not pleased with the current construction of border fence near the San Pedro River.
“They have already completed the wall on the east side of the bank. Now that they are building the wall on the west side of the bank, it is just going to further inhibit wildlife from being able to use that area to cross back and forth across the border,” said Sean Sullivan, spokesman for the group.
He added that border fence construction also has caused flooding problems recently in Nogales and in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Sullivan said the fencing does not have the desired effect of stopping illegal immigration. Rather, it is simply moving illegal immigrants to another area to cross the border.
The Sierra Club recently finished a documentary about border wall construction from California to Texas. The film is intended to urge people to tell representatives to repeal Section 102 of the Real ID Act, which is how the government is able to move forward with construction without adhering to laws.
A screening of the film will take place in Tucson on Saturday. DVDs are available. For information, visit www.arizona.sierraclub.org/border. To view a six-minute version, click on “border film.”