January 27, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — The fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is mostly finished.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling says that 601 miles of the project had been completed as of a week ago.
Easterling says 69 miles of the fence still must be built to meet the goal set during the Bush administration.
In December, then President-elect Barack Obama said he wanted to evaluate border security operations before he considers whether to finish building the fence under his administration.
Easterling said the Obama White House has not told Homeland Security to stop building the fence.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said a fence alone will not stop illegal immigration along the 2,000-mile border. About half of the fence has been built in Arizona, where Napolitano was governor.
The overall plan for security on the Southwest border — set by the Bush administration — includes additional Border Patrol agents, more enforcement of immigration laws, the fence and a high-tech "virtual fence" using surveillance technology.
At her Senate confirmation hearing, Napolitano said there is a role for fencing around urban areas. "It helps prevent those who are crossing illegally from blending immediately into a town population," Napolitano told senators.
Officials have said the border security improvements — like the fence — are working, and fewer people are trying to illegally cross from Mexico into the United States. Some of that can be attributed to economic woes and fewer jobs in the U.S.
The fence has been controversial since its inception and has faced several lawsuits, none successful so far.
Congress authorized the fence in 2005 to help secure the border and slow illegal immigration.
Lawmakers also gave the Homeland Security secretary the power to waive federal laws, such as environmental protections, when erecting the fence. Obama, as a senator, voted for the project.
Congress has set aside $2.7 billion for the fence since 2006. There's no estimate how much the entire system — the physical fence and the technology — will cost to build, let alone maintain.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks revived the immigration debate and advanced the idea of a border fence. Intelligence officials have said gaps along the Southwestern border could provide opportunities for terrorists to enter the country.
Boeing Co. has the contract for the technology portion of the fence, as well as for some construction work. The company's contract for the technology expires this year.