Monday, January 24, 2011

A border fence that never was: Virtual barrier proposed between the U.S. and Mexico began in a rush of optimism, ended in rhetoric and red ink

Houston Chronicle
January 23, 2011
by Stewart Powell

WASHINGTON — The invisible fence once envisioned along the U.S.-Mexico border was born in an era of political opportunity and optimism when then-President George W. Bush and congressional Democrats thought they could strike a deal on immigration reform.

The compromise meant paying for unprecedented high-tech security along the porous 1,969-mile border in trade for a legal path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

But by the time the troubled "virtual fence" was canceled by the Obama administration five years later on Jan. 14, the first 53 miles of sensors, cameras, radar and towers at two locations in Arizona had become a $1 billion white elephant, a latter-day equivalent of the Reagan-era "star wars" defense that promised to intercept enemy warheads but never could.

The technical challenges of remotely spotting immigrants, smugglers and drug traffickers across rugged, open desert bled momentum and support in Congress.

The precipitous U.S. economic downturn shifted the political landscape from receptivity to reform in 2007 to outright hostility by 2010, the year Congress shelved legislation offering children of illegal immigrants a route to citizenship through college or the armed forces.

Deepening near-border warfare among Mexican drug cartels only stoked widening anti-immigrant sentiment, scuttling the bipartisan collaboration that briefly raised the possibility of long-sought immigration reform.

In the end, the demise of the virtual fence could be traced to technical glitches, domestic politics, turnover in leadership in the program, border landowners' resistance to a federal takeover and the inability of a newly created Department of Homeland Security to effectively manage its first long-term research and development project.

"The virtual fence was never meant to be a fence - it was rhetoric to enable officials in the Bush and Obama administrations to claim stepped-up enforcement to persuade Congress to act on amnesty for illegal immigrants," said James Carafano, a retired Army officer serving as a security analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

The fitful, five-year history of the invisible fence zigzagged between progress and problems in Arizona and efforts in Congress to pursue or sidetrack reform.

"We've been punting this issue down the field for almost a decade," said Rick Nelson, director of homeland security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's difficult to determine what the technical solutions should be … before we know what our immigration policies really are."

Complaints from Cornyn
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he pressed both the Bush and Obama administrations to remedy alleged "mismanagement" in the program to no avail.

"DHS spent a billion dollars on a failed project which did little to protect our border with Mexico," complained Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who played a key role in earlier negotiations for reform.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's panel on border security, rejected suggestions the project was a debacle, calling it "a genuine attempt by two administrations and the private sector to make this work."

Bush, the former border-state governor, was eager in 2005 to strike a political balance between visible border enforcement and satisfying companies' appetite for workers, when his administration launched the so-called Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet). Officials promised "the most effective mix of current and next generation technology" to stem the flow of people illegally crossing the border.

The GOP-led House quickly adopted the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act calling for enhanced border security including 700 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers at the most popular illegal crossing points. With the 2006 midterm congressional elections only months away, the Republican-led Senate followed suit with its own version that went beyond the House to include a controversial pathway to citizenship.

Contract with Boeing
The Bush administration hoped to hasten a House-Senate compromise to create a temporary worker program by dispatching Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to sign a three-year, $2.5 billion contract with the Boeing Co. to build the invisible fence. The contract called for the defense contractor to fashion a prototype in Arizona, near Tucson and Ajo, with off-the-shelf components, 15 sensor towers, 13 communications towers, 400 unattended ground sensors and 12 miles of access road.

The timetable: Deploy the pilot project in Arizona as quickly as possible before covering the entire border by 2012 at an estimated cost of as much as $8 billion.

Yet despite the prospect of high-profile security enhancements, the House and Senate failed to resolve differences on a pathway to citizenship. Congress' last major attempt at overhauling immigration ended in January 2007.

Without legislative progress, the "virtual fence" increasingly drew congressional criticism over schedule delays, cost overruns and technical snafus. Congress' watchdog Government Accountability Office churned out at least 17 studies featuring criticisms of DHS management or Boeing's progress. One GAO investigation spotlighted 1,300 separate project problems over a 15-month period.

"I am not going to buy something with U.S. government money unless I'm satisfied it works in the real world," Chertoff told Congress.

By February 2008, the GAO was telling Congress the radar signal used to "target" people or vehicles was too slow to appear on U.S. Border Patrol monitoring screens and also was triggered by rain or other weather conditions.

"It appears that after nearly two years of an extremely expensive project, we are farther away from the deployment of a virtual fence technology than we were when the project was initiated," Cornyn warned the Bush administration's DHS leadership.

The 2008 presidential campaign ended any pretense of collaboration on immigration reform.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain called for barriers, walls and virtual fences, insisting: "The American people want our borders secured first and then we will address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform."

Democratic candidate Barack Obama vowed to "preserve the integrity of our borders" with added personnel, infrastructure and technology in a political minuet designed to enlist wary independent voters concerned about border security without alienating Hispanic voters.

Once in office, Obama reviewed the beleaguered project before initially vowing to carry on in hopes of winning congressional action on immigration reform. His administration cleared the way to resume virtual fence construction in Arizona by claiming that the technology challenges had been overcome.

"This is the initiation of the no-kidding, real, SBInet system," SBInet chief Mark Borkowski said in May 2009.

Fence funds diverted
Yet in 2010, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano launched a yearlong inquiry into the project. "Americans need border security now - not 10 years down the road," said the former governor of Arizona.

Within weeks of Napolitano's review, the administration outlined a 28 percent cut in spending on border fencing to $574 million. A month later, she diverted $50 million in economic stimulus funds to other security measures.

"Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost-effective way possible," Napolitano said.

And the news just kept getting worse. The GAO alerted Congress that technical requirements for the virtual fence were being downgraded. The administration began increasing personnel to bolster border security, deploying unmanned drones and sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border at federal expense, including 250 in Texas.

Napolitano in October scrapped a one-year renewal of the contract with Boeing in favor of month-to-month contracts. The last monthly contract expired Jan. 14.

"SBInet cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution," Napolitano said. "There is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution."

And with that, the project came crashing down, and the $1 billion with it.

"The program faced challenges from the get-go," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who plans to have his Homeland Security Committee panel look into suspected waste within the $56 billion-a-year Department of Homeland Security.

"The virtual fence was clearly a bipartisan idea that didn't work," added University of Virginia scholar Larry Sabato, author of The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House. "The chances for immigration legislation in this divided Congress were always small - but now the prospects are even dimmer."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Homeland Security chairman wants plan after White House scraps [virtual] border fence

The Hill
January 15, 2011
by Jordy Yager

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is calling on the White House to present Congress with a detailed timeline for its plan to secure the U.S.-Mexico border following its move to scrap a flawed $1 billion border fence initiative.

In the wake of the administration's announcement to discontinue the SBInet program, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said the Department of Homeland Security should speed up its plan to establish a protected border.

The 4-year old program, started under President George W. Bush, has only established 53 miles worth of fencing along the border, and has been plagued by delays. Last year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a complete assessment of the SBInet program.

“The Obama Administration must promptly present the people of this country with a comprehensive plan to secure our borders, incorporating the necessary staffing, fencing, and technology,” said King in a statement. “I expect the Administration, in its upcoming 2012 budget proposal, to put forward such a plan, including timelines and metrics.”

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), also heralded the program’s ending, saying that it has been “a grave and expensive disappointment since its inception.”

“Our Committee has held 11 hearings on the project, commissioned 5 critical GAO reports, all while the program cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion for only 53 miles of coverage,” said Thompson.

“The sheer size and variations of our borders show us a one-stop solution has never been best. I applaud them for taking this critical step toward using a more tailored technologically-based approach to securing our Nation’s borders.”

Napolitano announced the discontinuation of the program on Friday. She outlined a new plan that will replace SBInet with unmanned aerial vehicles, thermal imaging cameras, and a variety of other surveillance tools.

Fran Townsend, who was a homeland security adviser for President George W. Bush, said Friday that Congress should have established an office to oversee the project when it approved it years ago.

“There's plenty of blame to go around on all sides,” Townsend said on CNN with Anderson Cooper. “First of all, this was a program that came in sort of suddenly and unexpectedly on the part of the executive branch.”

“President Bush was pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, and Congress insisted on a greater enforcement package, which included this fence. So it came at the last minute. It was put on the bill. The president signed the bill. So there was not an office set up to do the oversight.”

It wasn't until several years ago that an office was set up to oversee the project.

Townsend said she hoped some of the technology being used by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq would be employed by DHS to “supplement and to support the people on the ground.”

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that the “department’s decision to use technology based on the particular security needs of each segment of the border is a far wiser approach, and I hope it will be more cost effective.”

Homeland Security Cancels ‘Virtual Fence’ After $1 Billion Is Spent

New York Times
January 14, 2011
by Julia Preston

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday canceled a project to build a technology-based “virtual fence” across the Southwest border, saying that the effort — on which $1 billion has already been spent — was ineffective and too costly.

Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said she had decided to end the five-year-old project, known as SBI-Net, because it “does not meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness.” In a statement, Ms. Napolitano said border agents would instead use less expensive technology that is already part of their surveillance equipment, tailoring it to the specific terrain where they will be scouting for illegal border crossers and drug traffickers.

Ms. Napolitano’s decision brought a long-expected close to a project carried out by the Boeing Corporation under a contract first signed in 2005 under President George W. Bush, which had been plagued by delays and cost overruns. Originally estimated to cost more than $7 billion to cover the 2,000-mile length of the border, it was the subject of more than a dozen scathing reports by the Government Accountability Office.

In a pilot program in Arizona, it cost about $1 billion to build the system across 53 miles of the state’s border. Officials said the new approach, using mobile surveillance systems and unmanned drones already in the Border Patrol’s arsenal, would cost less than $750 million to cover the remaining 323 miles of Arizona’s border.

Ms. Napolitano suspended financing for the project in March and ordered a review, which was just completed.

But officials moved slowly to cancel the project because it had been ensnared in the contentious debate over border security. Many Republican lawmakers have accused the Obama administration of being lax on enforcement, and they have said they would not consider an overhaul of immigration laws that President Obama supports until the border is tighter.

Anticipating criticism, homeland security officials released documents on Friday showing big increases in the Border Patrol — to 20,500 today from 10,000 in 2004 — and other border agents, and a steep decline in the number of immigrants detained at the border, indicating fewer illegal crossings. About 463,000 illegal crossers were detained last year, compared with 724,000 in 2008, according to the figures.

Ms. Napolitano said she had concluded that the original concept of the project, to develop a single technology that could be used across the entire border, was not viable. Boeing had built a complex system of sensors, radars and cameras mounted on towers that was supposed to lead border agents to the exact location of illegal crossers. But the system functioned inconsistently in the rough terrain along much of the border.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to meet our border technology needs,” Ms. Napolitano said.
The announcement came in advance of the expiration of the Boeing contract next Tuesday, a homeland security official said.

In a statement, Boeing noted that officials said they would continue to use equipment it had designed. “We appreciate that they recognize the value of the integrated fixed towers Boeing has built, tested and delivered so far,” the company said.

Representative Peter T. King, the New York Republican who is the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, criticized the administration for being slow to end the program. “I continue to have very serious concerns about the Obama administration’s lack of urgency to secure the border,” he said.

Friday, January 14, 2011

U.S.-Mexican cooperation leads to tunnel discoveries

Nogales International
January 14, 2010

A collaborative effort between U.S. and Mexican authorities led to the discovery of two border tunnels last weekend in Ambos Nogales.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, the tunnels were discovered Sunday during a joint tunnel sweep along the border fence west of the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry.

Both tunnels were incomplete, under construction and approximately two feet wide by three feet tall, the Border Patrol said in a news release. One tunnel had entered the United States, extending approximately 10 feet into the country.

The Border Patrol said open lines of communication with Mexican authorities have led U.S. authorities to a number of mutually beneficial, intelligence-driven operations – including tunnel detections.

“Border Patrol agents, in partnership with law enforcement agencies and communities on both sides of the border, continue to be proactive in detecting these illicit tunnels which compromise border security and the structural integrity structures they are built under,” said Manuel Padilla, Jr., division chief of the agency’s Tucson Sector “Binational cooperation has allowed both countries to make major strides in achieving our common goals of making both countries safer.”

Sunday’s discoveries mark the second and third suspected smuggling tunnels found in the area so far in 2011. On Jan. 3, Mexican officials located the mouth of a tunnel in an abandoned house on Calle Internacional in Nogales, Sonora, west of the DeConcini port.

An announcement by the Mexican military said the tunnel was dug about 5 feet beneath the surface and stretched almost 100 feet, apparently just far enough to reach U.S. territory. However, the tunnel had no exit point. the Mexican Army’s 45th Military Zone command said.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Details of teen's death at border seem elusive

Arizona Daily Star
January 8, 2011
by Brady McCombs

NOGALES, Sonora - As family and friends cried over his casket in a house just south of the border, the facts surrounding how Ramses Barron Torres died earlier this week remained murky.

What is known for certain is that Barron, 17, died shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexico border fence less than a mile east of downtown Nogales during an apparent confrontation with Border Patrol agents. What exactly occurred in a shallow wash between two hills, however, is unclear.

Sonoran state police who investigated the incident said Barron was fatally shot by a Border Patrol agent as the teen was climbing the border fence.

An autopsy determined the cause of death was a bullet that entered through the outside of his right arm and went through his chest, puncturing his lungs and spleen, according to a news release from the state police.

A spokesman for the Sonoran Attorney General's Office told the Nogales (Ariz.) International newspaper there is a Nogales, Sonora, police surveillance video of the incident but the office hasn't reviewed it yet. Calls to that office by the Arizona Daily Star were not returned.

The FBI, which is investigating the incident as an assault on a federal agent, wouldn't confirm or deny if Barron was fatally shot by a Border Patrol agent.

FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson has said agents were attempting to apprehend drug-smuggling suspects when other people began throwing rocks at them. An agent fired at the rock throwers, but it's unknown what happened after that, Johnson said.

"Due to the investigation remaining ongoing it would be inappropriate to make further comments at this time," Johnson wrote in an e-mail Friday.

The Border Patrol has confirmed that at least one agent fired shots while agents were assaulted with rocks by several people. That agent, whose identity has not been released, is on administrative leave, said Border Patrol spokeswoman Colleen Agle.

"A thorough, multiagency investigation is currently ongoing," she said in an e-mailed statement.

Family members say Barron was probably crossing over the fence to visit his girlfriend who lives in Nogales, Ariz.

The family said the teen was with a friend at the time. The friend later told them that Barron was standing on the Mexican side of the fence when he was hit by the bullet.

A report from Nogales, Sonora, police said Barron was dropped off at a hospital in Nogales, Sonora, by three men who drove away after setting him on the ground.

"I don't know what he was doing at 3 a.m., but I know he was a good kid," said Oscar Sierra, Barron's uncle. "It sucks. He was only 17. He was a beautiful kid."

Several large signs hung from the chain-link fence in front of the family's house demanding justice.

"We demand justice and that the assassin of Ramses, son of Calle del Rey, be given impunity. We ask for the government's assistance," said a sign in Spanish.

Calle del Rey is the street where Barron lived with his mother and 12-year-old sister in a small house in the steep hills east of downtown.

He grew up in the poor neighborhood along the border. Their house is about 1,000 feet from where the shooting occurred.

Dozens of friends mingled inside, on the porch and on the dirt street. Many wore T-shirts with Barron's picture that said in Spanish: "We will always remember you. Rest in peace." Many of the men wore hats that read "Rest in peace Ramses," with his date of birth and death.

He had many friends and almost as many girlfriends, said his stepfather, Armando Caraveo. "He was very popular," Caraveo said. "Look at all these people."

His mother, Zelma Berenice Barron Torres, called him a good boy who liked to spend time on the Internet, listen to music and dance. He was still a student, and was getting ready to take a blacksmith's class, she said.

"He was very happy; he had a lot of friends," she said in Spanish. "He wasn't a drug addict."

She has a meeting Monday with Mexican Consulate officials but she's unsure what it's about. She hopes they can help make sure a thorough investigation is carried out.

"That's why we want justice," she said, pointing to the casket. "We don't want them to get impunity. If they let this go, they are going to let other things go, too, and everyone over there (United States) is going to get off free."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Border fence video goes viral

January 7, 2011

TUCSON - The video is just 18 seconds long, but its implications, so much more.

Shot along the Arizona border in November by a young filmmaker, two women who are average in size and weight climbed to the top of the international border fence in less than 18 seconds.

Roy Germano is the filmmaker behind the YouTube video that has seen over 360,000 views.

He said he was exploring the immigration issue near the border with volunteers, when spontaneously, two of the women decided to climb the wall to see what would happen; and he caught it on camera.

"We were all extremely surprised that they were able to do it as quickly as they could," said Germano.

Germano made a feature film about immigration from the Mexico side and now from the U.S. side. where each mile of border fencing costs roughly 6.5 million dollars.

"Maybe a lot of money is being unnecessarily spent on something like the border fence when we could be thinking of more imaginative and effective ways to address the immigration issue," said Germano.

Border Patrol disagreed. The said they know the fence is climbable but there needs to be a proper mix including new technology and man power.

Patriots Border Alliance volunteer Bill Irwin acknowledged the problem at the border but said the video does not prove anything.

"The girls could do it because they're not carrying anything," said Irwin.

He said factor in exhaustion and gear weight and climbing the fence becomes a lot more difficult.

"A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. They usually have 4 gallons and that's why you have all the litter out there," said Irwin.

"Why not put money into programs that help immigrants integrate and learn english or put money into helping regulate the flow so we can keep tabs on the people who are coming in," said Germano.

While Irwin said the border is dangerous and we need all the protection we can afford.

We also contacted the Department of Homeland Security who said they ca not verify the validity of the video and therefore were unable to comment

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mexican teen dies after border incident

Sierra Vista Herald
January 6, 2011
by Jonathan Clark

NOGALES — A Mexican teenager who died after a confrontation early Monday morning with Border Patrol agents in Nogales was killed by a gunshot, Sonoran officials say.

The Sonora State Investigative Police, or PEI, said 17-year-old Ramses Barron Torres, who died shortly after 3 a.m. Monday at a Nogales, Sonora, hospital, was shot in the back of the right arm, with the bullet continuing into his chest cavity, puncturing a lung, and lodging in the left side of his ribcage.

The Border Patrol has declined to comment on the incident, as has the FBI, whose investigators scoured the scene of the incident below the Hudgins Street turnaround on Wednesday morning. Nogales Police Chief Jeffrey Kirkham said one of his officers went to the scene, “but all he could get was the location and that it involved an agent and a UDA (undocumented alien).”

The PEI said it was notified at approximately 3:10 a.m. that a dead body had been dropped off in front of the emergency room at the Hospital General in Nogales, Sonora. Arriving at the hospital, officers found the body of Barron Torres, showing “bruises and abrasions on different parts of his body.”

A prosecutor ordered an immediate autopsy, which determined that the cause of death had been a gunshot wound, the PEI said.

An incident report from the Nogales, Sonora municipal police said that a security guard at the hospital reported seeing a cherry-colored Dodge Durango with Arizona license plates pull up to the hospital at around 3 a.m. Three men got out of the vehicle, pulled a fourth man out and laid him on the ground before speeding off, the report said.

However, the PEI statement said one of the men cried out for a stretcher, saying he had an injured person who needed attention. As emergency personnel searched for vital signs, the three passengers told them that Barron Torres had been climbing the border wall when a Border Patrol agent shot him once. He then fell onto a pile of gravel on the Mexican side of the fence, the men said.

Earlier on Wednesday, The Associated Press quoted Nogales, Sonora, city spokesman Alejandro Palacios as saying that Barron Torres died after he fell from the border fence and hit his head on a rock.

Palacios told the AP that Border Patrol agents fired warning shots in the air after the teen and other youths had illegally crossed the border and began throwing rocks at them. He said none of the youths were shot.

Reached by the Nogales International, Palacios declined to confirm that account and referred all questions to the PEI.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kris Kobach and other illegal immigration crusaders use FAIR's bogus stats to scare America

The Pitch
December 14, 2010
by Terry Greene Sterling

On June 5, hundreds rallied at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix in support of Senate Bill 1070, the harshest state immigration law in the nation that had been signed into law six weeks earlier.

The crowd of mostly middle-aged, working-class white people waved handmade signs blaring such slogans as "14 Million Jobless Americans, 13 Million Illegals, DO THE MATH, MR. PRESIDENT."

And: "SB 1070 is not racist!"

It was a hot day. People were sunburned. Some wore American-flag shirts, American-flag baseball caps, or American-flag necklaces. Some carried American flags. They stood in the sun to hear a lineup of speakers delivering the same victory-themed message: Americans are under siege by hordes of illegal invaders who steal their jobs and suck up public benefits ... and, in this economy, how much more can Americans be expected to endure?

The call-to-arms message was that enough is enough. Rise up, get active, donate, vote, stop illegal immigration now — before it's too late.

The orators included black activist Ted Hayes ("Amnesty is racist. This country doesn't belong to anyone else but us"); Col. Al Rodriguez ("Mexicans, you don't speak for me"); Terry Anderson, the now-deceased California radio talk-show host ("Jackpot babies"); NumbersUSA lobbyist Rosemary Jenks ("Amnesty destroys America"); immigration hardliner and soon-to-lose Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo ("Barack Obama ... will open our borders"); and the self-professed author and sponsor of SB 1070, Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce.

Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans, Pearce beamed as the crowd chanted gratitude for SB 1070. "Thank you, Russell. Thank you, Russell."

Pearce joked about how maybe Barack Obama himself didn't have papers. Then he justified SB 1070 by reciting the "hard costs of illegal immigration" to Arizona taxpayers — $2.7 billion in a time of "high unemployment and record foreclosures."

Like many successful illegal-immigration populists, Pearce gets those "hard costs" and his talking points from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based "public interest" nonprofit founded in 1979.

For years, FAIR has issued reports detailing how illegal immigrants damage the economy, steal American jobs, sponge public benefits and commit heinous crimes. The nonprofit allies itself with other groups and activists sharing its point of view. And although FAIR takes a back seat at anti-illegal-immigration rallies, its presence is pervasive. At the June 5 rally in Phoenix, almost every speaker had ties to FAIR.

Thanks to grassroots organizing, Washington politicking and faithful donors, FAIR has changed the immigration debate in the United States. It has successfully blocked progressive immigration reform, including what it calls "amnesty" — legalization of noncriminal illegal immigrants (including magna cum laude college graduates) who have lived in the United States for decades.

After SB 1070, FAIR turned its attention to its favorite cause: "birthright citizenship" legislation that would challenge the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment gives citizenship to children born in the United States. FAIR wants to change that so that babies born to undocumented-immigrant parents would be denied citizenship.

FAIR is allied with its sister nonprofits: NumbersUSA, which also lobbied successfully to squash immigration reform in 2007, and the Center for Immigration Studies, which refers to itself as a nonpartisan, pro-immigrant think tank. The three groups cite one another's reports and studies, and post one another's findings on their websites.

Reporters often quote experts from these three groups as credible mainstream voices of dissent to progressive immigration reform, even though several human-rights organizations have flagged FAIR, NumbersUSA and CIS as white-nationalist hate groups.

The groups maintain that the hate designations are arbitrary and untrue, but their vitriolic rhetoric scalds the ear.

"As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night?" retired ophthalmologist John Tanton, the founder of these oft-cited think tanks, once asked. "Or will there be an explosion?"


Arizona has long been an experimental legal laboratory for FAIR and a place to test increasingly harsh laws — 2004's Prop 200, the human-smuggling law, the employer-sanctions law, SB 1070, and the promised birthright-citizenship law.

The group's legal arm is the Immigration Reform Law Institute, whose "constitutional law expert" is Kris Kobach, the UMKC law professor and soon-to-be Kansas secretary of state. Kobach, a former Overland Park city councilman, was key in drafting SB 1070, and he has vowed to help Arizona fight so-called "anchor babies."

As each law hits the news, neutrally worded reports that portray the undocumented as social and economic burdens are issued by FAIR or its sister organizations. The studies point to the urgent need for passage of the immigration law in question.

In the wake of the passage of SB 1070, for instance, FAIR advanced a copy of its new report, on the alarming cost of illegal immigration in Arizona, to Fox News. And on May 17, Fox reported that "Arizona's illegal-immigrant population is costing the state's taxpayers even more than once thought — a whopping $2.7 billion, according to researchers at the public-interest group that helped write the state's new immigration law."

The FAIR report helped galvanize support for SB 1070 and for its boosters, including Kobach, Pearce and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Brewer told the Arizona Republic that she signed SB 1070 in part because she was "cognizant of what the impact of illegal immigration was doing to the state of Arizona in relation to cost."

But the FAIR report that Brewer, Pearce and practically every other Arizona illegal-immigration politico relied on to get elected flies in the face of reality.

FAIR's estimate of the unauthorized population in Arizona is unusually robust. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 460,000 undocumented people live in Arizona. Recently, the Pew Hispanic Center lowered its estimate to about 375,000. But FAIR reports that 500,000 costly illegal aliens live in Arizona.

And FAIR has added a new demographic to the expense column: children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

Despite their constitutionally guaranteed citizenship, these children represent a major "cost of illegal immigration," according to FAIR.

Nearly half of FAIR's estimated cost of illegal immigration in Arizona involves expenses of U.S. children born to undocumented immigrants, without factoring in the obvious economic counterbalance — lifetimes of paying taxes, working and consuming. Adding these children to the expense column boosts Arizona's "cost of illegal immigration" to $2.7 billion, up from $1.3 billion in FAIR's 2004 report.

That's more than a 100 percent increase in supposed illegal-immigration costs in the face of a dramatic decline in the state's population of illegal immigrants.

Longtime FAIR staffer Jack Martin, who is not an economist but, rather, is "a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience," put the Arizona report together.

In July, Martin said U.S. children born to undocumented immigrants were included in his report as a cost of illegal immigration, because they "wouldn't be here" if their parents hadn't been in the country illegally. And if Mom and Dad returned to Mexico, they'd take their American children with them, Martin declared.

Asked why these same American kids mysteriously disappear from his report once they become adults and offset the cost of their educations by paying taxes, consuming and working, Martin offered no rational answer.

In July, as politicians eyeballed SB 1070's popularity and drafted similar election-year legislation in their states, FAIR issued yet another report: "The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers."

This detailed report says illegal aliens cost American taxpayers $113 billion annually, a figure that Kobach quoted in his quasi campaign to become secretary of state. It says each American household pays $1,117 yearly for illegal immigration, and that most illegal aliens don't pay taxes.

Such numbers understandably outrage millions of Americans already anxious about uncertain economic times. But, once again, the numbers defy logic, because the misleading techniques in the Arizona report were duplicated in the national report.

Start with the population estimate.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 10.8 million illegal immigrants lived in the United States in 2009, but the FAIR report estimates a much larger population: 13 million.

And, as in the Arizona report, the largest single "fiscal burden" of illegal immigration is tied to American children. FAIR says it costs taxpayers $52 billion to educate the children of illegal immigrants, including more than 3 million American citizens born to one or more undocumented parents. The positive economic counterbalance to education costs (the adult lifetime of productivity, consumption and taxpaying) is excluded from FAIR's calculations.

In fact, the consensus among many economists is that the U.S. government actually nets a profit from educating its children, because educated adults pay more taxes and contribute to the nation's productivity.

"Many government expenses related to immigrants are associated with their children," Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney write in "Ten Economic Facts About Immigration," recently published on behalf of the Brookings Institution. "Both the immigrant children and children of U.S.-born citizens are expensive when they are young because of the costs of investing in children's education and health. Those expenses, however, are paid back through taxes received over a lifetime of work."

Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California–Davis and an expert on the contributions of immigrants to economies, adds: "Education spending is always considered an investment, not a cost, because it adds to the productivity of the country."

Daniel Griswold, of the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote in a 2007 report, "The Fiscal Impact of Immigration Reform: The Real Story," that it would be misleading to "count the costs of educating the children of an immigrant without considering the future taxes paid by the educated children once they have grown and entered the workforce."


Educated voices of reason are drowned out by FAIR's populist appeal. If you want to measure the nonprofit's effectiveness at convincing Americans that illegal immigrants are an undue burden on taxpayers, consider this: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch supporter a few months ago of legalizing the undocumented already in the United States, now seeks hearings on whether their kids should be citizens.

"People come here to have babies," he told Fox News in July. "They come here to drop a child."

His assertion that parents illegally enter the United States to give birth to "anchor babies" and obtain parental green cards makes no sense. Under current immigration law, undocumented parents must wait for their "anchor babies" to reach adulthood before they can legally apply for parental green cards.

And if the parents live illegally in the United States, immigration authorities generally require that they return to Mexico and stay there for 10 years before the U.S. government will consider giving them green cards.

But this doesn't stop Graham's bluster. He has even hinted that he might introduce legislation to change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants citizenship to children born on American soil regardless of whether their parents have papers. Graham was probably grandstanding; such an amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and would have to be ratified by 75 percent of the states.

The more practical path would be for Arizona to pass a birthright-citizenship law and then test it all the way to the Supreme Court at taxpayer expense — just like all the other Arizona immigration laws that FAIR has heartily supported. And, sure enough, fresh off his SB 1070 victory, Russell Pearce vowed that he'd ramp up his efforts to get a birthright-citizenship law passed in Arizona. Later, Kobach told reporters that Pearce had enlisted him to help.

Pearce, who didn't respond to calls and an e-mail seeking comment, is now the president of the Arizona Senate. He has publicly stated that he will back off sponsoring the birthright-citizenship law himself and will turn over the issue to Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh. It's unknown whether Kavanagh will introduce another of Pearce's favorite measures: a law that would require parents with no papers to pay tuition for their kids to attend public school.

Such a law would work in tandem with a birthright-citizenship measure. First, Arizona would deny birth certificates to kids born to undocumented parents. Second, the state would charge tuition because the children have no birth certificates.

If a birthright-citizenship law was passed, it would create a burgeoning, illegal, illiterate, expensive underclass. And if children of the undocumented were deprived of schooling, government revenues would plummet.

That's because cost benefits of a public high school education are significant. A 2007 Columbia University study found that even kids who needed expensive interventions (such as English classes) in order to get their high school diplomas netted the public purse an average of $127,000 per student over a lifetime.

On the other hand, the same study reports, high school dropouts tend to commit more crimes, be less healthy, rely more on public benefits, and pay fewer taxes.

The Center for Immigration Studies has long pointed to an almost 40 percent dropout rate among Latino immigrants. The implication is that Mexicans drain the economy with social costs — and that if they don't leave, it will only get worse.

Scaremongering about Latino dropout rates is based on National Center for Education Statistics data on the "16- to 24-year-old status dropout rate." Richard Fry, of the Pew Hispanic Center, determined that 38 percent of Hispanic immigrants ages 16 to 24 were high school dropouts.

But here's the catch, according to Fry: The 38 percent dropout rate includes thousands of young immigrant laborers with minimal educations who never attended American schools. They're counted by the National Center for Education Statistics as high school dropouts because they haven't finished 12 years of school.

U.S.-born Hispanics actually do have a relatively high dropout rate — 11 percent. That's not a good statistic, and it does have social costs. But it's impossible to tie this dropout rate to illegal immigration, and Fry says there's no way to determine how many of these U.S.-born dropouts are children of the undocumented.

Seeing their peers waste educational opportunities frustrates many of about 825,000 undocumented immigrant children known as DREAMers.

Brought to the United States as children by undocumented relatives, about 65,000 of these kids graduate from American high schools every year. Many have made it through college, on private scholarships, with honors.

But they can't legally work in the United States, even though they self-identify as Americans.

That could soon change. A piece of feel-good federal legislation called the DREAM Act would grant temporary legal residency to undocumented high school grads with no criminal records and allow them to attend college or trade school or join the military. They'd get green cards only if they lived up to their end of the bargain. Then, eventually, they'd qualify for citizenship — and, according to them and their advocates, work, pay taxes, shore up the middle class and help strengthen the military.

The law has been introduced every year since 2001, and it's getting a last-chance airing as 2010 draws to a close.

But FAIR has successfully blocked DREAM Act legislation, decrying it as closeted amnesty for illegal aliens and condemning it as an incentive for further illegal immigration into the United States. And when young Kansas City immigrants rallied in support of the legislation late last month, Kobach made himself available to local TV crews to offer his, and FAIR's, point of view.

"Get in line," he said, "with the millions of people around this globe who are trying to enter the United States legally, and doing it the right way."


Back in July, as Kobach's campaign for state office was just heating up, he invited Phoenix lawman Joe Arpaio to a conference center in Overland Park. As 1,300 people whooped in appreciation of the two men, Kobach trotted out many of FAIR's bogus claims, including the number of illegal immigrants in the country and their cost to taxpayers.

Among the suspect statistics was his claim that Phoenix had the world's second-highest kidnapping rate, with more than 200 every year — a figure he blamed on the state's place at the center of the human- and drug-trafficking trades. The Phoenix-as-Mogadishu tale had been debunked by the Phoenix police department, but that didn't stop Kobach from using it. Then, to make sure the issue hit home, he estimated that Phoenix's metro area is about twice the size of Kansas City's, and he fantasized about a Kansas City with 100-plus kidnappings a year.

"People wouldn't just be conceal-carrying, they'd be open-carrying," he said.

It's a common scare tactic used by the friends of FAIR. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has spoken of drug-related beheadings in the desert, and she famously announced that most Mexican immigrants were drug mules.

Those stories are patently false. Contrary to Brewer's assertions, border counties and cities have experienced declining crime rates, and border cities are among the safest in the nation, according to the FBI. And crime studies show again and again that immigrants do not commit as many violent crimes as their native-born counterparts.

Despite all this, when Arizonans were polled after the passage of SB 1070, they voiced mounting fear over crimes committed by Mexicans against Americans.

The fear is fueled on FAIR's website, which posts articles detailing horrendous crimes committed in the United States by "illegal-alien criminals." And the same fear is fanned in FAIR's alarmist "report" on the fiscal burden of illegal immigration on taxpayers.

The think tank claims that American taxpayers pay about $7.83 billion for "law enforcement costs of illegal immigration." About half is tied to federal detention, removal and prosecution of illegal immigrants, all of which FAIR has long advocated. Another $1.4 billion is tied to National Guard and Coast Guard costs.

The numbers are ambiguous at best. The feds who warehouse criminal aliens don't tally who is legal (green card, visa) and who isn't, so it's not possible to get true "law enforcement costs of illegal immigration."

In April, Kavanagh declared that in Arizona, "illegals make up 15 percent of our prison population ... . It is a fact."

But it's not a fact.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, like the federal Bureau of Prisons, doesn't break down which inmates are in the country legally and which aren't. It does tally "foreign national" inmates, but that category includes legal and illegal immigrants.

Two Arizona officials actually did distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants: Kobach campaigner Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who long pointed to a disproportionate number of illegal-alien felons incarcerated in Arizona. But a lot of the felons clogging up the jails were there only because they were immigrants — Mexicans who'd been nabbed for washing cars with fake IDs or paying a smuggler to guide them through the desert.


Tanton, the founder of FAIR, is articulate and friendly. At 76 years old, he paints a picture of himself living a seemingly idyllic life of retirement on the shores of Lake Michigan. He's happily married to a smart woman, Mary Lou, and the two are active in their community, their Methodist church, the environment.

Tanton likes to hike, despite early stage Parkinson's disease. On a recent morning, he and Mary Lou walked for four miles through a vast nature preserve that they'd helped create near their beloved home of Petoskey, Michigan.

After a post-hike lunch of meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy, he returned to his office and his life's work: restricting immigration into the United States in any way possible.

Tanton dismisses a growing number of critics, who tag him as a closeted white nationalist and who charge that his web of nonprofits has one secret, chilling goal: restricting immigration to preserve the nation for a white, European majority.

In the 1970s, Tanton was a leader of the group Zero Population Growth, which promoted two-children families as a way to stabilize the nation's population. He has long worried, he says, that the U.S. population will overrun natural resources and destroy the country.

The U.S. population has soared, from about 225 million in 1982 to more than 307 million in 2009, in part because immigrant babies have bolstered the birthrate that Tanton has labored so long to reduce. Many population experts argue that those immigrant babies will become the workers who pay taxes to provide social services for the aging American population. But Tanton has a "fundamental disagreement" with that theory.

His self-described population concerns caused him to start the Social Contract Press (a publishing house), NumbersUSA, CIS and U.S. Inc., which funnels money to the other organizations. Taken together, these nonprofits make up the so-called Tanton Network, a group that enjoys a solid, loyal list of donors.

But in 2007, the individual nonprofits in the Tanton Network were labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. An Alabama-based civil rights organization, the SPLC subsequently dispatched Heidi Beirich, its director of research, to comb through Tanton's papers at the University of Michigan.

Beirich says she was stunned by what she found in the boxes: reams of letters from Tanton to leading white nationalists and "race scientists."

"Do we leave it to individuals to decide that they are the intelligent ones who should have more kids?" Tanton wrote to Robert Graham, who had started a sperm bank with the semen of Nobel Prize winners. "And more troublesome, what about the less intelligent, who logically should have less?"

Beirich's published reports on Tanton's white-supremacist associations outraged FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA. Jerry Kammer, a former reporter who helped bring a Pulitzer Prize to a San Diego newspaper, is now a "senior research fellow" for CIS. At a panel convened this fall to discredit the SPLC, Kammer bashed the organization.

But Kammer also sought to distance himself from Tanton, who, he says, "has a tin ear for the sensitivities of immigration." Tanton is a "distraction" in the immigration movement, Kammer says, because he "sometimes speaks with a freewheeling bluntness that even those who admire him find upsetting."

But the SPLC isn't the first organization to call the motives of FAIR's founder into question. In the 1990s, several magazines and newspapers profiled Tanton and pointed out his controversial views. And in 2000, the Anti-Defamation League took on FAIR. "Unfortunately, FAIR and other anti-immigrant groups have used reckless, distorted language and tactics that cloud and inhibit responsible debate," the ADL concluded in a report.

Tanton sees nothing wrong with associating with white nationalists. He doesn't necessarily agree with them, he says, but reaching out to them is part of his "coalition building."

And he's not ashamed of soliciting $1.5 million in unrestricted donations during FAIR's early days from the Pioneer Fund, an American foundation that has long financed research in "race science."

Instead, when Tanton looks at how FAIR, NumbersUSA, CIS and his other groups have succeeded in turning the immigration debate his way, the old man feels an obvious satisfaction about his life's work.

"It is amazing," he says, "how well we've done."


Terry Greene Sterling is the author of the new book Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone and is writer-in-residence at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. Jennifer Gaie Hellum assisted with research on white-nationalist groups.