December 8, 2011
by Joe Ducey
There has been a lot of talk about building a border fence and some of it is coming from political candidates vying for your support.
Congresswoman Michele Bachman said, “I will build a double-walled fence.”
Former candidate Herman Cain said he would build an electrified fence, although later he claimed he was only joking.
Arizona Senator Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), is serious when he says he plans to raise enough money from private citizens to build a border fence.
“We will have a real fence,” Smith insists.
Senator Smith sponsored the bill to raise enough money from private sources to build a border fence.
So far Smith has raised roughly $273,000 in about six months from over 4000 donors.
Smith says most donations come in modest amounts, but some are as much as $2500.
The website, buildaborderfence.com, not only allows visitors to donate money with the click of a keystroke but also provides information about border security issues.
The ABC15 Investigators asked Senator Smith about where the money came from to build the website to raise money for a fence, but Smith said he had no idea how the website was built or who paid for it.
The website has lots of information, but does not provide any details about where the fence would be built or how.
Senator Smith admits there is no firm plan, yet, on where or how the fence will be built.
When we pressed for details he said, “I’d rather not say until it happens.”
Smith rejects any suggestions from his critics that the money being raised will never be enough to build a fence.
“Every penny will be put toward a fence,” Smith said.
He is passionate about the need for better border security and this project.
“I like this to Extreme Makeover: Border Security edition,” Smith said.
The young senator says he’s determined to get materials donated and he believes prisoners can be used as workers.
What will the fence look like?
“Whatever we get donated, well frankly, that's what we've got to use…that’s it,” Smith said.
He says he has some verbal agreements and commitments from people but when we pressed him for details, Smith is tight-lipped.
Smith told ABC15, “Right now we’re taking people at their word.”
The senator from Maricopa says he is comfortable with that for now even though he does not have any signed agreements or firm commitments, yet.
“We’d rather it just go up and then talk specifics,” Smith explained. “My intent is to get a border fence built one way or another. It’s that simple.”
But some might argue building a fence along the border is never simple.
Del Caudle is a safety engineer who helped build a border fence three years ago.
He told ABC15 it was anything but simple and there were major obstacles at every turn.
Caudle, a retired firefighter who lives in Casa Grande, worked with the Army Corps of Engineers when they embarked on a Department of Homeland Security project to put up a vehicle barrier fence along the border on tribal territory.
Caudle spent three months working to put in about 15 miles of fence on property owned by the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Caudle said, “We had problems with animals, we had problems with the labor force, we had problems with archeological sites.”
Caudle remembers that one obstacle stopped the project dead in its tracks. The U.S. Government had to negotiate with more than one district governor of the Tohono O’odham Tribe to get the project completed.
Del Caudle says the project cost about $1 million dollars a mile.
He showed ABC15 how smugglers could defeat the fence.
Some estimates by the federal government put the cost of building a border fence at around $3 million dollars a mile.
Whatever the cost, Senator Smith claims they may start building as early as next year south of Tucson, but he won’t say where.
He says he has enlisted the help of a public relations firm to launch a nationwide publicity campaign to get donations, but he won’t identify the firm or when that will start.
Smith is not deterred by his critics and he hopes the citizens of Arizona visit the website and make a donation.
Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) says he has some advice for anybody who donated money to Senator Smith’s fund.
“I’d call and ask to get my money back,” Campbell said.
Campbell says he is just as concerned about border security as Senator Smith, but he wants a reasonable approach and he’s concerned citizens are getting ripped off.
“We're tricking Arizonans to donate their hard-earned money to a plan that's never going to see the light of day,” Campbell said.
He would prefer a plan that includes federal authorities working with the state to do a better job at border security with an intelligent plan.
Campbell raises questions about who will be accountable if Smith’s border fence fund is never sufficient to build any fencing.
Smith insists all the money donated will go toward construction.
The ABC15 Investigators found that his bill allows for members of the border
fence committee to be reimbursed for expenses.
“That’s just language in a bill…no one will be compensated for anything,” Smith said.
ABC15 will continue to follow the efforts to raise private funds to build a border fence and we’ll let you know what we learn.