On the border: a border fence and immigration reform debate

the U.S. border fence extending into the ocean

On the border, the U.S. Border Fence project has become a political football in the debate about immigration reform. Flickr photo.

On Cinco de Mayo 2010, the border between the United States and Mexico is a critical issue in the raging political debate on immigration reform. On the border, the U.S. Border Patrol has doubled in size since 2004. Hundreds of miles of a high-tech U.S. border fence project, costing billions of dollars, doesn’t work as advertised. The Obama administration wants to divert any cash advance from extending the U.S. border fence to spend it on more U.S. Border Patrol. This leads Republicans to charge that Democrats are cutting funding for border security.

GOP: no clue on the border

On the 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico, the U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has completed about 650 miles of the U.S. border fence project as of Cinco de Mayo 2010. The barrier, meant to keep out people, isn’t working. The U.S. border fence project is also interfering with migrating wildlife, blocking access to water and threatens to divide tribal lands for three Indian nations. Another part of the border fence project is a so-called “virtual fence” made of towers and sensors. NPR reports that Boeing built a 28-mile test section in the Southern Arizona desert. After three years — and $1.4 billion — it didn’t work.

The border fence debate

Politifact.com reports that in the border fence debate, most immigration experts say adding personnel to the U.S. Border Patrol is much more effective than building fences. In March Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she will spend $50 million of stimulus funds originally intended to build the virtual fence on other, more proven and cost-effective security technology. Yet Mike Coffman, a Republican congressman from Colorado, writes in the Daily Caller that the border isn’t secure “because the federal government currently prioritizes protecting ecosystems and wildlife along the border over controlling access and preventing illegal entry.”

U.S. border fence cost

The controversial situation on the border is clouded further by politicians who use the shift in funding from the U.S. border fence project to lie in the border fence debate. Sunday U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference, told NBC’s Meet the Press “This administration and this Congress have been systematically cutting funding to border security since the Democrats took control,” He then went on to present “the numbers.” Pence said in 2007 the Republicans wrote a $1.2 billion budget for border control and fencing. He says the Democrats cut it to $800 million.

U.S. border security spending

Republican budget claims about what’s happening on the border are false, according to the politifact.com. report on the border fence debate. In 2007, discretionary spending on border security was $6.3 billion — the last year of Republican control. Under Democratic majority, discretionary spending on border security went to $7.9 billion in 2008; to $9.8 billion in 2009; and to $10.1 billion in fiscal year 2010. President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget calls for a slight decrease in discretionary spending on border security, but even at the proposed level of $9.8 billion, that’s a 55 percent increase between 2007 and 2011.

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