Throughout 2011, the political drive to construct more and more fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border has reached a fever pitch, with many lawmakers pointing to such a fence as the ultimate key to keeping undocumented immigrants out of the country. However, at the same time, criticism of border fencing on grounds of its cost and efficacy has also grown considerably over the past year.
In July, the state of Arizona launched a website requesting public donations for the construction of a border fence stretching the entire length of the Arizona-Sonora border. According to one of the chief proponents of border fence construction in Arizona, State Sen. Steve Smith, the state spends exorbitant amounts of money on services for immigrants, and the fence is critical to limiting this expenditure. Thus far, the state has collected $191,420 from 4,017 separate donors.
Many have criticized Smith and the state of Arizona for collecting public donations without conducting and making public a definitive study of how much the project will cost, or whether it is even possible. Based on the recent costs of constructing small stretches of fencing along the border, it could cost as much as $289.8 million to finish the project, over 1,500 times what has thus far been publicly donated.
In November, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a scathing report accusing Customs and Border Protection in Arizona of wasting $1 billion over the past six years through failed efforts at implementing a virtual border fence. Just as many accuse the state of poor planning in constructing the physical fence, the GAO argues that poor planning is also the reason why so much money has been wasted on failed technological enhancements.
Much has been said in the news throughout the past year on a wide variety of additional border fence failures. In October, a typical Arizona monsoon washed away six miles of border fencing near Douglas. Reconstructing this section of fence is estimated to cost $14.25 million. In addition, the continued buildup physical fencing along the border seems not to have resulted in curbing drug and human smuggling into the country, but rather it has caused smugglers to be more inventive, as record numbers of tunnels have popped up along the entire U.S.-Mexico border this year. Nogales in particular has been dubbed the “tunnel capital” of the border.
In one particularly unsettling story from the border, fence construction near Brownsville, Tex. resulted in several ranches along the Rio Grande being shut off on the southern side of the fence. Now, ranchers there must use government issued codes to get into the country, and they are required to report all visitors to the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the footprints up the sides of the steel barriers near these ranches show that fence construction there is likely doing little to keep people from illegally crossing into the U.S.
This is the first part in a series of pieces revisiting the major immigration and border-related stories of 2011. Read additional parts here: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.