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Congress Asks President to Halt Border Fence Construction

February 25, 2009
Despite the nation's vulnerability along the Southern border, some Democrats in Congress sent a letter to the president last week asking him to delay further construction of the border fence.  In the letter, the Representatives state they are writing "to ask that [President Obama] suspend, at least temporarily, construction of the border fence" until the Department of Homeland Security completes its evaluation of border security operations.
The authors of the letter- which include Reps. Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Susan Davis (CA-53), Bob Filner (CA-51), Raul Grijalva (AZ-7), Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15), Silvestre Reyes (TX-16), and Ciro D. Rodriguez (TX-23)-further criticize the fence as "an antiquated structure that has torn our communities apart and damaged our cross border relationships."  (Rep. Ortiz News Release).

DHS reported in mid-January that construction of the 700-mile fence was nearly 90 percent complete. However, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the non-partisan watchdog agency for Congress, pointed out that only 32 miles of the fence has been built as originally designed.  (GAO Report, January 29, 2009)  The Secure Fence Act of 2006 originally required DHS to build 700 miles of double-layer fencing along the border, but Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) later amended the law in December 2007 (in the Omnibus Appropriations Act) to allow DHS to use discretion to choose other forms of less secure fencing, including single-layer fencing or vehicle barriers. (FAIR Legislative Update, January 14, 2008) Thus, DHS now reports that there are 661 miles of "fencing" along the border: 303 miles consists, of vehicle barriers, while the other 358 miles consists of chain-link fencing. Of the 358 miles of chain-link fencing, only 32 miles are double layered. (GAO Report)

Statements from officials indicate that the fence could be a significant tool in improving the security situation. According to the GAO report, "Much of the United States' 6,000 miles of international borders with Canada and Mexico remains vulnerable to illegal entry of aliens, criminals, and cargo."  (GAO Report).  DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told senators during her confirmation hearing that the border fence is a necessary component of an overall border security plan, as "it helps prevent those who are crossing illegally from blending immediately into a town population." (Star Tribune, January 27, 2009). While it is unclear when this border security effort will be completed, the situation on the border remains tenuous at best and violent at worst. 
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest. FAIR seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest—more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.

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