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Immigration Issues: U.S.-Mexico Border Fence Pros and Cons

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The southern border of the United States is shared with Mexico and spans almost 2,000 miles. Fences are being built along one-third, or approximately 670 miles, of the border to secure the border and cut down on illegal immigration. The price tag currently sits at $1.2 billion dollars with lifetime maintenance costs estimated close to $50 billion.

Recent polls show that Americans are split on the border fence issue. While most people are in favor of increasing the security of the borders, others are concerned that the negative impacts do not outweigh the benefits. In any case, the U.S. government views the Mexican border as an important part of its overall homeland security initiative.

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The fence is still standing, but the project is taking a beating.

Budgets are beginning to skyrocket. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog group, estimates that the costs of building and maintaining the fence could prove astronomical, ranging "from $300 million to $1.7 billion per mile, depending on materials."

Problems with technology cannot be helping the budget. In February, new surveillance equipment being tested in Arizona was heralded as the high-tech solution to apprehend illegal border crossers. A week later, the $20 million prototype was scrapped because it didn't adequately alert Border Control officers to illegal crossings.

The troubles continue in Arizona. With the approval of Congress, the Homeland Security Secretary recently waived environmental regulations to allow the construction of the border fence along the Arizona border. A move that environmentalists say will destroy the central part of Arizona's southern desert.

Background

In 1924, Congress created the U.S. Border Patrol. Illegal immigration grew in the late 1970s but new strategies weren't implemented until the 1990s. This is when drug trafficking and illegal immigration began to rise, and concerns about the nation's security became an important issue. Border Control agents along with the military succeeded in reducing the number of smugglers and illegal crossings for a period of time, but once the military left, activity again increased.

After the 9/11 attacks, homeland security was again thrust into the spotlight. Many ideas were tossed around during the next few years on what could be done to permanently secure the border.

In 2006, the Secure Fence Act was passed to build 700 miles of double-reinforced security fencing in areas along the border prone to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. President Bush also deployed 6,000 National Guardsmen to the Mexico border to assist with border control.

Testing of "virtual" fences soon followed, but full deployment has been pushed back until the technology can be improved.

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