Mexico–United States barrier
The Mexico–United States barrier – also known in the United States as the border fence, rotted fence or border wall – is actually several separation barriers designed to prevent illegal movement across the Mexico–United States border. The barriers were built as part of three larger "Operations" to taper transportation of illegal drugs manufactured in Latin America and illegal immigration: Operation Gatekeeper in California, Operation Hold-the-Line  in Texas, and Operation Safeguard in Arizona. The barriers are strategically placed to mitigate the flow of illegal border crossings along the Mexico–United States international border into the Southwestern United States. Construction supporters cite the ongoing escalation of national security risks, relating to Cartel border violence, and their possible co-operation with overseas terrorists. Opponents claim the barriers are a taxpayer boondoggle, an ineffective deterrent and that the barriers inappropriately jeopardize the health and safety of those seeking illegal entry into the United States, as well as destroy animal habitat, prevent animals from reaching water, disturb animal migration patterns, and otherwise damage the environment.
General impact on illegal immigration
96.6% of apprehensions by the Border Patrol in 2010 occurred at the southwest border. The number of Border Patrol apprehensions declined 61% from 1,189,000 in 2005 to 723,840 in 2008 to 463,000 in 2010. The decrease in apprehensions may be due to a number of factors including changes in U.S. economic conditions and border enforcement efforts. Border apprehensions in 2010 were at their lowest level since 1972.
The 1,951-mile (3,141 km) border between the United States and Mexico traverses a variety of terrains, including urban areas and deserts. The barrier is located on both urban and uninhabited sections of the border, areas where the most concentrated numbers of illegal crossings and drug trafficking have been observed in the past. These urban areas include San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas. As of August 29, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had built 190 miles (310 km) of pedestrian border fence and 154.3 miles (248.3 km) of vehicle border fence, for a total of 344.3 miles (554.1 km) of fence. The completed fence is mainly in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, with construction under way in Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that it had more than 580 miles (930 km) of fence in place by the second week of January, 2009. Work is still under way on fence segments in Texas and on the Border Infrastructure System in California.
The border fence is not one continuous structure and is actually a grouping of short physical walls that stop and start, secured in between with "virtual fence" which includes a system of sensors and cameras monitored by Border Patrol Agents. As a result of the effect of the barrier, there has been a marked increase in the number of people trying to illegally cross the Sonoran Desert and crossing over the Baboquivari Mountain in Arizona. Such illegal immigrants must cross 50 miles (80 km) of inhospitable terrain to reach the first road, which is located in the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation.
There have been around 5,000 migrant deaths along the Mexico-U.S. border in the last thirteen years, according to a document created by the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico, also signed by the American Civil Liberties Union Between 43 and 61 people died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert during that same time period; three times that of the same period the previous year. In October 2004 the Border Patrol announced that 325 people had died crossing the entire border during the previous 12 months. Between 1998 and 2004, 1,954 persons are officially reported to have died along the US-Mexico border. Since 2004, the bodies of 1086 migrants have been recovered in the southern Arizona desert.
U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector reported on Oct. 15, 2008 that its agents were able to save 443 undocumented immigrants from certain death after being abandoned by their smugglers, during FY 2008, while reducing the number of deaths by 17 percent from 202 in FY 2007 to 167 in FY 2008. Without the efforts of these agents, hundreds more could have died in the deserts of Arizona. According to the same sector, border enhancements like the wall have allowed the Tucson Sector agents to reduce the number of apprehensions at the borders by 16 percent compared with fiscal year 2007.
U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California and the then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed a plan to the House on November 3, 2005 calling for the construction of a reinforced fence along the entire United States–Mexican border. This would also include a 100-yard (91 m) border zone on the U.S. side. On December 15, 2005, Congressman Hunter's amendment to the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437) passed in the House. This plan calls for mandatory fencing along 698 miles (1,123 km) of the Mexican border. On May 17, 2006 the U.S. Senate proposed with Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) what could be 370 miles (600 km) of triple layered-fencing and a vehicle fence. Although that bill died in committee, eventually the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2006.
The government of Mexico and ministers of several Latin American countries have condemned the plans. Rick Perry, governor of Texas, also expressed his opposition saying that instead of closing the border it should be opened more and through technology support legal and safe migration. The barrier expansion has also been opposed by a unanimous vote of the Laredo, Texas City Council. Laredo's Mayor, Raul G. Salinas, is concerned about defending his town's people by saying that the Bill which includes miles of border wall would devastate Laredo. He states "these are people that are sustaining our economy by forty percent, and I am gonna [sic] close the door on them and put [up] a wall? You don't do that. It's like a slap in the face." He hopes that Congress would revise the Bill that better reflects the realities of life on the border. There are no plans to build border fence in Laredo at this time. However, there is a large Border Patrol presence in Laredo.
Secure Fence Act
On September 29, 2006, by a vote of 80–19 the U.S. Senate confirmed H.R. 6061 authorizing, and partially funding the "possible" construction of 700 miles (1,125 km) of physical fence/barriers along the border. The very broad support implies that many assurances have been made by the Administration, to the Democrats, Mexico, and the pro "Comprehensive immigration reform" minority within the GOP, that Homeland Security will proceed very cautiously. Michael Chertoff, announced that an eight-month test of the virtual fence, he favors, will precede any construction of a physical barrier.
On October 26, 2006, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 6061 which was voted upon and passed by the 109th Congress of the United States. The signing of the bill comes right after a CNN poll shows us that most Americans "prefer the idea of more Border Patrol agents to a 700-mile (1,125-kilometer) fence." There is a down payment of $1.2 billion to the Department of Homeland Security marked for border security, but not specifically for the border fence.
As of January 2010, the fence project has been completed from San Diego, California to Yuma, Arizona. From there it continues into Texas and consists of a fence that is 21 feet (6.4 m) tall and 6 feet (1.8 m) deep in the ground, cemented in a 3-foot (0.91 m)-wide trench with 5000 psi (UK/Éire:345 bar; 352 kg/cm²) concrete. There were no fatalities during construction, but there were 4 serious injuries with multiple aggressions against building crews, there was one reported shooting with no injury to a crew member in Mexicali region. All fence sections are south of the all American canals, and have access roads giving border guards the ability to reach any point easily, including the dunes area where a border agent was killed 3 years before and is now sealed off.
The Republican Party's 2012 platform states that "The double-layered fencing on the border that was enacted by Congress in 2006, but never completed, must finally be built." The Washington Office on Latin America notes on its Border Fact Check site that the extremely high cost of complying with the Secure Fence Act's mandate, estimated at US$4.1 billion, or more than the Border Patrol’s entire annual budget of US$3.55 billion, was the main reason that it was not fulfilled.
Rethinking the expansion
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) announced in January 2007 that Congress will revisit the fence plan, while committee chairs are holding up funding until a comprehensive border security plan is presented by the United States Department of Homeland Security. Both Senators from Texas, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), advocate revising the plan.
Construction of the border fence will not be subject to any laws. This is because in 2005 the Real ID Act, attached as a rider to a supplemental appropriations bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, decreed, “Not withstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads." Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff used his new power to “waive in their entirety” the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act to extend triple fencing through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near San Diego. The Real ID Act further stipulates that his decisions are not subject to judicial review, and in December 2005 a federal judge dismissed legal challenges by the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and others to Chertoff’s decision.
Secretary Chertoff exercised his waiver authority on April 1, 2008. In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the waiver authority in a case filed by the Sierra Club. (Associated Press) In September, 2008 a federal district court judge in El Paso dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by El Paso County, Texas.
By January 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had spent $40 million on environmental analysis and mitigation measures aimed at blunting any possible adverse impact that the fence might have on the environment. On January 16, 2009, DHS announced it was pledging an additional $50 million for that purpose, and signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior for utilization of the additional funding.
President Barack Obama ordered a halt to the expansion of the "virtual fence," the Department of Homeland Security announced on March 16, 2010. The money would be used to upgrade current border technology.
In response to a perceived lack of will on the part of the federal government to build a secure border fence, and a lack of state funds, Arizona officials plan to launch a website allowing donors to help fund a state border fence.
On January 27, 2008, a U.S. Native American human rights delegation, which included Margo Tamez, (Lipan Apache-Jumano Apache) and Teresa Leal (Opata-Mayo) reported the removal of the official International Boundary obelisks of 1848 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Las Mariposas, Sonora-Arizona sector of the Mexico-U.S. border. The obelisks were moved southward approximately 20 meters, onto the property of private landowners in Sonora, as part of the larger project of installing the 18-foot (5.5 m) steel barrier wall.
The proposed route for the border fence would divide the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville into two parts, according to Antonio N. Zavaleta, a vice president of the university. There have been campus protests against the wall by students who feel it will harm their school. In August, 2008, UT-Brownsville reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the university to construct a portion of the fence across and adjacent to its property. The final agreement, which was filed in federal court on Aug. 5 and formally signed by the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees later that day, ended all court proceedings between UTB/TSC and DHS. On August 20, 2008, the university sent out a request for bids for the construction of a 10-foot (3.0 m) high barrier that incorporates technology security for its segment of the border fence project. The southern perimeter of the UTB/TSC campus will be part of a laboratory for testing new security technology and infrastructure combinations. The border fence segment on the UTB campus was substantially complete by December, 2008.
In the spring of 2007 more than 25 landowners, including a corporation and a school district, from Hidalgo and Starr County in Texas refused border fence surveys, which would determine what land was eligible for building on, as an act of protest.
In July 2008, Hidalgo County and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the construction of a project that combines the border fence with a levee to control flooding along the Rio Grande. Construction of two of the Hidalgo County fence segments are under way; five more segments are scheduled to be built during the fall of 2008; the Hidalgo County section of the border fence will constitute 22 miles (35 km) of combined fence and levee.
Mexico has almost always condemned any course of action by the United States on its stance to increase border security and immigration control dating back over a century. It is estimated that over 500 people a year die trying to cross into the US illegally. In prior years, two times the amount was estimated as a casuality. Because of this, some Mexicans see the barriers as a slightly positive thing; but most Mexicans, as well as the Mexican government, somewhat view it a discrimination, as well as a source of alienation by the United States.
In 2006, the Mexican Government vigorously condemned the Secure Fence act of 2006. Mexico has also urged the US to alter its plans for expanded fences along their shared border, saying that it would damage the environment and harm wildlife.
In June 2007, it was announced that a section of the barrier had been mistakenly built from 1 to 6 feet (1.8 m) inside Mexican territory. This will necessitate the section being moved at an estimated cost of over US$3 million.
In 2012, then presidential candidate of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto was campaigning in Tijuana at the Playas de Monumental, less than 600 yards from the US/Mexico border adjacent to Border Field State Park. In one of his speeches he critizied the US government for building the barriers, and asked for them to be removed. Ultimately, he mocked Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speech from Berlin in 1987.
In April 2008, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to speed construction of the barrier. Despite claims from then Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff that the department would minimize the construction's impact on the environment, critics in Arizona and Texas asserted the fence endangered species and fragile ecosystems along the Rio Grande. Environmentalists expressed concern about butterfly migration corridors and the future of two species of local wildcats, the ocelot and the jaguarundi.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conducted environmental reviews of each pedestrian and vehicle fence segment covered by the waiver, and published the results of this analysis in Environmental Stewardship Plans (ESPs). Although not required by the waiver, CBP has conducted the same level of environmental analysis (in the ESPs) that would have been performed before the waiver (in the “normal” NEPA process) to evaluate potential impacts to sensitive resources in the areas where fence is being constructed.
ESPs completed by CBP contain extremely limited surveys of local wildlife. For example, the ESP for border fence built in the Del Rio Sector included a single survey for wildlife completed in November, 2007, and only "3 invertebrates, 1 reptile species, 2 amphibian species, 1 mammal species, and 21 bird species were recorded." The ESPs then dismiss the potential for most adverse effects on wildlife, based on sweeping generalizations and without any quantitative analysis of the risks posed by border barriers. Approximately 461 acres of vegetation will be cleared along the impact corridor. From the Rio Grande Valley ESP: "The impact corridor avoids known locations of individuals of Walker’s manioc and Zapata bladderpod, but approaches several known locations of Texas ayenia. For this reason, impacts on federally listed plants are anticipated to be short-term, moderate, and adverse." This excerpt is typical of the ESPs in that the risk to endangered plants is deemed short-term without any quantitative population analysis.
By August, 2008, more than 90 percent of the southern border in Arizona and New Mexico had been surveyed. The remaining portions will be surveyed in the next three months. In addition, 80 percent of the California/Mexico border has been surveyed.
Public opinion in the United States
A July 29, 2010 Rasmussen Reports nationwide poll revealed that Americans favored building a fence along the U.S. border with Mexico, with 68 percent in favor and 21 percent against (margin of error: +/- 3 percentage points).
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- Immigration to the United States
- Migrant deaths along the Mexico–United States border
- List of United States Immigration Acts
- List of walls
- Operation Gatekeeper
- Operation Jump Start
- Open Border
- Separation barrier
- United States-Mexico relations
- Mexico–United States border
- United States Border Patrol
- United States-Canada border
- Illegal entry
- Texas Virtual Border Watch
- Habitat destruction
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