US border fence found remarkably ineffective and difficult to complete
John Byrne
Published: Wednesday February 4, 2009

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Smugglers build ramps;
Obama won't halt construction

The planned 670-mile fence along the US border with Mexico has proven remarkably ineffective at deterring or stopping illegal crossers to the United States, advocates and critics of the fence admit.

Moreover, the fence's construction remains in limbo in numerous areas, where legal, political and engineering obstacles have brought its implementation to a halt.

And, where the 600 miles of fencing are already up, along the borders of California, Arizona and New Mexico, "smugglers and illegal immigrants continue to breach the fencing that is up, forcing Border Patrol agents and contractors to return again and again for repairs," the Wall Street Journal noted Wednesday. "The smugglers build ramps to drive over fencing, dig tunnels under it, or use blow torches to slice through. They cut down metal posts used as vehicle barriers and replace them with dummy posts, made from cardboard."

The "rough" measure by which the Border Patrol keeps track of illegal crossings was down 18% for 2008. Crossings appear down in parts of Arizona. But a May report by Congress' research service found a "strong indication" that crossers had simply found new routes. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano once famously quipped that a 50-foot barrier would simply spur the invention of a 51-foot ladder.

Staunch advocates of the fence admit that it doesn't stop illegal crossings.

"It's not the whole fix, not even most of the fix," Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Journal.

Opponents say the fence prevents animals from reaching their original habitats and is a taxpayer "boondoggle," a gross expenditure of taxpayer dollars with little tangible results.

The fence remains incomplete along about 70 miles along the Rio Grande, in Texas. It's encountered myriad problems: environmentalists want a review to protect endangered or rare species; property owners have raised their hackles over eminent domain seizure of their land; and engineers have had trouble keeping floods from compromising the soundness of the barrier.

"It does become frustrating," a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol was quoted as saying.

President Obama's position on the fence and whether it should be completed remains unclear. He voted for it in the Senate but expressed concern about whether it "makes sense" to have a barrier everywhere along the planned route. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is also said to be a skeptic.

But a White House spokesman says construction will continue.

"Mr. Obama supports the fence as long as it is one part of a larger strategy on border security that includes more boots on the ground and increased use of technology," a White House spokesman told the Journal.