The Secure Fence Act

Final-hour Senate vote to build border fence is purely symbolic and financially unviable.

The Senate late Friday night passed the Secure Fence Act, effectively closing the door on comprehensive immigration reform this session.

The Secure Fence Act authorizes the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. This immigration “solution” is both financially unviable and a purely symbolic act meant to drum up voter support leading into the November elections.

Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress showed in his June examination of immigration polling data, “What the Public Really Wants,” that contrary to Congress’ perceptions, the public favors a tough, but not punitive, approach to immigration. The American people are looking for comprehensive reform that addresses the undocumented immigrants who are here, including a path towards earned legalization, as well as effective border and workplace enforcement and not grandstanding in the name of security.

The conservative leadership in Congress, either unwilling or unable to resolve the divisions within its own ranks, is throwing away money on a costly project by pursuing border enforcement in isolation—the one way it is guaranteed not to work. The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents was tripled between 1990 and 2005, and funding for the program was increased tenfold. Yet the undocumented population in the United States doubled in size, the death rate of border crossings tripled, and the per-apprehension cost increased from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002.

Experts in terrorism also agree that building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is a low homeland security priority. The Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine asked anti-terror experts how they would improve U.S. security at international borders, and 70 percent said “improve port and cargo security.” Only six percent answered, “build a fence between the United States and Mexico.”

Congress clearly has work to do. It will be the job of the next Congress to heed the call of the American public by passing comprehensive legislation to tackle the complex issue of immigration.

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