The Great Wall of China. The Berlin Wall. The Korean Demilitarized Zone. Three historical — and controversial — structures designed to keep people from crossing from one land to another.
An influential Republican congressman from California wants to add a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border to this list. Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, filed legislation Thursday to build twin metal fences along the entire 2,000-mile border to stop the flow of illegal immigration. Cost estimates start at $4 billion.
The wall would stop the "banzai attack," Hunter said Thursday during an appearance on CNN, when large numbers of people cross at the same time.
Hunter’s move was praised by immigration control advocates who point to limited success that has occurred with stretches of iron walls in key migration areas such Douglas, Nogales and San Diego.
State Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, had suggested earlier this year building such a structure along Arizona’s share of the border.
But many other politicians, including President Bush, oppose a 2,000-mile barrier as too expensive and unlikely to stop migrants from climbing over or tunneling under in more remote areas. A federal border security initiative announced Wednesday calls for more funding for cameras, ground sensors and unmanned aerial patrol vehicles instead.
"Certainly, building a wall across the entire border wouldn’t be the right thing to do," said Jarrod Agen, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "You want the right mix of infrastructure and detection technology so you can spot things and know where to deploy your agents."
But Hunter said extra technology offers nothing to impede border crossings, or at least delay them long enough for federal agents to arrive and make arrests. Hunter has proposed funding for two 15-foot barriers, separated by 50 yards of open space with a road for border agents. The design would allow for a third fence later, he said.
"If someone can get across two fences with a Border Patrol agent standing there, you will have the greatest Olympic athlete you have ever seen," Hunter said.
Arizona opposition to the concept of a border barrier runs deep. Some border ranchers say a wall would add to the environmental damage already done by illegal migrants. Leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the largest border tribe in the country, say such a wall would cut them off from 1,500 tribal members and cultural treasures in Mexico.
"For us to take the pre-emptive action to make this that kind of a decision, a Berlin Wall kind of decision, is short-sighted," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., whose district includes much of the Mexico border.
But Hunter has experience overcoming local concerns and Bush’s reluctance. Last month, he prevailed in adding $35 million in the Homeland Security budget to build the final 3.5 miles of a border barrier to the California coast line, despite fierce opposition from environmental activists and a key state agency.
- Capitol Media Services contributed to this report