Construction of 70 miles of new fence along the southern border is scheduled to be finished by Sunday, completing the first phase of an ambitious plan to line 370 miles of desert with fence by the end of 2008.
Most of the new fence is in Arizona, the busiest state for illegal immigration into the United States.
“Our goal for this year was to get 70 miles done by Sept. 30 – and we’re there,” said Brad Benson, spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement Agency.
The heavy metal fence has been erected near the border towns of Douglas, Naco, Sasabe, San Luis and Yuma, and along the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in western Arizona.
Funding for the construction was included in a $33.8 billion appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that President Bush signed at the Camelback Inn resort in Paradise Valley on Oct. 4.
The completion of the first phase should demonstrate to skeptical voters that their government is concerned about border security, said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Kyl noted that some have speculated that the fence would never be built.
“And when the American people hear that, they say, ‘Aha, that just shows that the administration isn’t serious,’” Kyl said.
The new fence will counter that perspective and help foster a more positive attitude toward members of the federal government, he said.
Kyl said he’s impressed with the section of fence that runs through the Goldwater range, which he has toured. “Let’s put it this way: They’re not going to knock it over. It’s very substantial fencing.”
The fence’s design varies from one region to another, but all segments are constructed of heavy metal and designed to prevent pedestrians from entering the country.
Some stretches of the fence are constructed of militarysurplus corrugated metal and some are built of metal mesh, while others are made of concrete-filled metal posts called bollards.
Some portions also feature a secondary fence.
The primary fence on the Goldwater range uses both mesh and bollards. It also features “lizard grates” that allow reptiles and other native animals to freely creep through the fence.
In most places, the fence is about 15 feet high and extends more than five feet below ground, Benson said.
The cost of the construction was not immediately available, he said, but overall the fence was budgeted at $3 million per mile.
The expense will be a waste of money if the government fails to create a guest worker system, said Roberto Reveles, past president of the Arizona chapter of We Are America, an organization that advocates immigration reform.
“The truth of the matter is people who cross the desert don’t want to cross the desert. They would rather have the government issue, in a timely fashion, a work permit,” Reveles said.
No matter how many miles of fence are built, the pull of jobs in the United States will lead people to circumvent the fence, he said.
The 70 miles of new fence does not include vehicle barriers or high-tech “virtual fences.”
The new fence pushes the total amount of fencing along the international border to about 145 miles, Benson said, That’s about 7 percent of the border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.
The president’s overall goal is to build 700 miles of new fence.
It’s important to note that other measures, in addition to a fence, will be needed to reduce illegal immigration, Kyl said. “This is not the total answer,” he said.
As much as 45 percent of the total illegal immigrant population legally passed through border check-points with visas that allowed them to reside or travel in the country for limited amount of times, according to 2006 study by The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washingtonbased research center.
They became part of the illegal population when they remained in the country after their visas expired, according to the study.