The border fence provision of the border security bill passed by the House before the holidays gets a closer look in the Dallas Morning News yesterday (login req’d; borrow one here). The article highlights the split opinion among Texas’ two senators on the fence:
The debate moves to the Senate, where Texas’ senators, both Republicans, are split.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is open to the idea.
“We already have fences in high-volume areas. I think that should be one of the tools. I don’t think you need a 2,000-mile fence,” she said, “but I think fences in the high-volume areas, where you have drug trafficking and crime and illegal aliens coming across that are not even from Mexico, that’s part of securing our country and having integrity at our borders.”
Sen. John Cornyn sees even the 700-mile fence as impractical and a waste of money.
“I would call the idea of a fence or a wall at the border a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. … Can’t people just go around it?” he said.
Both senators want more border guards. Mr. Cornyn says an extra 10,000 guards, along with electronic surveillance and barriers erected at strategic spots, would create a far more cost-effective “virtual fence.” He also wants a guest worker program to ease pressure on enforcement.
I’ve been trying to figure out my opinion on the Southern border fence for the last few weeks. On the one hand, I viscerally dislike the idea of a border fence – it runs symbolically counter to America’s identity as an open nation of immigrants. But we’re also a nation of laws, and when I examine the statistics on “Other than Mexican” (OTM) and “country of interest” apprehensions at the Southern Border (see this CRS report), I have to acknowledge that the southern border is a real point of vulnerability in our homeland security system today.
I ultimately reach the conclusion that I support a fence – but if and only if Congress also passes a guest worker program and if the cost can be kept at a ceiling of $2-3 million per mile.
I also think the last argument that Sen. Cornyn makes here – comparing the fence with hiring more guards – doesn’t pass the cost-effectiveness test if you look at the math. Hiring another 10,000 border guards would cost at least $110,000 per person,* i.e, $1.1 billion a year, on an ongoing basis, whereas building a fence shouldn’t be more than a one-time cost of $2.0-5.0 billion, depending on length, if it’s priced appropriately.
The article also includes details on where, according to the House bill, the Southern border fence would be built.
And in related news, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, in response to protestations in his home district on Long Island, admitted to Newsday yesterday that he expects the Senate to substantially revise the bill:
After an outpouring of criticism from churches and relief groups, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Friday he is willing to reword the legislation he co-sponsored that would have made it illegal to assist undocumented immigrants….
King said the bill is unlikely to be passed in its present form by the Senate, which he expected to add provisions for a guest-worker program granting temporary visas mainly to low-skilled workers. However, he did say “a significant portion of it has to become law otherwise no immigration reform bill will pass the House.”
It will be interesting to see if quotes such as this one drive a wedge between Rep. King and some of the more hardline advocates of the bill in the coming weeks.
*This is a low-end estimate and includes only direct costs associated with employing a Border Patrol officer: salary, benefits, training, and direct equipment. Estimate is based upon analysis of CBP budget figures for FY 2006.