Defense & National Security

If We Build it They Won’t Come

It’s much tougher than it should be to secure America’s borders. While the technology and manpower are all within reach, what seems beyond our grasp is the ability to act. Take last year’s legislation calling for construction of 854 miles of fence on our Southern border.

It’s all too obvious that America is under threat because its land borders are largely porous and unprotected. In response last year Congress passed, and the President signed into law, legislation calling for the construction of those 854 miles of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite this legislative mandate by the U.S. Congress, the Department of Homeland Security recently announced its intention to build only 370 miles of fencing along the border, not the 854 miles required by the legislation.

This directive, despite its clarity, appears to have been interpreted as a suggestion. It is not: it’s the law — and the border fence must be built.

The Secure Fence Act requires that reinforced fencing and related infrastructure be installed along the most dangerous and problematic smuggling corridors along our Southern land border, which continue providing illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and potential terrorist access into the United States. As the original author of the measure’s fencing provision, I expected there to be some opposition to implementing strategic fencing along our land border with Mexico. I did not, however, expect one of the biggest obstacles to be the federal agency primarily responsible for protecting the American homeland, especially when border fencing has proven to be an effective enforcement tool with verifiable results.

In San Diego County, for example, border fencing remains a critical part of our continuing effort to address the problems commonly associated with illegal immigration. Since construction of the San Diego Border Fence began in 1996, the smuggling of people and narcotics has dropped drastically, crime rates have been reduced by half according to FBI statistics, vehicle drug drive-throughs have been eliminated and apprehensions have decreased as the result of fewer crossing attempts.

The Clinton Administration opposed the construction of the San Diego Border Fence as a method of closing the prolific smuggling corridor that once existed between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. The Clinton Administration, however, also recognized its responsibility under the law. Construction of the San Diego Border Fence began and conditions on both sides of the border immediately improved.

The Bush Administration says it remains committed to securing the border. I intend to hold them to their word. Just as I did with the Clinton Administration, I will continue reminding the Bush Administration of their obligation under the law to build the border fence. I believe they can, and will, do better.

Bureaucracy is rarely ever capable of producing immediate results. But when it threatens the safety and security of our communities, it becomes intolerable. The decision not to build fencing as dictated by law can only serve to demonstrate that we are not serious about securing our borders and enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.

Why is reinforced border infrastructure necessary? In 2005, 155,000 foreign nationals from countries other than Mexico were apprehended attempting to cross our land border with Mexico. Alarmingly, many of these individuals originated from countries of national security concern, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Yemen, and likely represent only a fraction of those who successfully entered our country without the knowledge of border security officials or the consent of our government.

It has also been reported that several of the individuals who were discovered to be plotting the next major terrorist attack against the United States, targeting soldiers at Fort Dix, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border through Brownsville, Texas. Whether they entered as children or adults, the fact that they originated from countries far from our shores demonstrates that across the world, it is understood that the best way to illegally enter the United States is through our land border with Mexico.

To date, only 12 miles of the 854 miles of border fencing called for in the Secure Fence Act have been constructed. While it’s a start, the 370 miles of fencing promised by DHS represents a significant departure from what’s required by federal law. Let’s be perfectly clear: it’s not enough. Even the 854 miles of fence legislated last year is only a beginning. Legislation presently under consideration by the U.S. Senate to reform our immigration system also reaffirms DHS’ decision to only build 370 miles of fencing. This legislation is weak on enforcement, comprehensively fails to make border security a priority and wrongly retreats from the mandates of the Secure Fence Act.

We know from our experiences in San Diego that border fencing works and when extended across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, it will have the same salutary affect. DHS has more than $1 billion cash on hand for border fence construction and more will surely be delivered. It’s time we get serious about border control, do what’s right, and build the border fence. Secure borders make America safer. What’s so hard to understand about that?

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