Members of Congress who voted for the Southwest border fence as the fix for illegal immigration professed shock — shock at the news that the project is running years behind, and billions of dollars ahead, of the Bush administration’s early, rosy projections.
Auditors reported last week that the high-tech, 28-mile “virtual” section of the fence was running a mere seven years behind this month’s planned opening. Initially, designers talked of using off-the-shelf technology for the radar, cameras and other sensors, but problems cropped up. (Imagine, discovering that cameras tremble in rough weather.) “I’m trying to figure out why this is so difficult,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas. “These are basically cameras on a pole.”
The current cost estimate for the Buck Rogers barrier? $1.1 billion.
Investigators from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office report that the larger, actual fence — covering a 600 mile-plus stretch between San Diego and Brownsville, Tex. — cost $2.4 billion to build and will cost an extra $6.5 billion in upkeep across two decades.
Investigators also concluded that there’s no good way of gauging the effectiveness of the fence.
The current decline in border arrests could be because of the bad economy as much as the fence (which the innovative have already learned to breach with cutters, torches and ladders). Even then, the fence covers only the more manageable third of the border with Mexico.
Members of the House border security subcommittee voiced grave concern but didn’t peer much beyond fencing technology to the more complex reality: the need for Congress to reform the nation’s immigration laws. No fence can keep a determined immigrant out or absolve Congress of that responsibility.