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U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and 32 other House Republicans have written President Bush asking him to fund the 700-mile border fence that Congress approved late last year.

While the fence got Congressional approval last year, its construction has been in doubt ever since. Congress approved the fence in principle, but didn’t appropriate any money to build it. Hunter, U.S. Reps Darrell Issa, Brian Bilbray and their colleagues want Bush to fund the fence in his 2008 budget.

The fence’s construction would boost U.S. Border Patrol agents, the Republicans said in their Jan. 3 letter. Clearly delineating the border would cut the Mexican military’s rising number of incursions, they wrote.

“The humanitarian aspects of the border fence must not be ignored,” the Republicans wrote. “Every year, hundreds of people die from exposure and dehydration trying to cross the border through the southwest desert. The fact remains that fences act as a deterrent and keep people from risking their lives to cross the border.”

Fence opponents, however, cast the barrier as a potential financial and humanitarian disaster. They say that the country’s existing fencing is to blame for the hundreds of immigrants who die trying to cross the Arizona desert. (The 700-mile fence would close off much of the Arizona border.)

Two recent University of California, San Diego surveys of migrants in Mexico found fewer than 10 percent are repelled by border fortifications — fencing, patrols, surveillance. 

Critics say fences don’t deter illegal entries, instead encouraging them to be attempted in unfortified spaces. Sealing the full border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean would mean immigrants would instead climb over the fence, tunnel beneath it or turn to the coastlines, they say.

ROB DAVIS

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