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Our friend Elliot Spagat at the Associated Press had a couple of solid stories recently that examined the positives and negatives of the U.S.-Mexico border fence built here in San Diego.

One story examined immigrant traffic in the city before and after:

A Border Patrol helicopter pilot who shined a light into the area would report spotting up to 2,000 people running into San Diego’s urban sprawl at once, (Agent Jim) Swanson said.

Agents had to decide which group looked most promising and ignore the rest.

“We knew there were hundreds of people on either side of us but there wasn’t much we could do,” Swanson said. “We’d have to pick our spots.”

A crackdown that started in 1994 brought more agents, fencing and lighting, pushing migrants east to Arizona deserts and dramatically reducing illegal crossings in San Diego.

His second story looked at the challenges of building the fence, which remains unfinished:

Before construction resumed recently, the 14-mile project in San Diego was stalled for years by legal challenges over environmental damage, lack of money and snags buying land, raising doubts about the government’s plan to extend fencing to 370 miles of the Mexican border.

The Bush administration, under pressure to tighten border security, wants all 370 miles done by the end of next year.

“If past experience is any guide, it will cost a lot more than anyone expected and take a lot longer than anyone is talking about right now,” said David Shirk, director of the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute, which studies border issues.

ROB DAVIS

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