Last night the House voted 260 to 159 to approve an amendment to the bill sponsored by House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) to authorize construction of several hundred miles of fencing along five strategic stretches of border.
Before the scheduled vote, Human Events Assistant Editor Amanda Carpenter asked Republicans if they thought the U.S. had the engineering capability to build a fence that would keep illegal aliens out, and the obvious follow-up: If we can build one, why not do it?
Sen. George Allen (R.-Va.), a likely 2008 presidential candidate, carefully straddled the fence on the fence issue. Hunter explained why it would work.
Does America have the engineering capability to build a border fence that would keep people out?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R.-VA.): Do we have the engineering capability?
ALLEN: I suspect so.
So, why don’t we [build it]?
ALLEN: Because it would be, I don’t, it’s worthy of consideration. The reason is, while something might be able to be done at an enormous cost to the taxpayers, if there are more effective ways of doing it other than a fence, whether it’s with surveillance and more personnel, and surveillance.
Are you in the camp of those supporting the “virtual fence” idea?
ALLEN: I think a virtual fence would be much less costly to the taxpayers. I think the key thing, regardless of virtual or actual fence, which would take a long time. Let’s assume we wanted to build the Great Wall of America, which can be done, it would take years and years. I’m watching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge being built here, which is a much more difficult task than building a wall. It’s not over a river. The key point is to make sure we have a workable, legal, guest worker system in this country not rewarding illegal behavior. Not this don’t ask, don’t tell—
Do you support closing the border first before we do guest worker or do you think they go hand in hand?
ALLEN: I think you need to do all of them. You need to do all of them.
Are you going to put a priority on one?
ALLEN: If you get, well, first you have to secure your borders. That’s No. 1. But securing the borders in itself is not going to solve the whole problem. What we need to do is devise a good guest-worker program. And we should not reward illegal behavior because if you reward illegal behavior, somebody will find a way to get in here and they will think, “Oh, gosh I can get amnesty,” and so forth. So, I think all of them go together. It’s a comprehensive approach. We should have been securing the borders much better, years ago. The fact that there’s not even sufficient detention facilities where they catch people and…
But you don’t think building a fence, so to say, or some kind of secure physical barrier is necessary?
ALLEN: I think you need to strengthen— you’re asking about the specific on how you do it.
Well, sure, this is policy, right?
ALLEN: The best way to do it, to securing the border then, what you can actually get done now is with more personnel, is with better use of technologies. You can call it a virtual fence if you [wish], but using unmanned aerial vehicles that also have sensors that at night you can sense the heat from human beings and the detention centers. Because once you catch those coming in here illegally it does no good just to make it a catch-and-release system. Of course they don’t show up. That is clearly not the one. But doing that alone is not going to solve the problem.
So, you would want all these three things together before you’d do one or another?
ALLEN: As a process, I think, to have an effective, for the safety of this country, for adequate workforce capabilities of many companies and for protecting the rule of law, all three of these matters or principles need to be there.
So, guest amnesty, virtual fence and…
ALLEN: I am not for amnesty. Not for amnesty.
Guest worker? Excuse me.
ALLEN: A legal guest-worker program. And the way I look at it, take the H2B [bill], I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this, but it’s a seasonal worker approach. Mostly small businesses, they certify, they prove they can’t find Americans to do work. They show the ads they ran in the newspapers and then they are matched up with someone who is checked out, I mean scrutinized, from another country, that they’re not a terrorist or criminal and that person comes and they are a guest worker. The whole family doesn’t come, that person comes.
What states use that now?
ALLEN: All states in the United States. The problem is that there is only 66,000 [visas] for these seasonal workers for the whole country and that’s got to be much higher. But that is an example of a legal guest-worker program. Same as the H1B [bill] for the technology workers or some of the agriculture migrant workers that follow the crops as they need to be harvested. You have these legal approaches.
And you think that is effective and safe?
ALLEN: Yes, I do. The problem is the numbers, particular in the H2B, these are the seasonal workers for the seafood industry, for the hospitality industry, some of the more seasonal work, 66,000 is just not enough.
So, we just need more of those?
ALLEN: Yeah. But’s it’s a legal guest-worker system. It’s not just don’t ask, don’t tell.
Do think America has the engineering capability to build a secure border along the south?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R.-CALIF.): Oh, yes, and the example of that is the secure border we’ve already built in San Diego.
So, if we can do this—
HUNTER: We’ve built one in San Diego, 14 miles. Before that we had an average of 10 murders a year by border gangs who robbed and murdered the illegals coming north to the degree that Joseph Wambaugh wrote the bestseller Lines and Shadows about the no man’s land that existed there. It’s kind of that no man’s land that exists between Nuevo Laredo and Laredo now, where people disappear and nobody goes out at night.…
We mandated [the double fence at San Diego border] in law, signed by President Clinton, when the Republicans took over Congress in 1994. We built 14 miles of it. The last piece we haven’t built is Smuggler’s Gulch. We had a big debate in Congress.
So we built that, and we eliminated all the drive-through drug trucks. All of them. We pushed back the smuggling of illegal aliens in that area by 98% and I’m talking about where the fence actually is because, a smuggler, to be successful, has to cross the primary fence at the border, cross the border patrol road then sit down with his welding gear for a matter of time and cut a hole in the very difficult second fence which is 15 feet high with an overhang.
What is this made out of?
HUNTER: It’s made out of a very high-temper steel with a very close web, and it’s used in institutions where you need to keep people inside. So, the point is, if the Border Patrol is vigilant—and they have a high-speed Border Patrol road between those two fences, so you have great mobility on the part of Border Patrol—it’s very difficult to get through, and we’ve found that worked wonderfully. It brought down the border murders to zero from an average of 10 a year. It brought down the number of drug trucks from an average of 300 a month down to zero. It brought down the smuggling of narcotics and people to almost zero. They say a few extremely agile and acrobatic people—when the Border Patrol wasn’t close by—came over the first fence, threw up a ladder on the second one and went up it in Olympic-Gold-Medal style and barely made it over. Now, some of those broke their legs coming down on the other side. But a few of those happened—almost none.
How high is that again?
HUNTER: Fifteen feet high. So the point is that the San Diego fence works.
So, the model exists?
HUNTER: Yes, and interestingly the neighborhoods on the South side of the fence have been happy with it because they didn’t like the gangs that robbed, raped and murdered. That didn’t make them proud. That made them very unsafe. They like the security and they like the orderliness that now attends that part of the border. So, the only protests were coming from some people that were toasting themselves with tankards of champagne at the embassy. They weren’t real people living in the neighborhood.
So, if it’s feasible to build, why aren’t we building it?
HUNTER: Well, because you typically have these diplomatic-type protests that speak stupidly of a Great Wall of China or some other nutty comparison. We’re simply talking of having a real border and asking people when they want to come to the United States that they come in the front door—which is, incidentally, the biggest front door in the world.
Does America have engineering capability to build a fence on the border that would keep people out? Could we feasibly do it?
SEN. JIM BUNNING (R.-KY.): A physical fence, or an electronic fence?
A physical fence. Just like something you’d see at an NFL stadium.
BUNNING: I seriously doubt that.
Yeah? So, how is it that we can have fighter jets–
BUNNING: That’s a thousand miles.
But it’s been done in other places.
BUNNING: I just came back from China.
We don’t want something like that here?
No? Okay, so what do you think we should do? Do you support the virtual fence idea?
BUNNING: I think that’s more realistic.
Do you think it would be more effective?
BUNNING: If the proper charges were placed in it, I am sure it would be.
Do you think we have the technological capability to build a fence to keep illegals out?
SEN. TOM COBURN (R.-OKLA.): Do we have the technological capability to build a border to keep illegals out? Absolutely.
So why don’t we?
COBURN: We’re getting ready to.
How close are we?
COBURN: Have you looked at our bill?
Yeah, but how likely is that going to happen? The House is getting ready—
COBURN: Well, I don’t know. All I know is the American people want control of the borders and internal enforcement before they want a guest worker program.
Do you think America has the engineering capability to build a fence along the border to keep people out?
REP. TOM COLE (R.-OKLA.): Sure.
Why aren’t we then?
COLE: I’m not sure that we won’t. We have a long tradition of open borders, but now a post-9/11 era calls for a new reality.
Do you think we will see some kind of physical fence?
COLE: I think we will see a mixture. I don’t think it will be just the bricks and mortar so to speak and we will surely be grappling with this issue for some time to come.
Do you think America has the engineering capability to build a fence along the border to keep people out?
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R.-MISS.): Sure, we have the capability to do that it’s just a question of the will and the decision that we want to do that. You have to consider the cost.
Do you think we should?
LOTT: Well, I’ve talked to different people about it including some of the people down in Arizona. You know, you don’t have to necessarily build something so high and so long. There are certain places where there’s a greater propensity for people to come in. Maybe you could have a fence there.
Do you support a physical border?
LOTT: Here’s what I am for: I am for a secure border. I have been saying this for 20 years. Look, we have sophisticated radar systems on ships where we can see the enemy in all directions simultaneously. I was even advocating blimps 20 years ago where you can patrol the border from the air with our modern technology and see exactly where they are I think we should use a combination. I doubt a fence by itself would solve the problem. I think we need to consider that and in parts of California it’s worked pretty well.
So why do you think there’s a hesitancy to do it?
LOTT: Oh, you know, we’re open border, we’re a nation of immigrants, we don’t want to imply we don’t want certain people, there’s all of those arguments. But the people, the real people, out in the country they are really disturbed about not being able to secure our borders, who is coming across and how many are coming across and they feel like this is a great potential for terrorists to come in along with everybody else.
You think this is a security issue?
LOTT: I do, part of it. But I think for years we’ve needed better immigration laws. If you are a person who is educated or you have the capability to bring business or you have something positive to offer you can’t hardly get in this country.
Do you believe that America has the engineering capability to build a fence on the border that would keep people out?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R.-IND.): A fence on our border?
Yes. Do we have the physical capability to do it?
LUGAR: No, we don’t.
I mean, we can build fighter jets, but we couldn’t build a fence?
LUGAR: Well, my impression of that would be hundreds of miles and then beyond just a big fence, if this was to be effective there, would have to be sufficient guard stations, so forth, so on. I still come to the answer no.
Do you believe that America has the engineering capability to build a fence along the border that would keep people out? Physically, could we do it?
SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R.-FLA.): You know, the engineering capability may be there, I suppose, you can build anything. The advisability is another matter.
Wouldn’t that be easier than building an F16 or something for security purposes?
MARTINEZ: Yeah, no, I think it probably is engineeringly feasibly, sure.
So why don’t–
MARTINEZ: Why don’t we do it? I don’t know. I suppose that is an answer. It’s probably very costly, I suppose. Although I think as you say, a lot of other things are also costly. Yeah. Look, whatever we can do to make sure that immigration is orderly and lawful, we should try to do. Now, I’m not an expert on what the best technological way of doing that is, if that were to be what those in charge of making those recommendations were to recommend, then I could certainly support it. So, the idea of having a secure border is the real purpose that we should fulfill. Whether that’s best done by a barrier that’s physical or some other way, that really belongs to the folks at Homeland Security, who need to make those decisions.
Okay, so if they decided that was the way to go, you would agree?
MARTINEZ: Yeah. I think so. I’d ask some questions about it, you know, but yeah I can go along with that as long as that is the best desire and design of how to get it done.
Do you think we, as in America, have the engineering capability to build a fence on the border that would keep people out?
SEN. CRAIG THOMAS (R.-WYO.): Oh, I think we can do much better than we are. Now, to build a border that would just never let anybody through I suppose is not very realistic. We can make it, a fence that would make it much easier to manage so that there would be a minimal amount of movement. And I think we ought to build some fences in some places. I don’t see us building one for three thousand miles.
Okay, so in strategic places you think that would be a better option, a better way to think about it?
THOMAS: Yeah, sure, sure.
Now, a lot of people talk about this virtual fence idea. Do you think that’s something that is feasible or do you think we need something that is physical?
THOMAS: I don’t think physical the whole way. I think just in special places. I think more importantly, is to have some control here in the United States through employers and other ways and to get some legal systems that work more quickly for those should come and we want to come. There’s lots of things. The border is one. Permanence is another and having more security in the country afterwards is the key.
How would you prioritize those three things? Do you think closing the border comes first?
THOMAS: I think we have to do them all.
All at once?
Okay. Like in one bill? That would be the best way to go?
THOMAS: Well, I think we have to deal with the problem and there’s at least three pieces to it, maybe more.