PHOENIX - Arizona is taking on immigration once again, with state lawmakers collecting donations from the public to put fencing along every inch of the state’s porous Mexican border in a first-of-its-kind effort.
The idea came from state Sen. Steve Smith, a Republican who says that people from across the nation have donated about $255,000 to the project since July, when the state launched a fundraising website that urges visitors to "show the world the resolve and the can-do spirit of the American people."
Smith acknowledges he has a long way to go to make the fence a reality. The $255,000 collected will barely cover a half mile of fencing. Smith estimates that the total supplies alone will cost $34 million, or about $426,000 a mile. Much of the work is expected to be done by prisoners at 50 cents an hour.
The fence is Arizona’s latest attempt to force a debate on whether the federal government is doing enough to stop illegal immigration. Key provisions of the state’s contentious immigration bill were suspended by a judge, and Gov. Jan Brewer is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to get them reinstated. Brewer also signed the fencing bill.
Critics of the private fence plan say the idea is a misguided, piecemeal approach to border issues that will prove to be ineffective and hugely expensive. They point to the billions of dollars spent by the federal government to build fencing that hasn’t stopped illegal immigration.
"You’re going to get 50 yards of fencing, if that," says Alfredo Gutierrez, a former Democratic state senator and immigrant-rights advocate who ran for governor in 2002.
But Smith and other supporters don’t care.
They say the federal government has done little to secure the border and that additional fencing will close gaps exploited by smugglers and illegal immigrants. Even if the fence isn’t completed, Smith and others believe the project will send a message to Washington.