Even as the Obama administration plans to challenge and undermine Arizona's new immigration law, the White House still wants state residents to know that it feels their pain. "It's really a cry of frustration from Arizona," Homeland Security Secretary -- and former Arizona governor -- Janet Napolitano said recently. "It's a frustration ultimately that will only be solved with comprehensive immigration reform."
But for the majority of Arizonans, the source of frustration is not the absence of comprehensive reform. It is the federal government's halfhearted enforcement of the nation's immigration laws. And what is seldom discussed in the current controversy is how little -- in relative terms -- better enforcement would cost.
On April 19, the same day the Arizona Legislature passed the immigration measure, the state's two Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, unveiled a new plan to secure the U.S. border with Mexico. It's a combination of completing and improving the border fence, adding new Border Patrol agents, expanding a policy of briefly jailing illegal border crossers and several other programs already in existence. Although there is not yet an estimate of how much it would cost, the price would be vastly less than the sums going to bailouts, the stimulus and the planned national healthcare system.
"When you are talking about national security and laying the foundation for comprehensive immigration reform, it's a relatively small investment," says Kyl.
Start with the fence. The Secure Fence Act, passed by Congress in 2006, specified 700 miles of the Southwest border to be secured with double-layered, reinforced fencing and other physical barriers. The Customs and Border Protection agency says 646 miles of fencing have been finished. For them, the job is essentially done.
But it's not, and the situation in Arizona shows why. The state's border with Mexico is 375 miles long. As it stands today, there are 123 miles of pedestrian fence, that is, high fence meant to stop people from climbing over. However, all but 10 miles of that is single-layered fence, which is easier to cut and get through than a double-layered fence, especially one with a road or other space between the barriers.
In addition, there are 182 miles of vehicle fencing -- bollards or steel beams designed to stop smugglers in cars and trucks. But illegals can easily climb over these, and sometimes smugglers can drive over them using their own ramps.