A border fence, "a fence from left to right, from east to west, except obviously the mountainous areas," as Charles Krauthammer put it, is essential to the effort to pass immigration reform.
If a serious fence along the southern border is not mandated in the bill--high, double-fencing with access roads for patrol vehicles-- it won't pass. Certainly not in the House, maybe not in the Senate. (The present Title I does nothing close to mandating a fence, but instead tasks DHS to study whether, where and when a fence should be built.)
Moreover, the amended law's sections concerning the fence has to be very detailed as to the timing of the commencement and completion of the construction, the location, and the design of the fence, with ample funding provided and the entire effort backed by "notwithstanding any other law" authority so that the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act or the National Environmental Policy Act do not obstruct construction. Citizen standing to bring suits to oblige the government to continue construction should be part of the bill. Acknowledgment that private property will be taken (and paid for) and that some communities will be disrupted must be a part of an-impossible-to-misunderstand authorization and mandate.
Senator Rubio has said he will support such an amendment. Even John McCain on my program Wednesday, said he would, though he does not think it wise.
The exchange on border fencing with Senator McCain is below. That the senator's agreement was so long in coming is the problem with border security: The people fashioning the bill really don't want what the people they represent really do want, and they keep trying to substitute alternatives or ambiguity for the real deal --the real fence, one extending most of the border, one like the fence in San Diego which worked.
That calculated ambiguity or bait-and-switch won't work. Any bill that tries to "reform immigration" without really fencing the border will not pass, nor should it. At a very important level, the debate on the fence has become a proxy for a debate over whether the government will actually represent the people it governs.