Overview of Controversies Related to U.S. Border Fences

Overview of Controversies Related to U.S. Border Fences

Walls are among the oldest strategies for tightening borders and protecting a country's interests. Examples include the 25-foot (7.6 meter) high fortress that Israel has been building on the West Bank and the combination fence/wall that is being constructed by the United States along the Mexican border. Land disputes, sectarian rifts, illegal immigration, drug or arms smugglers, and terrorism are some of the reasons why modern governments construct such barriers.

In 2006, the United States Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which sanctions the Department of Homeland Security to erect a barrier along 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) of the Mexican border. Supporters hope the wall will stem the tide of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers into the United States. A May 2006 Gallop Poll found that while most Americans are in favor of immigration reform, 56 percent oppose the wall. The debate in the United States tends to fall loosely along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed to the construction of a border wall.

Among the opponents of the U.S. border wall is the Roman Catholic Church, which takes the position that a wall would cause additional humanitarian problems among Mexican families. Many members of the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona believe the wall would impede the traditional ease with which members of the tribe have moved across the border for cultural, social, and spiritual reasons. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, believe the wall will destroy protected wildlife refuges and further endanger threatened species. The Mexican government has also voiced its opposition to the wall, and many Americans are concerned about future political divisiveness between the countries.

Supporters of the wall include the Center for Immigration Studies; they maintain that without stronger efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, public infrastructure, from hospitals to schools, will disintegrate from the burden of caring for so many people without the resources to care for themselves. Other groups argue that an influx of illegal immigrants, willing to work at any price, drives down wages for low-skilled American workers. This problem cannot be solved without the protection of some sort of wall.

Main Definitions and Terms Related to Border Fences

Borderlands Conservation and Security Act (HR 2593): A bill introduced in Congress in 2007 by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), that would establish the Borderlands Conservation Fund and attempt to mitigate the effects of a proposed border wall or fence on Native American property, National Park and National Forest property, and on other land maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): An agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada that expanded the number of goods that could cross international borders, duty free, and permits corn grown in the United States under subsidies, to be dumped on the Mexican market, driving local farmers off their land, and resulting in an increase of over four million additional, undocumented workers coming to the U.S. in the decade since the trade agreement came into existence.

Secure Fence Act of 2006: A law that directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to secure land and maritime borders of the United States. Methods include increased border patrols, surveillance and other technologies, and 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) of physical barriers along the Mexican border.

Sonoran Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis): An endangered species of American antelope. Only 100 Sonoran pronghorns live in the United States, where they are protected at the Cabez Prieta National Wildlife Refuge south of Phoenix, Arizona. Two herds live across the border in Sonora, Mexico, numbering between 314 and 420.

Tohono O'odham Nation: Native American tribe that lives in the Arizona desert with traditional tribal lands that span the border between the United States and Mexico. Every week, police encounter an average of 65 Mexican and Central American citizens attempting to cross illegally on the reservation. Between 2002 and 2006, 342 Mexican men, women, and children died crossing the border through the Tohono O'odham Nation reservation.

Virtual Wall: A system of high-security cameras, sensors, lights, biometrics, and other surveillance technology used to monitor a border in lieu of a physical wall.

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