Budget Would Halt Growth of Barrier on Mexican Border

St. Louis Today, May 8, 2009

President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint announced on Thursday canceled plans to extend the controversial barrier fence along the U.S.-Mexico border beyond the 670 miles already completed or planned, symbolically breaking with a much-heralded approach to border security advocated by then-President George W. Bush.

However, federal officials plan to start construction within weeks on a new “virtual fence” along the border. They say the “fence” could almost completely cover the nearly 2,000-mile frontier within five years.

The Obama administration’s budget provides limited funds for roads, lights and so-called tactical infrastructure–but not a dime to extend the pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers erected along roughly one-third of the nation’s 1,947-mile border with Mexico.

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As for the virtual fence, the first permanent towers holding sensors, cameras and communications gear to detect drug smugglers and illegal immigrants will be built along 53 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico, said Mark Borkowski, a Customs and Border Protection official in charge of the program.

More towers, as much as 120 feet tall and spaced miles apart, will follow on the remaining 320 miles of the state’s southern border. Virtual fencing then will go up in New Mexico, followed by California and most of Texas, said Borkowski, executive director of the Homeland Security Department’s Secure Border Initiative program.

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The plans follow a prototype virtual fence that federal officials and others found inadequate for the job, and Borkowski said improvement probably would be made to the final version after border agents began using it.

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