Arizona seeks to build its own Mexico border fence
TUCSON, Ariz |
TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Using public donations and cheap convict labor, an Arizona lawmaker is seeking to build a fence to secure the state's porous border with Mexico against illegal immigrants.
A new state law that goes into effect July 20 allows Arizona to build a barrier on the state's 370-mile border with Mexico, provided it can raise sufficient private donations and persuade public and private landowners to let them build it on their land.
"We need to do it this way because, well, the federal government is not building it, and Arizona does not have enough of our own money to build it," said Steve Smith, the Republican state senator who sponsored the law.
"So now it looks like the people will have to do what the government is not doing," he added in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
In a speech in El Paso, Texas, last week, President Barack Obama said some 700 miles of fencing authorized by the U.S. Congress was now "basically complete."
He also cited gains in border security made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, whose efforts had "strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible."
But Smith called Obama's assertion the fence was complete "an outright lie and a slap in the face to all the people that live across that border."
He said he plans to set up a website in coming weeks to channel donations to fund construction of the fence when the law comes into effect, while a committee would determine the best type of fencing to build, and where to erect it.
To hold down costs, Smith said he planned to use convict labor in construction at a cost of 50 cents an hour.
"There's approximately 6,000 inmates ready to work saving us hundreds of millions of dollars in the process," he said.
However, opponents of the project said it is unworkable and would anyway do little to keep illegal immigrants out of the state.
"Our former governor Janet Napolitano ... once famously said 'If you build a 10 foot fence, they'll build a 12 foot ladder," said Democratic State Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who voted against the bill.
In addition to questions over the funding for the fence, Sinema it was not clear if the project would get permission to build from landowners, the largest of whom is the U.S. federal government.
Reuters contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for comment on Wednesday, but did not immediately receive a response.
An organization representing cattle ranchers in the state said while it welcomed the state's efforts to secure the border, there was "very little" private land to build the fence on.
"A lot of areas that do have private land, already have some sort of a barrier there," said Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association.
"The fence is only a small part of the overall solution to securing our borders," he added.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)
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