Every year some 1.2 million illegal immigrants are arrested on the USA’s side of their border with Mexico. The figure has been stable for a decade, despite ever stricter controls. But all the extra guards, dogs, and helicopters have done is push the migrants into crossing in more desolate and dangerous areas, and made the job of guides even better paid. Passage to the promised land now costs over 1,200 euros per person.
To staunch the flow, Congress has voted to fence part of the frontier, including it in a national security bill, the main task of which is to fight terrorism. Between now and 2009 over a third of the 3,000 kilometre-long frontier will be closed with a so-called high-tech barrier.
It will take a near billion-euro chunk out of the 27 billion euro Homeland Security budget. But will the fence ever be built? A billion is thought not enough by some to pay for drones, radar, infra-red cameras, and motion detectors in the soil to back up the double razor-wire fence.
Geography makes the project tough, too. Legal as well as natural obstacles will combine, as Native Americans and ecologists unite in opposition. Critics say the bill is so full of loopholes it may never conform to the original design. But it is an election year, so there is a political dimension.
And not just domestic politics, as Mexico is angry, and is being supported by US politicians with Latin roots, like Democratic congressman from Arizona Raul Grijalva: “Enforcement only, seal the border, build the wall, put the troops there, just drives people to more desperate avenues, and those desperate avenues are where people die,” he said. Immigration is only in 8th place on a list of national election issues in the week the total American population hit 300 million, but in the border states of the South West, the issue is much more important.