Bruce Maiman: Do we really want to spend $46 billion on a border fence?

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am

Fiscal conservatives who are big on border security should explain whether they’re OK with spending billions on a border fence we no longer need.

If the current federal immigration bill we’ve seen debated for months passes with a so-called border surge amendment intact, we’ll spend – without inevitable cost overruns – $46 billion for an additional 700 miles of fence and 20,000 new border patrol officers, all to keep illegal immigrants from pouring into this country.

The problem: Immigrants from Mexico are no longer pouring into this country.

Since 2000, migration from Mexico has fallen by more than 80 percent, and fewer native Mexicans have moved to the U.S. in each of the past four years than in any year since 1991, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Was it the recession? Certainly fewer American jobs sent people packing and meant fewer reasons to come here, but there’s something else. The World Bank notes that since the recession, Mexico’s economy has grown twice as fast as ours and is rapidly becoming a middle class nation. For two decades, incomes have been rising, birth rates are declining, and it seems logical to conclude that migration pressures on the border will never return to levels we saw 10-15 years ago.

Add to this the rarely conceded fact nearly half of immigrants in the United States illegally – 45 percent – never jumped a fence, hiked through the desert or paid anyone to help them sneak into the country. They came here on a legal visa, and then overstayed that visa, according to Pew’s research.

Will this matter to “border fence” enthusiasts? It shouldn’t surprise anyone if it doesn’t. Part of what makes immigration such a vexing issue is how hypocritical we are about it.

• Washington maintains it’s a federal prerogative yet does little in the way of exercising that jurisdictional duty – except when they want to sue a state impelled to pass its own immigration laws because it got tired of waiting for Washington to act.

• Federal courts order California to address prison overcrowding yet Washington does nothing to address, let alone reimburse, the state for the thousands of illegal immigrants housed in our state prisons.

• We say illegals are taking our jobs yet we can’t get Americans to do many of the jobs otherwise done by illegals.

• Companies hire illegals for less yet we blame the illegals and not the companies, though both are breaking the law.

• And for all our complaining about illegal hirings and companies that do so, a recent UCLA study found that the country’s largest employer of illegal immigrant day labor is the typical American homeowner. Yup. Americans needing their lawns mowed, their houses painted, the drywall installed, the roof repaired, hire 49 percent of all day laborers, more than any economic sector.

Under the amendment, the Border Patrol will purchase radar systems, Predator drones, Black Hawk helicopters, even helicopter models we’re no longer building, and for what? In 1994, when some 4.5 million illegal immigrants were living in the U.S., we spent $550 million on border security. Last year, with 10.8 million illegals in country, we spent $18 billion. (What, did the minimum wage go up?)

Could it be that, with Pentagon budget cuts and withdrawals from two wars, major military contractors like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and California-based General Atomics, see the Mexican border as a huge payday if immigration legislation becomes law? Hey, if there’s one thing taxpayers could stand to spend more money on, it’s our grossly underfunded defense programs.

Their track record for border security is hardly admirable. Last year, a Department of Homeland Security report found that drones sat idle on the ground because border agents had more drones than they could deploy. The agency even acknowledged that small-piloted aircraft operations cost one-tenth that of operating unmanned drones.

In 2006, Congress authorized construction of 700 miles of border fence. Homeland Security awarded a three-year contract to Boeing. Five years, $1.2 billion and 299 miles of fencing later, the project was canceled due to cost overruns, delays and an endless series of technical glitches caused by the extreme heat of the border region. An inspector general’s report concluded that DHS had wasted $69 million in taxpayer dollars just by buying up more steel than it needed, and then storing the excess.

And that was back when people were indeed pouring across the border.

Meanwhile, as the Wall Street Journal just reported, of 607,380 bridges listed in our National Bridge Inventory, 65,605 are structurally deficient and more than 20,000 are “fracture critical” and could collapse if a single component fails.

So are we sure about spending $46 billion on a border crossing people are no longer “pouring across,” or shall we displace the bridge to nowhere with the fence that keeps no one out?

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at

Read more articles by Bruce Maiman

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