July 27th, 2010
11:28 AM ET

Video: A fence no one can agree on

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

Program Note: Tune in to AC360° tonight and all this week for special coverage on illegal immigration in this country. We will have reports from the U.S.-Mexico border and Arizona. AC360° tonight at 10pm ET.

There isn't a noticeable difference between the United States and Mexico here. The cacti, animals and plant life are all mirror images of each other. They share the same rugged desert landscape that provides spectacular views when the sun rises and sets each day. It's the same landscape that can prove to be unforgiving for those trying to walk through it during the hottest and coldest times of the year.

A towering steel brown fence is what separates the two neighboring countries in the middle of this vast, dry land, separating the state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. The fence runs seven miles to the east of Nogales, AZ where a smaller fence made of steel rail road ties mixed with small patches of barbed wire fencing continue into the mountainous desert.
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This is a portion of the fence that covers two thirds of the Mexico/U.S. border, across California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.

It's what many people call the first line of defense against a criminal element entering the United States. Others call it a giant waste of money.

"The wall took two and a half billion dollars that could have been used technologically. That could have been used for higher security, more personnel along the border, and diverted it." Says U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva, whose district includes a portion of the Arizona border where the fence has been completed.

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Grijalva says that the fence has only sent those seeking to get into the country out to areas where they are left to wander a treacherous desert. Many end up dying in the extreme conditions.

"It's a pathetic loss of life and anywhere else it would be a humanitarian crisis."

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada says while the fence has helped lower crime in the city of Nogales, the majority of people moving into the country are heading north to find employment, not to commit crimes. He says we need to be more concerned and focused on those ruthless criminals who will do anything it takes to get across the border. He goes on to say, smugglers moving illegal drugs into the United States are going around the fence into rural areas where they can use the desert as a shield and occasionally use illegal immigrants as mules to move the drugs.

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"They continuously manage to get their product across despite all that is being done here and it will continue," says Estrada, who also says that as long as there is a market in the United States for drugs, smugglers will bring them in.

That is exactly why Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says more of the fence needs to be completed. A sign reading, "Travel Caution: Smuggling and Illegal Immigration may be encountered in this area," marks the entrance of what he calls a major drug trafficking route through the desert. What's remarkable about the route is that it's 80 miles north of the border fence, what could be a week-long hike in 110-degree heat.

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"This is basically, literally, unfettered access for smugglers and illegals," said Sheriff Babeu showing us an area where an enormous amount of clothes, plastic water bottles and backpacks littered what he called a resting point. It's the exact spot where he says a suspected drug smuggler shot one of his deputies 3 months ago and the reason more money needs to be spent to complete the fence.
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"How can we not budget for this here?" said Sheriff Babeu. "This is a huge public safety issue for our state and for our people".

Filed under: Border fence • Gary Tuchman • Ismael Estrada
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Sam

    Two and a half billion dollars plus more to finish and more to maintain the fence. What a waste of money. We can turn this from a cost to a profit by fining the employers who hire them. We could use the money from the fines to deport the immigrants. Instead of asking for papers from people, lets ask for papers from the companies or people that hire contractors. If they are found to hire an illegal, they should be fined. When the jobs dry up, so does the illegal immigration. Show me your papers companies and contractors! Doesn't sound so good when the shoe is on the other foot does it?

    July 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  2. Pulse

    The Ultimate Fence:

    A Biometric Employment Card for everyone –
    and throwing employers in jail if they don't obey the law !

    Everything else is just BUNK !

    July 27, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  3. Kim

    Support legal immigration and a path to get there with a broken system ? Fix the fence and secure the boarders.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  4. Robert

    Even those who support a fence don't like it because it is ugly. On the other hand, if they built an aesthetically pleasing wall – say they replicated the Great Wall of China brick by brick on our southern border – and the project provided hundreds of thousands of jobs, then there'd be much more support for the Great Wall of America.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  5. Eric

    One major characteristic of a border is that it has TWO sides. The problem cannot be solved from one side of the fence.
    The US needs to form a true partership with neighboring Mexico, with clear, shared strategic goals.

    July 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  6. David

    Renaldo apparently your forgetting that crossing the boarder "illegally" is a CRIME!

    July 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  7. Renaldo

    Sheriff Babeu and others seem to be very speculative and assumptive in their arguments and therefore their conclusions for tougher immigration laws and tighter border patrols and fencing are spurios. They have not pointed to any evidence that suggest that persons who cross the border illegally are drug- smugglers or are doing so to comit crimes. The facts are exaggerated or concocted to serve their perspective. We seem to dodge the significant economic contributions tha. Immigrants generally provide and very few are convicted of crimes. The sheriff and authorities are irresponsible in their assessment. Suspected criminals are not necessarily criminals.

    July 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  8. Lynne Wiss

    Everyone is complaining about the Mexicans crossing the border, the kill Americans, transport drugs, take our jobs. Now the same people say that immigration is wrong for asking for papers, and say it is like Nazi Germany. If it was like Germany, than the border control see a Mexican than shoot them dead that would stop the crossing. Illegals that are caught in America should be deported, if have a child in America they should not be considered American due that there parents are not.. If they want to become Americans they should apply, the have to speak, write, talk English, it is expected for us to move to another country and speak their language.

    July 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm |