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Fences and ladders.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Don't be fooled. The bill that President Bush signed into law Thursday authorizing 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border was designed to help Republicans keep control of Congress, not to do something serious about immigration reform.

The bill authorizes construction of 700 miles of double-layer fencing plus electric sensors and other high-tech doodads along sections of the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Simple subtraction - 2,000 minus 700 equals 1,300 miles of unfenced border - answers the question of how effective the new fence will be at sealing the border and keeping out illegal immigrants.

Even if Congress had authorized a fence across the entire length of the border, it wouldn't stop immigrants from crossing. As Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has said, "Show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder." Or, as T.J. Bonner, president of a union representing Border Patrol agents, said after Bush signed the bill, "A fence will slow people down by a minute or two ... we're not talking about some impenetrable barrier."

The Secure Fence Act is all about appearance - persuading voters that lawmakers are hard at work securing our borders and protecting national security. But anyone who has gone beyond bumper-sticker slogans about immigration reform understands that enforcement is just one part of the solution. Yes, a fence may make it harder for illegal immigrants to enter this country, but it won't stop them - it may even make it more likely that those already in this country will remain.

Five months ago, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill, supported by President Bush, that addressed all three elements of the immigration equation: law enforcement, the estimated 12 million undocumented workers already in the country, and the visa system. The measure called for tougher border policing and workplace verification of legal residency, while expanding guest-worker programs matching willing immigrant workers with jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. The bill also would have made it possible for many of those already here illegally to eventually obtain legal residency.

House Republicans refused to have anything to do with this sensible Senate measure, and the GOP leadership even refused to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the two reform bills.

After spending the spring and summer conducting scripted public hearings aimed at whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria, Republicans realized they had nothing to show voters. So they hurriedly passed the Secure Fence Act, hoping voters would believe that they'd been hard at work fixing the nation's immigration woes.

President Bush and Republican moderates in the Senate went along with the fence bill in the hope that Congress will next turn to more comprehensive reforms. As Bush noted Thursday, "We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here."

It's far from certain that the next Congress will have the courage and resolve needed to face that reality. But sooner or later, lawmakers must treat immigration as the complex and long-term problem that it is.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Enforcement-only bill is all about appearance
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 27, 2006
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