Now, Arizona wants donations to build its own fence on Mexico border

A year ago, Arizona asked for donations to defend its immigration law in court. On July 20, fundraising began for a fence on the Mexico border. Donations have come from all 50 states.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
Two men illegally cross the border fence separating Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, on July 28, 2010. Arizona launched a website July 20, 2011, to accept donations to pay for a more-complete fence along the Mexico border.

For the second time in a year, Americans are being asked to rally to Arizona's anti-illegal immigration efforts.

With the launch of on July 20, Arizona is trying to raise at least $50 million to build its own border fence. So far, about 2,300 Americans have donated more than $105,000.

This follows on Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's decision to establish a legal fund for the defense of the Arizona's controversial immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, which remains tied up in court. Since May 2010, the fund has raised $3.8 million.

The response adds to Arizona's position as the leading voice among states calling for Washington to toughen its immigration laws and border-interdiction efforts.

"There's obviously a frustration out there," says Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for the Arizona Senate. "In the first day we got multiple donations from every state in the country."

Donors have contributed as little as $5 and as much as $2,000 since the project began, he adds.

The initial response shows that Americans view illegal immigration as a problem whose impact extends well beyond Arizona, adds state Sen. Steve Smith, a Republican from the Phoenix area who sponsored legislation authorizing fundraising for the fence.

"It's America's problem and I think America understands that," he says.

Senator Smith and his allies see the fence as a much-needed remedy to lax border security they say the federal government is unwilling to address. The plan is to build a contiguous border fence along Arizona's roughly 370 miles of the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border. The existing international boundary includes tall bollard fences, barbed wire, and vehicle barriers.

Federal estimates put the cost of building a mile of solid border fence at $3 million – meaning a border fence running the length of Arizona would cost about $1 billion. But Smith says the state will use inmate labor and donated supplies to cut expenses and meet his initial $50 million budget, though fundraising is expected to continue even after that point if it is reached.

Another hurdle is that the Arizona borderlands are a checkerboard of federal, private, and state land – and the state legislation allows for the fence to go up on all. Where necessary, the state will seek authorization from private landowners and the federal government to build, Smith says.

But some critics see this as an insurmountable obstacle. The best Arizona can hope for are patches of fencing that would be isolated and disconnected from one another, says Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, a human-rights group in Tucson, Ariz.

"It's a joke and a waste of people's money," she says.

Moreover, she adds, the state has no business building a fence. The federal government already spends billions of dollars on border enforcement, and border patrol records show illegal border crossings have dropped significantly.

But she's not surprised that so many people from outside Arizona would respond to a plan that so far lacks specifics. "It's really easy to fan the flames of insecurity by talking about and perpetuating this myth of an out-of-control border," she says." Elected officials have found that it gives them political points."

On Wednesday, a border-security advisory committee made up of state lawmakers, county sheriffs, and state agency leaders will meet to explore all the options and decide how to spend the incoming donations. The committee will gather just once a month, suggesting the process is expected to be lengthy.

Although it may be some time before a state fence takes shape, all donors soon will have in hand a certificate from the state as a token of Arizona's gratitude, Smith notes.

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