Arizona plans fence to stop immigration from Mexico - if Americans will pay for it

A new Arizona law green-lights a fence to stop illegal immigration across the state's southern border. But with state coffers empty, lawmakers are hoping that Americans will donate their own money and supplies to the fence's construction.

Ross D. Franklin/AP
In this Dec. 16, 2010 file photo, US Border Patrol vehicles come and go from a checkpoint, as teams of border officers comb through the Arizona desert about 10 miles north of Mexico. State Sen. Steve Smith, (R) of Maricopa, was the sponsor of a bill that was signed into law recently that will use donated money and inmate labor to build a "secure fence" along the US-Mexico border.

Arizona was the first state to enact a tough anti-illegal immigration law last year. Now, it wants to be the first to build its own fence along the Mexico border.

A law that allows for construction of the fence goes into effect July 20. The state now needs money – and Arizona Sen. Steve Smith (R) is counting on the generosity of Americans to make the project come to fruition.

“Unfortunately, the state is broke and quite frankly we can’t take on this massive project by ourselves,” says the senator who sponsored the legislation.

His initial goal is to raise $50 million in donations. “That would be a good, healthy start.”

If the federal government won’t finish its fence along Arizona’s roughly 370 miles of border then the state will, the Republican says. He and his allies are still trying to figure out the cost of the fence and what it might look like.

The senator’s goal is to build a contiguous, solid fence “and have the entire border completely and properly secured.”

Federal estimates put the cost of building a mile of solid border fence at $3 million but Smith says the state will rely on inmate labor and donated supplies to keep costs down.

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Much of the border fence is on federal or private land and the state needs permission to fill in gaps or put in reinforcements. Smith doesn’t expect much cooperation from the Obama administration, though, so he plans to negotiate with area landowners. If need be, the state would build a few miles away from the international marker, he says.

Although the fence will likely draw new criticism of Arizona from immigrants rights activists already upset with the state's hardline policies, Smith expects a positive response from Americans because illegal immigration affects people beyond Arizona, he says. The state gets the blame for adopting its controversial immigration law known as SB 1070, but other states are enacting similar measures to crack down on illegal immigration, Smith adds.

Like the senator, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer appealed to Americans to open their wallets on behalf of Arizona. By late last year, her legal defense fund to help fend off lawsuits challenging SB 1070 had received more than $3.6 million in mostly online contributions. As of July 20, Smith also plans to collect donations through a web site.

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