You know that border fence that Senator McCan’t famously and stupidly encouraged us to build in a crappy 2010 election ad?  Well, some Arizonans have a dream to get it done and to do so without the assistance of the Federal Government.

State Senator Steve Smith sponsored bill 1406 that would allow the state to collect donations for the building of a fence along the 389 mile Arizona-Mexico border.  Gov. Brewer signed it into law on July 20, 2011 and advocates have begun trying to collect  money to reach their goal of $50 million.  They are also proposing to use inmate labor* to reduce costs. They have a website, which I won’t link to here because I refuse to give them anything beyond scorn.

However, none of these advocates are addressing the fact that a wall will not work.

1.  They haven’t allocated enough money.  In spite of the desire to save costs using cheap, even practically free inmate labor, they have failed to account for other things that drive up cost such as  type of fencing, topography, materials used, and land acquisition costs.  For instance are we talking pedestrian or vehicular fencing?  Are we talking multiple and layered fencing?  Who owns some of that land?  I know that many ranchers that do own border-land have had it in their family for several generations and may be reluctant to part  with it.  Furthermore, they will need not to just purchase the exact footprint for the fence but a buffer on both sides of the fence AND deal with costs associated with roads to and from material staging locations not to mention the added costs of recompensing the ranchers for damage to their land created by crews and materials going in and out.**

Beyond those costs, if we just look at an average per mile cost then we can see they haven’t allocated enough money.   Here’s what I mean.  Back in 2008 the GAO said that Pedestrian fencing cost on average $3.9 million per mile.  If we have a 389 mile border and intend to put pedestrian fencing that length we’re talking  just over $1.5 billion.*** But let’s be generous.  Let’s say they only plan to fence half the area because we assume there is some border areas that won’t need it (example, mountain tops–yeah I know there aren’t 194 miles of mountain tops but let’s play nice).   So cut that 389 in half and say it’s only 194 miles that will need pedestrian fencing.  That would be $758.55 million.  Okay, still not giving them enough wiggle room.  Let’s say that half the costs would be due to labor and by using inmates that can be reduced to zero.  Now we’re looking at $379.28 million.  Okay, let’s give em even more wiggle room.  Let’s say three-fourths of the costs would be labor and because they’re using inmates it would be zero.  So we’re still looking at $189.64 million.  Again, $50 million is what they’re asking for people to donate.   Here’s some more caveats though–inmate labor isn’t completely free.  The inmates have to be transported, fed, watered and cared for while working.  Guess who’s going to pay for it? The taxpayers of Arizona–even the ones like myself who think this is the craziest and stupidest thing the state has ever tried to do.   They won’t take that cost out of money donated but you and I will pay for it.  Also, the estimated costs were from actual border fences built back in 2008.  How much you want to be the costs of materials have gone up since then and so has the price of gas.  So it’s not enough money….no matter how you parse it.

2.  We already have physical barriers, including fences, that immigrants and drug cartels have found ways around.  Janet Napolitano said in 2005 when she was Governor of Arizona, “You show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border. That’s the way the border works”.  That is the reality and no amount of wishing it away or hoping for better results is going to make it better.  It’s like a law.  No matter how well you write a law someone, somewhere will find a way to get around it.  It’s human nature and no written or physical  barrier is absolutely impervious to human ingenuity.

3.  A wall is only effective when it is manned and nothing about this bill addresses this crucial factor.  The Dept of Homeland Defense tried underground sensors but they were too hard to calibrate properly and too expensive.  So if we can’t use computer technology, what then?  People? Who?  And if you don’t have enough money to build the fence how do you plan to man it?  Who is going to pay for that?  Who is going to work security?

4.  How is it going to be maintained?  The cost of building is only an initial cost.  Afterward every time someone  digs under it, builds over it or cuts through it, the fence will need to be mended. Again how can that be accomplished.

Just because  you build a fence doesn’t mean it will work and it doesn’t mean the voters of Arizona are going to pony up the money to finish it and maintain it.  The idea is idiotic.  The voters of Arizona need to howl and scream about having to give money to make it happen when that money could be so much better spent helping others who are suffering already.  We  don’t need a fence.  What we need are leaders with empathy and understanding that realize the  state cannot and should not be wasting time and money on symbolic gestures down at the border.



*I have with inmate labor, per se.  However, I can think of a dozen things right off the top of my head that inmates could work on that would help the state, municipalities and the federal government in cost savings AND that would affect the daily lives of citizens in a much more immediate and positive way than building a border fence that simply will not work.

**Plus compensation for damage done environmentally.  For example they’ll have water run off problems from trying to keep the dust down and from concrete mixers and other equipment.  Why dust problems?  Because there’s a law here that says you can’t stir up dust in a construction area because it causes particulate accumulation to the already saturated, i.e., dirty air here in AZ.  This is just one small example of how the costs can add up.

***Check my math, please.  $3.9 million * 389 miles = 1517.1 million or 1.5171 billion, right?

  1. james says:

    but do you admit that we do have a problem here with drop houses and crime?

  2. alopecia says:

    “They haven’t allocated enough money.” No, not by a couple of orders of magnitude, for the reasons you mention. If I were a wagering man, I’d bet that when this scheme comes up against reality, Steve Smith will sponsor a bill to complete the project using tax money. Then another to pay for maintenance and repair. And on and on.

    I’m just surprised the Right-wing loonies in California didn’t think of it first.

    • drangedinaz says:

      Alo, I think you’re right. I think that’s what the AZ GOP had in mind all along. Either that or they’re just complete idiots…which is always a possibility. 🙂

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